Dadri is back with us.
Earlier this week, a group of 'gau rakshaks' stopped a truck carrying cows in Alwar (Rajasthan), beat up the occupants and killed one of them. The police registered a case against the Muslims for cow smuggling and arrested all of them. Only a case of "man-handling" was lodged against the killers and none arrested. The Home Minister of Rajasthan defended the vigilantes and said they were needed to curb crimes against the cow! A Union Minister even denied the incident in Parliament!
It was only after a national outrage that the police registered a case of murder. It now emerges in the media that the cows were not being smuggled at all - the truck had the necessary permit from the administration to transport the cows! Meanwhile, the count for people killed by gau rakshaks has gone up to ten.
Gau Raksha is big extortion business now, as a sting by Srinivas Jain of NDTV some time back showed. Cows are seized on roads and markets and released only on payment of ransom disguised as "service charges".
This is not an isolated case, but one that keeps repeating itself in practically all (mainly) BJP ruled states over the last couple of years. Nothing ever happens to these vigilante goons who are vociferously defended by Ministers and senior BJP functionaries. The police is thoroughly compromised if not complicit. The frenzy is maintained by deliberately provocative measures such as amending laws to provide for life sentences for cow slaughter, or by Chief Ministers publicly stating that those who kill cows will be "hung".
The ban on illegal slaughter houses in UP has gone completely out of hand: hundreds of meat shops have been forcibly shut, not only by the administration but by Gau Rakshaks, some have been burnt (Hathras), and thousands rendered unemployed. Restaurants and hotels serving legal meat have been intimidated into shutting shop, on the ostensible ground of Navratras. Over 500 of them were ordered to close in Gurgaon, right under the nose of the central govt.
Shiv Sainiks openly boast on prime time TV how they shut down the shops, but no action is taken against them. The Haryana govt. has just announced that ALL meat (including eggs) shops shall have to shut on 9th April (Mahavir Jayanti). This sets the stage for more closures on other Hindu festival days and gives another handle to these vigilantes.
Cow slaughter has been legally outlawed since 1955. Why this frenzy now ?
Nor is this distorted and venomous cultural nationalism limited to cows and beef. It is now being extended to the policing of young boys and girls, under the garb of "anti-Romeo squads". An intensification of the Valentine Day bashings by outfits like the Ram Sena, it is now being conferred legitimacy by being made state policy- first in UP (post Adithyanath) and now being adopted by the police of other BJP states. Even Delhi has announced that it will set up such squads.
The result is a repugnant invasion of privacy, police high handedness and corruption, and the emboldening of the same goons: visuals of innocent couples being mercilessly beaten up or dragged to police stations and released after paying bribes are a sickening constant on news shows. And generally it is the couples against whom action is taken, not the ones who harass them.
The same goondaism, without any force of law, is being displayed on matters relating to singing of the national anthem, films that do not conform to a particular version of history or mythology, any questioning of the strait-jacketed "nationalism" invented by the ideologues of the ruling party, or any "offence", imagined or otherwise, to the Hindu religion. Those who do not toe the line are beaten up. film sets destroyed, police let loose. Most of our corporatised media have been effectively silenced and do not protest beyond depicting a stray incident or two.
These vigilantes are beginning to resemble the Hitler Youth or Mussolini's Black Shirts, and it is time to worry where we are headed. Over the last two years, an environment of intolerance, hatred and anger has been created and lumpen elements are being insidiously encouraged to take the law into their own hands. What cannot be done legally is sought to be implemented through fear and intimidation, with the state machinery generally standing by as silent or complicit spectators.
There is no law which prohibits two members of opposite sexes from meeting in a public place, and there cannot be. But to do so today means risking life and limb.
There is no law which says that legally acquired buffalo meat or mutton cannot be sold, but to do so in large swathes of the BJP controlled "Hindu heartland" means inviting trouble and worse. There is no law which permits self-styled groups to enforce existing or imagined laws - but the police allow them a free run.
A way has been found around the laws. The BJP has become adept at speaking in two voices: one in Parliament and one on the streets. There should be a third voice - that of the Prime Minister - but it is never heard except at election rallies.
Vigilantism draws sustenance from two factors: One, the belief that its own value systems are superior to those of others, and two, the confidence that its practitioners will not be caught or punished. The BJP is providing justification for both, and for the moment it appears to be reaping the benefits. But this is a dangerous game and can quickly get out of hand. Hatred can develop a momentum of its own and, like a fire, feeds on itself.
The increasing incidents of assaults on Africans or people from the north-east stem from the same vigilantism: it doesn't matter whether they are racist or not. The point is that they are hate crimes based on contempt for others' culture. When you constantly reiterate that your own culture is the only one that counts, when you show complete intolerance and contempt for what others eat, drink, wear, worship or who they consort with, when you believe that you have the right to use violence to force others to conform - that is cultural, or worse, ethnic vigilantism, whether you practice it against a foreign national or one of your own.
The government must realise that when it allows an environment of lawlessness to exist to suit its own purpose, sooner or later it will spawn total criminality, and this is happening now on a daily basis.
The stand of the BJP was clearly demonstrated through a powerful symbolism last year: When one of the Dadri accused died in jail (of natural causes), his body was draped in the national flag and he was declared a "martyr". His funeral was attended by a Union Minister who even donated Rs 10 lakh to his family.
Perhaps the time has come to remember the poignant words of the Urdu poet:
Ab kahaan jaoge dhoondne mere katil ko,
Mere katl ka ilzam mujh par hi daal do.
["Where will you now go to find my killer,
Put the blame for my murder on me."]
This story was first published on Hill Post, a website that offers news and views from the northern hills of India