Besides accentuating polarisation and provoking communal conflict, the BJP is turning attention away from the real migrations, cattle deaths and trafficking taking place because of its callous policies.
Sangeet Som, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of the state assembly, is threatening agitation over a demand that he, his party, the larger Sangh parivar and most people know can hardly be fulfilled. Som has issued an ultimatum to the UP government to bring back, within a fortnight, the 356 Hindus who were allegedly forced to leave Kairana town in Shamli district. Som is now alleging, just as BJP MP Hukum Singh did a few days ago, that these Hindus were forced to leave Shamli by Muslim goons.
Before Som made his threat, Singh had already retracted his statement saying that there was no ‘Hindu-Muslim angle’ to the problem and that he had been misled by members of his staff. Despite this, Som is threatening dire consequences if his demand is not met.
After Singh’s initial allegation, which was accompanied by a flourishing of papers that purportedly contained the names of the 356 Hindus, the issue was taken up by none other than BJP president Amit Shah. At the rally that concluded the recent meeting of the BJP national executive in Allahabad, Shah thundered, in his now familiar style, that Kairana would be one of the main issues in the campaign for the UP assembly elections next year. He did not forget to add that these elections would be fought on a war footing.
Newspapers, TV channels (with the exception of Zee, whose owner has recently been sent to the Rajya Sabha by a grateful BJP), much of the media in UP and the UP administration itself have all taken Singh’s early allegations very seriously and have made tremendous efforts to uncover ‘the truth’. Kandhla, a town neighbouring Kairana, had to be included because Singh, while retracting his statement concerning Kairana, had gone on to say that a Hindu exodus was taking place from Kandhla.
Without exception, all reports from the fact-finders and the UP government reiterate that many of the people on Singh’s list are dead, others left the area decades ago, many are still living there and still others have moved in search of a better future. Medical and educational facilities in Kairana are abysmal, there are no jobs for educated youth and the infrastructure is pathetic. It is also true that Kairana, like many parts of western UP, is plagued by criminal gangs, led by both Muslim and Hindu dons. These gangs indulge in extortion and abduction, harassing members of both communities, especially traders and petty businessmen. Very few people, however, have actually deserted their homes because of the gangs.
The Sangh parivar has other issues on its agenda for the assembly upcoming elections. Prominent among these is the protection of gau mata (‘mother cow’) and Hindu women. Both appear to be laudable objectives, until it becomes clear that they come with conditions – only Hindu women abducted by, married to or involved with Muslim men and only those cows believed to be threatened by Muslim men are eligible.
There are two trains that originate in the 13 districts of Bundelkhand, which straddles UP and Madhya Pradesh. More than 500 people arrive in Delhi from the region each month. These people take shelter under the various overbridges in the vicinity of the Nizamuddin railway station. These shelters in turn have become places where those looking to hire daily labourers for construction work come to pick up cheap hands, at rates lower than those found at other places where workers wait for work. Migrants in search of work have no bargaining power. Often, they are not paid the full amount promised to them and sometimes, they receive nothing at all. The situation in Bundelkhand is so dire that even farmers have arrived in Delhi and are begging labour contractors to find them work.
But these tragic forced migrations are not what arouse the ire of the parivar.
The parivar is also not irked by the UP government bringing back the more than fifty thousand Muslim men, women and children who were forced to migrate from their homes and villages after being violently attacked as a result of rabble-rousing by parivar members in the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts.
A report from Maharasthra tells us that migration, by poor, rural families increases the risk of trafficking. Besides those who migrate in search of work, the women and children left behind are also at grave risk of being trafficked. Those who do migrate have to live in the open in unknown towns and cities, at construction sites, on pavements and under flyovers. Many are forced to beg. In all these situations, individuals are at high risk of being trafficked.
The Sangh parivar has stopped Hindu women marrying Muslim men in various parts of the country. It has been responsible for sending some of these young men to jail and, in a few cases, has had them lynched. There have also been instances of bloody rioting resulting in the parivar’s intervention in and propaganda around what are matters of individual preference.
Unfortunately, the thousands of women and children, mostly Hindus, who are the victims of drought, hunger and migration, and vulnerable to the resultant threat of trafficking, do not seem to qualify for the parivar’s intervention.
The truth of the gau mata
Migrants have related heart-rending stories about how they have been forced to turn their cattle loose because they had neither water nor fodder to keep them alive. Huge herds of starving, restless and aggressive cattle are wandering around vast areas of rural India.
Rajasthan boasts of a ‘gaupalan ministry’ and a ‘gaupalan directorate’ dedicated to the welfare of cows and their progeny. Despite this, a hill in the Aravalli range in Sawai Madhopur district is filled with hundreds of carcasses and the stench of decomposing cattle. Locals from the surrounding villages, where all the ponds have dried up, bring their cattle up the hill and abandon them in this flat and rocky place.
During a padyatra (foot march) in Bundelkhand villages a few weeks ago, Yogendra Yadav and others working with the Swaraj Abhiyan witnessed a new phenomenon in the region. Althouhg abandoning cows after they stop yielding milk is common practice, called ‘anna prath’, Yadav and his companions saw that buffaloes were also being abandoned because of a lack of fodder and water. Every single village they visited reported that numerous cattle had died in a month; in the 11,065 villages, if 30 cattle deaths is taken as the average per village, then about 3 lakh cattle died in May this year alone.
Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are BJP-ruled states, which the party is vying to rule UP. Yet the plight of thousands of cows dying of hunger and thirst in these areas does not arouse the Sangh parivar to action and protest. At the same time, for Som, the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq and hundreds of others whom he believes, without having any evidence at all, consumed 150 kgs of beef during Id last year in Dadri, is perfectly justifiable.
What the BJP is achieving by its selective approach towards migration, cow protection and abductions is much more than just accentuating polarisation and provoking communal conflict. It is also succeeding in taking attention away from the real migrations, trafficking and cattle deaths caused by the callous policies of its governments at the Centre and in the states.
Above all, the BJP is robbing people of their humanity by making them selective about whose homelessness they should mourn, whose abduction they should protest and which cow they should venerate.
Subhashini Ali is a former member of parliament from Kanpur and politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)