Should Muslims give up on India, as Hindutva organisations fervently hope they will? The death of Zahid Ahmad Bhat, a Kashmiri Muslim, may force some to think the unthinkable. Zahid succumbed to the severe burn injuries he got in a petrol bomb attack on his truck by a mob of ‘cow-protectors’ in the Udhampur region of Jammu and Kashmir on October 9. His death is a warning to Muslims all over India. If this can happen even in J&K, how can they expect safety in the rest of India where they are in a dangerous minority?
Had he succumbed to his injuries on the spot, Zahid would have died much earlier than Noman – who was killed by another mob of ‘cow-protectors’ in Sirmaur, 80 kilometres from Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh three days back.
Panchjanya, the organ of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which controls and directs the ideology and organisation of its political wing, the Bhartiya Janata Party, has issued a not-so-indirect call to slaughter those who kill cows – citing the Vedas as justification for this call to murder. Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP Member of Parliament has demanded the death penalty for cow-slaughter. He also justified the assault on Engineer Rashid – an independent MLA in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly – by BJP MLAs for having thrown a ‘beef-party.’ Before him, Adityanath, BJP MP from Gorakhpur and the leader who directed the party’s campaign for several by-elections in UP in 2014, is on record offering manpower, money and firepower to the cow-protectors.
If Muslims lawmakers can be assaulted inside the legislature – as happened in the J&K assembly – and the Muslims of India see only gentle murmurs of disapproval, they can well imagine what is in store for them elsewhere in the country.
Muslims have heard Manoharlal Khattar – no ‘fringe element’ of the Sangh circle he but the man whom Modi hand-picked to be Chief Minister of Haryana – saying, “Muslim rahein, magar is desh mein beef khaana chhodna hi hoga unko. Yahan ki manyata hai gau (Muslims can continue to be Muslim, but if they live in this country they will have to give up eating beef. The cow is an article of faith here). This is what he told the Indian Express when asked about incidents like Dadri.
Narendra Modi himself has been asking Hindus to “act like Maharana Pratap to save the honour of cows”. Juxtaposing white revolution with pink revolution, he has consistently exhorted his supporters to choose between the two. To show that the post of Prime Ministership has not dulled his devotion to cows, he recently castigated Lalu Prasad for having said that Hindus also ate beef. Nobody asked him how stating a fact becomes an insult to Hindus or Yadavs. What everybody understood was that the PM decided to invoke the subject of cows in order to consolidate his Hindu base. Yet our Election Commission did not find anything wrong here. It was only natural then, that it was Lalu Prasad who was made to regret and retract what he said and not the Prime Minister.
Let us not go back to Vedas then and start quoting from the sacred text to convince Hindus that cow-slaughter and beef-eating have not been foreign to them. Even if I accept that my forefathers ate beef, how and why should it affect my choice of food or my way of living? Societies evolve, they change, they shed some of their habits, acquire new ones. Referring to the past to justify this or that is a bad method.
Besides anything else, it also does not work. A scholarly work by DN Jha just does not have the same force as the pedestrian and semi-literate invocation of the Vedas by Panchjanya – which then spreads through word of mouth and becomes gospel-truth.
The target is the Muslim, not beef
The truth is that this debate is not about cows. It is also not about beef eating. It is not about the diversity of food habits.When we start discussing the current situation through these themes, we only confuse the issue.
Let us be clear, this campaign is about Muslims. Hindus can go on eating their beef. No ‘gau-rakshak’ will turn up against them. It is only Muslims who shall be identified, targeted, attacked and even killed.
This time it is the cow. Only a few months back, it was the honour of Hindu daughters. What is being done through these campaigns is to make every Muslim a suspect. All Muslims are potential cow-killers and ravishers of Hindu womanhood.
Muslims have been turned into a figure of hate. I recall a discussion in Patna, in the wake of the Ramjanambhoomi movement in which Govindacharya was present. I remember him telling the gathering that it was impossible to throw the 15 crore population of Muslims into the Indian ocean, implying thereby that other ways should be found to deal with them.
Last year, a very senior functionary of the BJP manning its intellectual cell said on camera that minorities can live in India, but with some restraints.
Through these attacks, Muslims are being shown their place in India. They cannot choose their food, their commercial activity, their ways of celebration, their habitation. In Gujarat, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has launched a campaign to bar Muslims from entering garba venues. “We have observed in the past that Hindu girls are lured by the Muslims youths during the festival,” the VHP’s Ahmedabad president said.
The message is clear and Muslims are getting it: Beware of Hindus. Keep off them. And accept a subservient position in India, a second class citizenship.
Gandhi had said: Muslims cannot be vassals of Hindus in India. Nehru had written to Shyama Prasad Mukherji that Muslims cannot but be equal citizens of this country. Hindus cannot be their patrons and guardians. Muslims will live here as they are, not in the image Hindus want to see them as.
Are the secular parties as clear in their thinking as Gandhi and Nehru were? Or, have they also accepted the line of the RSS? Why are they then not out in the open, standing up for Muslims, sending an unambiguous message to the anti-Muslim and anti-Christian forces that their politics has no place in India? Why is that Congress leaders are calling for a total ban on cow-slaughter in India?
India seems to have lost its way. It has to pause, read its constitutional compass carefully and find out the correct path. It has to convince its Muslims and Christians that it measures up to their understanding of it. If it fails, it puts itself on the path of self-destruction.
Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University