This is the last column of 2015. So I planned to analyse the achievements and failures that marked Narendra Modi’s second year as Prime Minister. But on the morning of my deadline, an account of the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq appeared on the front page of this newspaper in the words of his daughter Shaista. She described how 15 or 20 men came into their house on the night of September 28 and started sprinkling kerosene around, before they dragged her father and brother out into the street. “They were saying if you tell the police we will kill you too,” she said in a statement given to a magistrate.
Shaista has identified 15 of the people who came that night, and confirmed that her father was killed because of a rumour spread from the village temple that a cow had been killed. Mohammad Akhlaq was not killed by a mob. His killers have been identified and some are related to local BJP leaders. If these leaders continue to remain in the BJP, then the fear that the hysteria over beef had the Prime Minister’s tacit support will be horribly proved. If he wants to begin 2016 by showing that he does not approve of this kind of Hindutva violence, he must publicly demand action against the BJP leaders in Dadri whose relations were involved in the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq. Not only should people like this not have any role in a political party, they should not have a role at all outside a jail cell. They represent an uglier, more barbaric India. No country that aspires to becoming an economic superpower can allow monsters like this to exist.
If the Prime Minister has not yet understood how much his image was personally damaged by the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq, it is time he did. It is also time he clarified what his stand is on beef. If he wants it banned in India then he should say so, because an insidious ban is more dangerous and will continue to incite violence and hysteria. An insidious ban already exists. Last week in a Japanese restaurant in Delhi, where I have often eaten steak, I was told that it was no longer available. In Mumbai, thanks to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra’s personal support for a meat ban during a Jain festival, it has become completely unavailable in restaurants.
In a country full of religious fanatics, insidious bans promote so dangerous an atmosphere that at the Pushkar cattle fair in November, sales of cattle dropped by nearly 95 per cent. Reports from the fair indicate that one reason why cattle sales had dropped so dramatically was because buyers were afraid of transporting their livestock on national highways. And with good reason, since after Mohammad Akhlaq’s killing, three other young Muslim men were killed on the suspicion that they were smuggling cattle across state lines. One of them was a Kashmiri teenager who was traveling with his cousin for the first time outside the Kashmir Valley because he wanted to see what Delhi looked like.
Muslims have been the automatic target of the beef hysteria, but they are not the only Indians who made a living out of the cattle trade. Millions of lower-caste Indians (including this outcaste columnist) ate beef before the hysteria began, and millions more made a living out of beef exports and related trades. If the Prime Minister wants a total ban, then he must find ways of creating other jobs for these people.
As a good Hindu he must also find ways of saving our sacred cows from the terrible misery in which they eke out their years once they are no longer useful. They live in the streets of our towns and cities eating plastic out of open garbage dumps. Such hysteria was generated by beef this year that a flying plastic cow in an art installation in Jaipur was hastily pulled down by nervous policemen. Luckily for the artist, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan stood by him and not the police, but this incident was a fine illustration of the absurdity of what happened this year in the name of the cow.
It was not just the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq that damaged India’s image as a nation, but the hysteria in general. As someone who has written before in this space that the whole ‘growing intolerance’ debate was fraudulent, may I end the year by saying as clearly as possible that it shamed me as an Indian to have to discuss cows in a political column. So please Prime Minister can you begin the year by throwing out of the BJP the local leaders in Dadri whose relations killed Mohammad Akhlaq. It will help assuage the anger we felt at your silence over so awful a killing.
To read this article in Hindi click here