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In My Own Voice: What is Happening in my Beloved Country?

Sagari Chhabra |
The mob fed on hate will use any excuse to get at the ‘other’.
Pehlu Khan

Recently there was disturbing news that the seven accused in rioting which led to the lynching of Subodh Kumar Singh in Bulandshahr—the policeman who was also investigating Mohammad Akhlaq’s lynching—were out on bail and received a heroes’ reception.

The accused were garlanded and also had a tumultuous party hosted in their honour, the video of which is doing the rounds on social media.  Earlier, when Shambhu Singh Raigar had killed a Muslim marble trader in Rajasthan and filmed the macabre act, the police had to freeze his bank account as he received Rs 3 lakh from 516 well-wishers. 

Is this a terrible aberration in a country fabled for having its freedom struggle inspired by non-violence under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi? I recently attended the screening of a documentary film, ‘Holy Cow’ directed by Suraj Kumar. The director had courageously documented a cancerous growth, eating into large chunks of our society’s fabric. 

It was horrific to learn that when Junaid,17, and his brother were lynched inside a train, no one spoke up to save the two children. The argument was ostensibly over a seat. Junaid was returning after buying new clothes after he had learnt to memorise the Quran. His fault, he was wearing his skull cap. He was lynched and brought dead to hospital, but his brother, who survived, spoke in a dead pan manner and yet his words pulled at the heartstrings, ‘No one said, why are you beating mere kids?’.

Were the spectators scared or dehumanised, fed on hate about a particular community that has become the ‘other’? I had met Junaid’s mother – a simple woman in a burkha -- at a public meeting and expressed deep remorse to her at her losing her son. As a mother, I know the loss of a child is irreparable. 

Just then, Umar Khalid—one of the JNU students falsely accused of sedition—came tearing in: he had been shot at with a revolver – the man had missed his mark—and an attempt to his life had been made, right outside the Constitution Club, close to Parliament House.

It was a terrifying moment. I wondered what had my beloved country come to?

Also present there was Najeeb’s mother— the student who has gone missing from JNU and has not been traced. She cried saying, ‘Dekho voh hame bolne nahin de rahein. Voh khauf paida kar rahe hein’. (They are not letting us speak. They are spreading fear.)

On September 28, 2018, a lynch mob broke into Mohammad Akhlaq’s house in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, because a local priest announced on a microphone that a cow was missing and was being eaten at Akhlaq’s house. Instead of going to a police station on a missing cow, the local priest took it upon himself to broadcast a baseless accusation. 

The mob brutally beat up Akhlaq. No one searched for the remains of the missing cow. The meat inside Akhlaq’s fridge was first verified to be mutton and then mysteriously documented as ‘beef’. 

Akhlaq died due to his injuries, yet all the 16 accused received bail and Akhlaq’s brother, Jaan Mohammad, and some family members were booked for cow slaughter. Jaan said, ‘Our family have since locked up our home and moved from the area.’

In an ironic twist, one of the accused died in police custody—of natural causes—yet his body was draped in the national flag. 

Is he a hero of today’s twisted times?

On April 1, 2017, Pehlu Khan from Haryana was transporting cattle he had bought from a cattle fair in Rajasthan. He was lynched because the mob asked him his name, but the driver, who had a Hindu name, was left untouched. Also, the police investigations are rather specious; the six accused have got a clean chit from the police, while six others have been acquitted. 

The irony is that Pehlu Khan’s sons, Irshad and Arif, have been booked for illegally transporting cattle. 

However, as Irshad states, “No one at the cattle fair informed us it was not permissible to transport cattle from one state to the other”. The mob had torn up their papers which clearly documented they had bought the cattle. They have since got the papers from the cattle fair authorities re-issued, but is anyone listening, and the essence of the matter is, can we get Pehlu Khan back?

When activist Harsh Mander and the Aman Biradari team went to place flowers at the site, the police told them they could not guarantee their security. They went anyway. When their ‘caravan of peace’ was stoned, they opened the door and threw back flowers.  

Ahimsa is struggling to survive in our beloved country.

Earlier, I used to believe that we have some serious disjunction; cattle and dairy farming is a livelihood for millions of people in India and yet a man gets lynched by a mob for transporting cattle. Cows do get slaughtered after they become old and as it is not economically feasible to feed a cow once she stops giving milk, and farmers do sell them for slaughter. India is a major exporter of beef and many Indians, including Muslims, eat beef as part of their food habits; the poor among them do so as mutton and chicken are more expensive. These are beefy subjects and can be debated in an open climate – devoid of the fear that is being orchestrated.

However, now I am revising my opinion, for the mob fed on hate will use any excuse to get at the ‘other’. 

Where is our humanity? Where is that core of ‘ahimsa’ and non-violence our civilisation is fabled for? 

The mass political mobilisation in the name of the cow, calling her ‘gau mata’ is for political purposes to seize power. The cow can never really be a mother as it is degrading to motherhood, but if the cow is like your mother, please do look after her, as millions of cows roam freely: munching plastic, drinking water from drains and creating a traffic hazard.

Let us remember that what we do or not do today has echoes in eternity. Unless every citizen stands up for secularism, fraternity, peace and the rule of law, the mob will rule. 

What is happening in my beloved country?


Sagari Chhabra is an award-winning author and film director. The views are personal.

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