“In these four years, I also saw with, some disquiet, forces of divisiveness and intolerance trying to raise their ugly head. Attacks on weaker sections that militate against our national ethos are aberrations that need to be dealt with firmly. The collective wisdom of our society and our polity gives me confidence that such forces will remain marginalized, and India’s remarkable growth story will continue uninterrupted” so said honorable Pranab Mukherjee, President of India, addressing the nation on the eve of the 70th year Independence Day from British colonialism.
It is indeed quite an emphatic and forceful statement coming from the bully pulpit of the highest office in the land. It also put to shame those who refuse to acknowledge the growing intolerance and prejudice that is sweeping across India by the rightwing zealots who are emboldened by the election of Narendra Modi to power. The question to ponder is whether this is only an aberration or a growing trend that may have disastrous consequences to the way of life as we experience it today!
Just as India was celebrating its Independence Day, the word has come out from Bengaluru that SEDITION charges are being filed against Amnesty International of India, an organization that promotes human rights and creates awareness when it is violated in any part of the world. Once again, it appears that the law enforcement agencies are made pawns by ultra-nationalists who bent upon imposing their version of cultural hegemony on the diverse people of India.
Millions of Indians everywhere must be feeling the shame of India as the President has spoken out on the continuing assaults of Dalits. In a recent incident in Una, Gujarat, four Dalit youths were severely beaten up and dragged on the road for nearly a kilometer for allegedly possessing beef. It is widely known that the so-called upper castes will not touch the carcass and the Dalits are forced clear or handle it and when they do, they are mercilessly beaten up in the name of self-appointed ‘Gau Rakshak Samiti.’
Dalits who constitute one-sixth of India’s population, some 170 million people, live in precarious existence, shunned by much of Indian society because of their rank as “untouchables” or Dalits – meaning broken people – at the bottom of India’s caste system. Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land and basic resources, forced to work in degrading conditions, and routinely abused at the hands of police and dominant caste groups that enjoy state’s protection.
It appears that the Prime Minister had finally broken his silence when he made a statement in a town hall meeting saying that “I feel really angry that some people have opened shops in the name of cow protection. I have seen that some people commit anti-social activities through the night, but act as cow protectors by day”. It is noteworthy that Modi did not call for the prosecution and punishment of these cow vigilantes but asked the authorities to prepare ‘dossiers’ on them and keep them under control!
Almost a year ago, a mob lynched Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri U.P. on suspicion of possessing beef in his home refrigerator. Subsequently, the meat was sent for forensic examination. In June, Baliyan, who is a member of Modi’s Council of Ministers, BJP MP Yogi Adityanath and BJP MLA Sangeet Som defended the killers and demanded action against the dead man’s family for the ‘crime of eating beef.’
If there is growing intolerance on the dietary habits of Indians and rising violence by the emboldened vigilante groups who have taken up law unto their hands, many in the current leadership are in complicity lending credence to their nefarious activities with their overt or covert support to this highly charged environment.
Amit Shah, the President of BJP, boasted once that wherever there is a BJP government, there is a ban on the beef. Raja Singh, a member of Parliament, went even further stating that he extends his full support to all those who take it upon themselves to teach those Dalits a valuable lesson! Mohinder Lal Khattar, the current Chief Minister of Haryana, is on the record saying that Muslims can live in the country only if they give up eating beef. Panchajanyam, an RSS newspaper has quoted Vedic scriptures that ordered the killing of sinners who slaughtered cows and the Union Minister of Agriculture Radhamohan Singh termed cow slaughter a ‘mortal sin.’
There is no doubt that these vitriolic statements from higher ups have given fodder and cover to these cow vigilantes who roam the streets and become the judge, jury, and the executioners. Since BJP came to power, states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand have tightened laws against cow slaughter, but those in the leadership used the beef issue as an emotive political tool without any repercussions from the Prime Minister. In Maharashtra state, one may get five years incarceration for possession of beef as opposed to two years for sexual harassment of a woman!
Prime Minister himself effectively conjured up the specter of a ‘pink revolution’ – cow killing on a mass scale – in the event of a BJP’s defeat in the 2014 election as a part of a strategy to motivate people and to vote for his party. Both in Western Uttar Pradesh and again in Bihar Modi spoke at length about the dangers of ‘pink revolution.’ “ The agenda of the Congress is the pink revolution,” he said. “we have heard of the green revolution and white revolution but never pink, and this means the slaughter of animals (pashu). You see, the color of mutton is pink, and they are committing the sin of exporting it and bringing revolution…Because of this, our animal wealth is being slaughtered, our cows are being slaughtered, or sent abroad to be slaughtered….And now the Congress is saying, ‘if you vote for us, we will give you permission to kill cows’”
It is quite apparent that if Modi has to call the heinous and brutal beating of the Dalit boys in Gujarat as criminal wrongdoing and ask that the perpetrators to be punished, he would have to cross that ideological line he and his party have helped to formulate in attaining the power. However, what he has done with his recent statement to the nation is an attempt to soothe the bruised feelings of Dalits who are critical to the BJP’s prospects in the upcoming elections in U.P. and Punjab. What else could explain his silence in all these months when Muslim youths were lynched or beaten up by cow vigilantes?
The very idea of a consolidated vote bank based on the ideology of ‘Hindutva’ to include the Dalits and other backward castes may be fast unraveling as the video footage of the beating has gone viral and stoked Dalit Anger. The nation also witnessed the de-recognition of the Ambedkar Students Association in Chennai, mistreatment and subsequent suicide of the Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula in Hyderabad, torching of a Dalit home in Haryana and killing of the two children. All these incidents may only reinforce the age-old Dalit thinking that BJP is essentially a party dominated by an upper caste ideology, and there may be very little room left in it for anyone else!
(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)