October 03, 2015

Indian Muslims are living at the mercy of Hindus: The lesson from Dadri ‘beef lynching’ (Jyoti Punwani)


Indian Muslims are living at the mercy of Hindus: The lesson from Dadri ‘beef lynching’

Whether in Uttar Pradesh or Karnataka, Muslims are being 'taught lessons'. What are the rules that Muslims need to remember?

Photo Credit: Narinder
After the 1992-’93 Bombay riots, senior advocate Adhik Shirodkar, who led the Shiv Sena’s legal team before the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry, told me something that has been true for every communal conflagration in India: Muslims, he said, were at the receiving end during the riots. That’s because, he claimed, they began the violence. And once the minority takes on the majority, he said, they are bound to get it back not in equal measure, but with twice the intensity.

“Revenge? Don’t even think of it,” was Asghar Ali Engineer’s response when I once told him that I agreed with the Muslim youth who wanted to avenge for what the Shiv Sena did to them during the May 1984 Mumbai riots. “When will the cycle of violence ever end once you start taking revenge?” the reformist-writer said. “Do you think Muslims would stand a chance?”

In India, Muslims need to learn two things. First, do not ever think of “taking on” Hindus. Second, forget about vengeance.

No place for modern State

Contrary to Shirodkar’s claim, Muslims didn’t start the violence in the 1992-’93 Bombay riots – the Shiv Sena did that. But, in response, they did come out on the roads, attack temples, policemen and burn Hindus alive. The leader of the Hindus couldn’t stand such audacity, so he ordered his foot soldiers to leave not a single Muslim alive. The Muslims were “taught a lesson”.

As they seethed with humiliation after the riots, Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon unleashed a series of bombings in Bombay on March 12, 1993. But what was the outcome? A brutal hunt for anyone remotely suspected of participating in the conspiracy, torture, lives wasted in prison, and finally, the execution of a man who was part of the Memon family. What cost, this revenge?

But in Dadri, what had 50-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq and his son Danish done to deserve a lynching? By purportedly eating beef in their own home, did the family “take on” the Hindus among whom they had lived for decades?

The Bharatiya Janata Party seems to think that was enough to incur the wrath of the village’s Thakurs. The family maintains the meat was mutton, not beef. But how were the enraged Thakurs to know that? They suspected it was beef, and the WhatsApp message making the rounds two hours before the lynching had suggested it was beef. Wasn’t that enough for a killing?

In the BJP’s justification of the mob violence in Dadri, there is no place for a modern State. There’s the majority, and then there’s the minority living in their midst. The minority doesn’t know what act could offend the all-powerful majority and how far this anger might go. There is no mechanism to check this rage, no instrument of the State that the majority fears.

Living on Hindus' goodwill

Thirteen years ago, when the same party was last in power under a moderate prime minister, a statement was made that perfectly illustrated the meaning of the Dadri incident. In Bangalore, the party’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, passed a resolution that said: “Let the Muslims understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority.” This was on March 31, 2002 – the Gujarat violence had barely ended.

Much outrage greeted this resolution, but the RSS did not budge. Instead, it argued, “The resolution simply states a fact of life. It is not the police, the para military forces and the army that can provide real safety to citizens. It is mutual goodwill among people and communities that does the job best.”

Mutual goodwill? The Dadri family bore no ill will towards the Hindus when they stored and cooked meat in their house for Bakri Eid. Perhaps what they didn’t know was that they were living on the goodwill of their Hindu neighbours. The Akhlaq family ate meat, but in their carelessness they let the Thakurs know that. Call it their confidence in being free citizens of the country, with the right to lead lives as they thought fit.

Well, they learnt, didn’t they, who set the terms for their lives?

Outside the Akhlaq home, neighbours reportedly saw a stray dog picking a piece of meat. Bakri Eid is a festival when everyone, even the poorest Muslim, eats meat. Two hours after the WhatsApp message had done its damage, when the police came, their first act was to send the meat for analysis. What if it was actually beef? Would the police have registered a First Information Report against the dead man and his family, as they do in such cases?

The rule of the majority

During the second phase of the Mumbai riots, when the BJP-Sena were holding maha aartis on the road every evening, as a display against the practice of the Friday namaz on the roads, one such maha aarti was held at Grant Road. The clash of cymbals, the clamour of voices singing bhajans was in full swing, when suddenly the leaders of the maha aarti got agitated. They could hear the sound of the azaan from a nearby masjid.

The leaders forced the police that always guarded maha aartis to raid the masjid. Dutifully, the police did so. The imam of the masjid was told that unless the practice of azaan on the loudspeaker was stopped for good, the maha aartis would continue to take place on the road.

A police photographer present at the site told the Srikrishna Commission that such was the din created of the maha aarti that there was no way any azaan could have been heard. In fact, he said, the faces of the participants showed they were deeply immersed in their own chanting, oblivious to any other sound. But the masjid was raided, the warning issued – and obeyed. The imam of the masjid learnt that he had to live on the Hindus’ goodwill.

The BJP-Sena confidently asked the police to raid the masjid because they knew the State belongs to them. The police do their bidding because they too believe in the same premise – the minorities live on the goodwill of the majority.

A doctor frightened by the aggressive slogans shouted by the maha aarti participants, despite the presence of the army outside his clinic in Muslim-dominated Dongri, rang up the police asking for protection. “Make arrangements for your own protection,” he was told, after being addressed by a derogatory word for Muslims. He, too, learnt that his existence depended on accepting the aggression of the majority.

Live on Hindu sufferance – that’s the third rule that Muslims must keep in mind today, whether they live in “Maulana” Mulayam Singh’s Uttar Pradesh or Congress Socialist Siddaramaiah’s Karnataka. What should secular Hindus, who find these atrocities unacceptable, do? Make sure the BJP is defeated in Bihar, so that the saffron wave doesn’t spread further? Or, make sure that the law is made to catch up with the powerful majority, be it in Dadri or Mangalore – make sure the majority accepts that it’s the Constitution that rules, not them?