Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sweet homily to the nation over the lynching of a Muslim in Dadri amounts to nothing more than preaching to the converted. That too reluctantly so, after 10 days of cajoling from innumerable quarters urging the country’s prime communicator to break his silence, and a day after President Pranab Mukherjee felt compelled to speak up and remind us of our “core civilisational values”.
The prime minister has asked Hindus and Muslims to decide whether they want to fight each other or fight poverty together. We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? Which Muslims and which Hindus could the prime minister possibly have in mind? Fighting Hindus was not on Mohammad Akhlaq’s agenda. Fighting Muslims is far from the concerns of Manoj Sisodia, Akhlaq’s childhood chum, to whom Akhlaq reportedly made his last desperate phone call. Sisodia is said to have immediately called the police. Alas, too late.
So, will the prime minister and the president please stop sermonising to Hindus and Muslims in general about the need to stop fighting each other or reminding them of civilisational values? Such preaching is simply unnecessary to the large majority of India’s Hindus and Muslims, for whom togetherness is a lived reality.
Days before the Dadri killing, Hindus from a part of Mumbai created space in their temple and local Muslims performed Eid prayers under the benign gaze of Lord Ganesha. Also on Eid day, Muslims from a neighbourhood in Kashmir chose not to celebrate because a Kashmiri Pandit had died in their locality.
Or, go meet Habib bhai, who, “despite being a Muslim”, has for the last 50 years been taking loving care of over 800 cows in the sprawling gaushala adjoining the ancient Dronacharya temple in Dankaur, Dadri. Yes, you read it right, Dadri.
Instead of a belated response after a prod from the president of India, it would have been far better if the prime minister had taken his cue earlier from the vice president, Hamid Ansari. Speaking at a public function within 48 hours of the lynching at Dadri, Ansari stated that it was the “state’s responsibility to ensure right to life to every citizen irrespective of faith or creed”. “Despite being a Muslim”, Ansari was keeping faith in the Indian Constitution.
The state must not abdicate its duty: Forget Hindu, Muslim, talk state responsibility.
Communal conflict lies not in the DNA of every Indian. Rather, it’s the cumulative outcome of the hate speech and violent deeds of those who buy into an “us vs them” ideology. It is this communally infected lot that has been setting the agenda since May 2014. By throwing the ball into the Hindu-Muslim court, the chief political executive of the country is abdicating his own and his government’s responsibility to ensure rule of law, protect and promote constitutional values, whatever it takes.
Perhaps our prime minister could learn a lesson from a former prime minister of Norway. In end January 2001, a young African-Norwegian, Benjamin Hermansen, was knifed to death by two white supremacists. Hermansen’s only sin was the colour of his skin. Racial prejudice and discrimination are not unknown to Norway. But this was the country’s first racial killing, and it shocked the nation. Thousands of citizens poured on to the streets of Oslo the very next day, and the protest demonstration was led by none other than the country’s then prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg. He sent out a message, loud and clear: “This is not our way. We shall not tolerate hate crimes in our country.”
The Norwegian prime minister did not simply leave it to citizens to choose the kind of society they wished to live in. He led by example and rallied the country behind him. Other cities followed the example set by Oslo. The country’s top musicians participated in concerts denouncing race crimes. The government’s official website reported: “The Norwegian public has made a clear statement: This murder will not be forgotten. And it will have clear consequences”.
In less than a year, a five-judge bench of the trial court held Joe Erling Jahr, 20, and Ole Nicolai Kvisler, 22, guilty and sentenced them to long years in prison. To the best of my knowledge, till date, Hermansen death remains the only incident of racial killing in Norway.
Fast forward to a news report dated August 19, 2015: Even as three Norwegian and British men are on trial for hate crimes against two Muslim men in Oslo, Norwegian minister for children, equality and social inclusion, Solveig Horne, was being grilled by a UN committee in Geneva over the country’s failure to better combat such crimes and racism. The trial itself is a result of Norway’s efforts to take hate crimes and discrimination more seriously, but UN officials aren’t satisfied.
Islamophobia has been growing in Norway in recent years. What’s changed in Norway between 2001 and 2015 is the government of the day. Stoltenberg belongs to Norway’s left-of-centre Labour Party, while a right-of-centre coalition government has been in power since 2013.
Perhaps I need to correct myself. Expecting Narendra Modi to take a cue from Jens Stoltenberg, stand up in a no-nonsense way against India’s hate-mongers a la the latter is inconceivable. That would mean the prime minister pitting himself against his pracharak self, party and parivar. Isn’t that asking for too much?
The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy, and co-editor, ‘Communalism Combat’