April 18, 2017 12:37:52 am
At the BJP’s two-day national executive in Bhubaneswar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the need for “social justice” to encompass backward Muslims. He is also reported to have referred specifically to the concerns of Muslim women and to the necessity of justice for them through dialogue, not conflict. The PM’s concern is commendable. He is right to address the special needs of backward Muslims.
And to intervene in the triple talaq debate on behalf of its victims. He does well to bring the weight of his office to the side of Muslim women at a time when they are being let down by powerful organisations such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which has yet again stopped short of taking an unequivocal stand against the unjust practice.
The PM’s acknowledgement of the special needs of backward Muslims and of Muslim women is notable for another reason: It is a welcome departure from his insistence so far on taking no names, of letting the concerns and sensitivities of minority groups be subsumed in the wide and apolitical slogan of “sabka saath sabka vikas”, which papers over the many inequities and discriminations built into the notions of “development” and the “people”. Yes, the PM broke a silence on Sunday at Bhubaneswar. But now that he has made a beginning, and for him to be really heard by those he is addressing, there are other silences that he and his government must break.
While the predicament of Muslim women oppressed by triple talaq calls for special measures, talk of gender justice only draws attention to the sidestepping of other oppressions being faced by a beleaguered minority community in times of gau rakshak vigilantism. On April 1, Pehlu Khan was beaten up by a band of gau rakshaks for transporting cattle in Behror area of Alwar on National Highway 8 — he died in hospital two days later. In the group of six accosted and assaulted that day, Arjun Lal Yadav was let off because, as he told this paper later, the attackers “went for the Muslims”. In the aftermath, a Union minister sought to deny the crime in Parliament and a Rajasthan minister suggested that “both sides” were to blame.
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The evidence is building that the Alwar attack was not an act of random criminality, and that the government prevarication seen in its aftermath is also part of a pattern. Incidents of violence and vigilantism by gau rakshaks targeting Muslims have been reported from other places, in other states as well.
They are fuelled, in UP, by its new chief minister’s crackdown on “illegal” slaughter houses, and by muscular statements of other BJP chief ministers as they bring draconian legislation against cow slaughter in their states. In many ways, Alwar has become the latest emblem of this government’s minority problem in the last three years of its rule. For the PM’s concern about the Muslim community’s backwardness and the plight of its women to be heard with the attention it deserves, therefore, his government must first address the fears and insecurities that Alwar has given a name to.
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