August 02, 2016

India: Pious Mobs - Editorial in The Telegraph

The Telegraph - August 2, 2016

Pious mobs

India's vastness gives the gleeful violence of vigilantism a larger field on which to run amuck. Protecting the cow being now the main excuse for vigilantism, this violence finds its targets from Punjab to Karnataka - in both states people have been beaten up and arrested on the suspicion of skinning or killing cows. Laws banning cow slaughter differ from state to state. Killing cows, eating beef and possessing, storing and transporting cow meat are all different actions. The laws in different states may include some or all of these. Degrees of punishment differ too, the maximum so far being a prison term of 10 years - in a country where the conviction rate for rapists is abysmal. Mobs, however, do not bother about laws; their pleasure lies in turning on members of minority groups - caste, community or gender - in a frenzy of what they portray as a bewildering mix of religious devotion, cow worship, mother love and patriotism. The upheaval caused by the incident in Una has not disconcerted the vigilantes. They recently beat up two women in Madhya Pradesh for allegedly carrying cow meat - how did they know? - and mobbed the house of a Muslim neighbour in a village in Uttar Pradesh on suspicion that he had killed a calf.

The question is, why should cow slaughter be banned by law? Even without going into the not-too-subtle reasons behind this, it has to be asked if the lawmakers know where the violent divisiveness of such laws may lead. In its eagerness to ensure that the law banning cow slaughter is implemented, the political leadership is turning the concept of law on its head. The mobs attacking individuals from minority groups are not punished; the police are either arresting the alleged holders of beef or 'inquiring into' the allegations. The family of Mohammad Akhlaque in Dadri still has no peace, as though Akhlaque's death by lynching were not enough. Do those at the helm of the State believe that such disruption of social order will benefit them? Dalit anger is spreading. Yet leaders such as the Bharatiya Janata Party member of the legislative assembly, Thakur Raja Singh Lodh, take pride in encouraging ' gau rakshak' committees to teach minorities "a lesson". The game of polarization is so intoxicating that many leaders have forgotten that the BJP is simultaneously trying to project the unity of the majority religion. To eat the cake, one must have it first.