On 18th October 2015, Zahid Ahmed Bhat succumbed to his burn injuries in New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. Bhat, a resident of Batengoo, Anantnag district, was a nineteen year old cleaner of a truck that was set on fire on the night of 9th--10th October 2015 by a Hindu mob in Udhampur town on suspicion of cattle smuggling and cow slaughter. A petrol bomb was hurled inside the truck, on its three sleeping inmates. While the driver, Rameez Bhat, managed to escape, Zahid Ahmed and Showkat Ahmed sustained severe burn injuries and they were also thrashed by the mob. As of now, Showkat is battling for his life. The truck was returning to Kashmir carrying coal after it had unloaded a harvest of apples in Delhi.
On 15th October, twenty-two year old Noman, a resident of Raipur village in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, succumbed to the injuries that he suffered at the hands of a lynch mob in Nahan district of Himachal Pradesh. The allegation was that Noman and four others were smuggling cattle—five cows and ten oxen—when they were spotted and chased by local Bajrang Dal mob. The truck met with an accident and the men allegedly offloaded the cows, abandoned the vehicle and took shelter in a nearby forest before they were spotted by the lynch mob which outnumbered the police. According to residents of Noman’s village, the latter had gone to Punjab to purchase bullocks.
On 9th October, in Mainpuri, Agra district, two men, Rafeeq and Habib, were severely thrashed by a mob of500 strong, on allegations of slaughtering a cow. While the UP police filed an FIR against the two men against the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and also one against the mob, the post-mortem showed that the cow had died of natural causes, a point confirmed by the owner, Ghanshyam, to the police.
These incidents which have occurred on the heels of the Dadri lynching of September 30th demonstrate how the Hindutva agenda relies on mob violence. At the same time, the political success of the hate campaign has derived legitimacy from the Prime Minister’s studied silence and been backed by comments such as those by the Union Minister, Mahesh Sharma, who described the Dadri incident as an “accident” or that by Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, who stated, as recently as 15th October, that Muslims can reside in India provided they agree to give up eating beef.
The anti-beef incidents have redoubled the brazenness of the Hindutva mob as they hardly care that none of the deceased, Akhlaq, Noman or Zahid were actually involved in acts of slaughtering cows or were consuming beef. In a political climate where rumours and perceptions have gained ground, the legitimacy of rule of law has dissolved and disintegrated. What can be more telling than the fact that the police at Mainpuri slapped the two youth under the Prevention for Cruelty to Animals Act for skinning a naturally deceased cow. If such an act constitutes an offence, then what is at stake is the livelihood of a large number of people who depend on beef trade. While the profitability of the trade is well known, it is also clear from the Mainpuri incident that those situated at the lowest rungs of the trade are most vulnerable to such attacks. In Maharashtra which has the largest abattoir in the country, the Qureshi community has been badly affected by the recent extension on the ban on buffalo slaughter. Till now, the BJP state government has offered no alternate or rehabilitation plan for them.
The present Hindutva campaign has not only polarized and communalized the question of livelihood, religious identity and dietary preferences, but has also shown the hollowness of its agenda. If cow protection is the goal of the campaign, then, why is it that Manohar Lal Khattar’s Sonipat district offers such a grim picture of ageing and abandoned cows for aging in rubbish dumps, as exposed in a news analysis in Scroll.in? The report also shows why dairy farmers prefer to buy buffaloes as the milk yield is higher and the saleability of cattle is permitted, unlike the cow or bullock. Worse, the gaushalas which are routinely used for publicity stunts remain cash- strapped as politicians fail to pay the sum they announce with much fan-fare. Consequently, dairy farmers have to pay money to institutionalize their ageing cow as the Haryana government political promises of cow protection have only remained rhetorical. The fact that the buffalo has replaced the cow as the queen of cattle is a timely lesson which needs to be learnt in these times of “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”.
The rapidly deteriorating scenario, of the breakdown of law and order endangering life and liberties of the citizens, has only one answer: the government must realize that it is responsible for the mob violence which it has covertly unleashed and overtly sponsored and protected. It is only seventeen months since Mr. Modi assumed office as the Prime Minister; how much more intolerance will his government preach?
Megha Bahl and SharmilaPurkayastha