Another anniversary of Operation Blue Star is here, so it is hard not to begin by remembering that hot, horrible summer of 1984 when it seemed that religious madness was on the verge of tearing India apart again. It is especially important to commemorate this terrible anniversary in a week in which we have seen religion once more play a dangerous role. Fortunately it was also a week when the Indian justice system played a healing role, albeit 14 years too late. Since I like to get bad news out of the way first, I shall begin by saying how appalled I was by the reactions of some BJP politicians to the dubious discovery that the meat found in Mohammad Akhlaq’s fridge was beef.
The awful Swami Adityanath went so far as to demand that Akhlaq’s family be arrested on cow slaughter charges. Is he sick or mad? A man was killed by a mob of Hindu fanatics for nothing. It shamed India not just in Indian eyes but in the eyes of the world. So it is revolting to hear a chorus of BJP voices concentrate their attentions on punishing the dead man’s family for a crime that there is no evidence they committed. Frankly the first mistake was to allow the police to send the meat off for forensic analysis at all.
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This seemed to embolden the cow slaughter gang and God knows that they need to be crushed and not encouraged or India will return once more to those barbarous days when it was routine for thousands of innocent people to be killed in the name of religion. If the Prime Minister really wants India to awaken to a ‘nayi subah’ (new dawn), he must go out of his way to stop any more beef murders. After Akhlaq was killed, at least five Muslims lost their lives for the ‘crime’ of transporting cattle. A whole range of livelihoods have been destroyed since this beef ban nonsense gathered steam last year, and Hindu slipper makers in Kolhapur have made their complaints public. Who is going to come and ‘Make in India’ when you could be killed for eating a steak? So enough.
If the week gone by was not totally disheartening, it was because of a measure of justice being done in the Gulberg Society massacre. Zakia Jafri is right that many more people should have been jailed for the brutal, senseless killing of 69 people that included her husband. Those who said 14 years was too long to wait for justice are also right, but when seen in the context of our long, ugly history of communal riots in which justice has never been done, Gujarat offers hope. Statistics are deceptive in these matters, but I am willing to bet that more people have paid for the crimes they committed in Gujarat in 2002 than in all our other riots put together. It is because justice was never done that the shame of this kind of barbarous violence has continued this long.
Apart from a glimmer of hope, Gujarat also offers lessons. If the officials and policemen in charge of law enforcement had been punished along with the killers and rioters, then perhaps an important new precedent could have been set. Officials have been routinely punished for owning assets that do not match their earnings, but in my book, the crime of allowing innocent people to be killed out of incompetence or dereliction of their most fundamental duty to protect innocent lives is much worse. Why have so many nameless officials remained unpunished? Why do they continue to remain unaccountable?
If pogroms by the state and communal riots have become fewer since Gujarat 2002, it is almost entirely because of the healthy mushrooming of private news channels across the country. It is true that they can sometimes arrive too late, but usually when there is violence, as there was in Mathura last week, we can see it on our television screens before seeing Hema Malini’s selfies on Twitter. As the MP from Mathura, she made a real effort to explain that she was in Mathura till the day before and knew nothing about what was happening. It is not a good enough excuse.
If the Prime Minister wants to usher India into a new dawn, he needs to discipline those in his party who continue to behave irresponsibly. If Hema Malini can be excused for the harmless mistake of shooting for a film when her constituency burned, there can be no excuse for the venom spewed by people like Swami Adityanath who seem determined to ensure that there will never be a new dawn. The Prime Minister has done much to improve India’s image in the world, but the foul-mouthed Hindutva fanatics in his team have nullified this with their noxious ranting.
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