It takes a special kind of nastiness to deploy victims of one tragedy as weapons against other victims, to see in two similar crimes not the common thread of justice but an opportunity to play political games.
Chetan Bhagat is one of India’s biggest selling authors and a man who has his pulse on the ethos of the middle class. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims from Gujarat, he posted a vacuous tweet of such sweet-sounding reasonableness that it instantly drew thousands of retweets and likes:
When Junaid dies,media says he was killed for being Muslim.So why not say those killed in #AmarnathTerrorAttack were killed for being Hindu?
— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) July 11, 2017
But his logic also left some people astonished. When asked by @anirbanblah whether his tweet ‘helps our country and makes the world a better place’, Bhagat replied: “Happy to discuss. Am not blaming anyone. Just asking for consistency in treatment. And being factual.”
So lets just be factual. Did the media report that Junaid was targeted and killed for being Muslim? One section did, and was correct to do so. But another stuck to the line that the fight on the train which eventually took the young man’s life was over seats and had nothing to do with his religion. In fact, the police and Hindutva-oriented people on social media are still sticking to this stand – even though the statements of the survivors and the men arrested make it amply clear that Junaid and his co-travellers were targeted by ordinary passengers on the train and then brutally assaulted precisely because they were visibly Muslim. Since then, at least one more disturbing incident of a ‘visibly’ Muslim family being attacked on a train has been reported.
Let us now turn to the seven victims of the terrorist attack on the Amarnath Yatra bus. Immediate media accounts correctly identified them as yatris (i.e. Hindus) and later noted that the bus driver who ferried the remaining passengers to safety was a Muslim (thereby emphasising that his passengers were not). If there was any confusion over whether the passengers were targeted for being yatris, this is again the fault of the Jammu and Kashmir police (which reports to the BJP-PDP coalition government in the state) who told reporters that the terrorists first fired on a police jeep and then shot at the yatris’ bus as they made their getaway.
Even so, I saw no media report that said the victims were killed accidentally – because they were caught in some sort of cross-fire. The only people who said so on Twitter were a handful of Kashmiris in denial, who were rightly called out by former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah. But they are the Kashmiri counterparts of the Hindutva apologists who say Junaid was killed “merely” over a train seat, a tiny minority whose moral compass has been corrupted beyond repair.
Similarly, I saw no media report that said the victims were killed because they were ‘Gujarati’ or were travelling on a bus with Gujarat license plates. No sir. Media reports identified the victims as yatris, acknowledged that they were fired upon as such, and noted how this was the first time since 2000 that Hindu pilgrims had been targeted by terrorists in this fashion.
In fact, most media accounts went on to speculate about whether the killing was the handiwork of the new breed of militant in Kashmir who are inspired by the ideology of the Islamic State – which regards non-Muslims and even Muslims who deviate doctrinally from Salafi teachings to be fair targets for murder.
Given the manner in which the Amarnath killings have been reported, then, it is not clear what “consistency” Chetan Bhagat wants to see. Is he upset that the word ‘yatri’ was used instead of ‘Hindu’ to describe the victims, while Junaid was described as a Muslim and not ‘a person out to celebrate Eid’? Can a yatri be anyone other than a Hindu? Would any reader or viewer of the news that night have been in any doubt about what had happened when she was told that terrorists in Kashmir had killed Amarnath yatris? Would she have been in any doubt about the fact that the victims were Hindus and that they had been killed because they were Hindus?
The fact is that Bhagat’s tweet is not merely about semantics. Perhaps he hasn’t thought this through – or has naively swallowed the logic of inflammatory channels like Times Now, whose editor described himself on air as “we Hindus” – but what he really ends up endorsing through his “factual” demand for “consistency in treatment” is the idea that nobody in India cares about Hindus. That Hindus, despite being the overwhelming majority in India, are a discriminated and victimised community. That India is unsafe for Hindus. That they are being killed without anyone shedding a tear and without the media or the police or the government doing anything to save them because they are too damn busy “appeasing” the Muslims – who feign victimhood, lord it over the Hindus, and are the real cause of Hindu suffering. The minorities have all the rights, the majority has none.
There. Surely it is better to just be blunt about what one is trying to say instead of beating about the bush. Well, apparently not. For once this ‘view’ is explicitly laid out in all its conspiratorial glory, everybody can see, based on their own experience, how utterly ridiculous it looks. Even for a Chetan Bhagat storyline.
I am not even going to invoke data, which the Sachar Committee provided in spades, to remind us of the fact that Muslims are not having such a good time. Consider instead just these three inconsistencies in the fantasy plot Bhagat would have us believe.
Prime Minister Modi was quick to issue three successive tweets for the Hindu victims of Muslim terrorists in Amarnath. I applaud him for that. But I have no explanation for why he has yet to tweet even once for any of the Muslim victims of Hindu criminals. As Bhagat might say, “I am not blaming anyone. Just asking for consistency in treatment. And being factual.”
The survivors of the Amarnath attack were flown back home amidst assurances that the perpetrators would be identified and punished. They were not harassed with questions about whether they were properly registered with the Amarnath Yatra Shrine Board and had the requisite permits, etc. Again, I am grateful to the police for behaving the way the authorities in any civilised society ought to with victims of a crime. By contrast, the Muslim survivors of the mob terror attacks in Dadri and Alwar had cases filed against them while the attackers had MPs and MLAs from the BJP lobbying for their speedy release. One of the alleged perpetrators, who died of dengue, was even honoured by the presence of a minister at his funeral, and had the national flag draped around him.
Finally, here comes the biggest inconsistency. The same media (and the same activists) who stood firmly for the right to life of Muslim Indians in the wake of Junaid’s murder and who held rallies under the slogan #NotInMyName – and whom Bhagat is carping about – also took to the streets to condemn the killings in Amarnath and assert the right to life and worship of Hindu Indians. I am still waiting for Hindutva activists and fellow travellers to show some concern for the life of Indians who do not share their own religion. They remain unmoved by the victimhood of Muslims and continue to make excuses of one kind or other every time they are targeted.
The fact is that those genuinely concerned about human life do not distinguish between Muslims and Hindus. The only ones who do make such a distinction are Muslim extremists and their Hindu counterparts. And the politicians who seek to milk every tragedy for votes.
It takes a special kind of nastiness to deploy the victims of one tragedy against the victims of another, to see in two similar crimes not the common thread of justice but an opportunity to play political games.
Acknowledging the murders of Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Junaid, honouring their memory and demanding that their killers be punished does not in any way diminish the victimhood of the seven Amarnath yatris who fell to terrorist bullets on July 11.
So why not just say that, Mr Bhagat?