Shameless politics of polarisation behind Dadri lynching

By Bilal Bhat

New Delhi: A 50-year-old man, Mohammad Akhlaq, was bludgeoned to instant death and his 22-year-old son, Danish, left severely injured late in the night of 28 September in  Bisara village of UP’s Dadri area by a charged Hindu mob of around 200 men after rumours were spread in the area that the family was storing and consuming “beef”. The incident led to an unprecedented outrage from different walks of life.

Akhlaq before and
after the attack

Akhlaq lived in the village with his octogenarian mother, wife, 17-year-old daughter and son Danish, while his elder son, Sartaj, worked in the Indian Air Force.  

RSS/BJP man caught red-handed throwing meat at a temple in Azamgarh
While Muslims were busy celebrating the Eidul Azha festival late last month, vicious communal forces were busy conspiring to trigger communal tension throughout north India. Despite being a secular nation and calling itself world’s largest democracy, India has seen the religious minorities slowly marginalised. The narrowing of acceptable beliefs is as costly to the diverse, rich variety of Hindu traditions as well as to the non-Hindus.  Such beliefs are purveyed by a criminal conspiracy, the politics of blood and terror. These conspiracies led to the demolition of the Babari Masjid, Mumbai, Muzaffarnagar and Gujarat communal riots. To trigger a similar carnage of Muslims once again, these people were busy preparing the ground throughout the country. A series of events took place from Kashmir to Jharkhand in the month of September alone.

Events behind and beyond lynching at Dadri

In a bid to trigger communal violence and spoil the Muslim festival, the first incident occurred on on 25 September, the day of Eid, in Ranchi that triggered violence leading to a shutdown in the state capital.  On the same day, a communal clash broke out in the western Assam town of Dhubri following an assault on a Muslim youth on Eid evening in the wake of some unidentified miscreants dumping beef in front of a Hindu temple in the town.

Meat was also found outside temples in Lohardaga, Palamu and Chatra districts of Jharkhand.  A frenzied mob lynched an innocent 42-year-old Muslim man calling him a “Pakistani terrorist” on 27 September in Kanpur’s Jana village. Astonishingly, a local police outpost located just half-a-kilometre away remained locked and the beat constable refused to react to a phone call by a local resident. In a shocking video, which is on YouTube, we see how mercilessly the man is being beaten up and the people gathered around are shamelessly watching the scene.

Subsequently, on 27 September, meat was found outside four temples in Jharkhand. Three people - all Muslims - were promptly arrested only because they were named in the FIR. When the police started a probe, they found that the Muslim men were not involved. Yet police pretended to be clueless about the people behind such criminal conspiracy although some people behind these crimes are accidentally unmasked as happened in the case of a burqa-clad man, who is said to be an RSS/BJP, was caught by residents in Azamgarh town in Uttar Pradesh while throwing beef into a Hindu temple. Photos of these men caught red-handed also went viral on Facebook and Twitter on 30 September.

As the reports show, most of the incidents were witnessed in Jharkhand which is adjacent to Bihar where elections are going to be held shortly. This clearly points out one thing:  the aim is polarization of voters by triggering communal tension.

Throwing beef in temples was not enough. They also used WhatsApp to spread their message of hate to provoke the majority community against the minority.

On 3 October, a BJP general secretary and the PRO of a senior BJP leader were among nearly one dozen people who were booked by police for trying to incite communal tension in Jammu’s Rajouri district. Police said the duo were booked in connection with the circulation of a WhatsApp message which showed a photograph of the Holy Kaaba, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque in Mecca, with a superimposed image of Lord Shiva. Others were booked for attacks on Muslims accused of possessing bovines in September in a Muslim area of Jammu. The timely intervention of police and local people defused the communal bomb before it could explode and engulf large areas.

A similar conspiracy was cooking up in Dadri before the Bisara incident took place. Poor Akhlaq fell victim to this conspiracy, for two reasons: One due to very low Muslim population ratio in the area and secondly because his family was too late to take note of the early warnings. Just three days before the murderous attack, his son Danish was called a “Pakistani,” as Danish’s mother told media.

To prepare for the crime, WhatsApp was used to spread videos of cow slaughter. Days before the attack, a calf went “missing” in the village. People got angry as a result and, finally, miscreants used the loudspeaker of a local temple to press the final trigger, accusing innocent Akhlaq for consuming and possessing beef.

The villagers of Bisara, writes Betwa Sharma in Huffington Post, have pictures of meat and bones as clinching proof in their minds that Mohammad Akhlaq’s family slaughtered a cow. “The photos have spread like wildfire across the village, and almost everyone has images on their own phones,” writes Sharma.

Vandana Rana, the sister of Vishal Rana who has been named in the police FIR as being part of the lynch mob, told Supriya Sharma of that she often gets messages and videos of cow slaughter. “The videos are from Kashmir, from Muzzafarnagar, basically from Mohammedan areas, where cows are being killed,” she said. She gets the images via WhatsApp. This clearly shows an organised campaign to spread hate. Once the atmosphere is poisoned enough, any trigger is enough to start violence. Politics of shamelessness

Even as the brutal murder of Akhlaq sparked a national outrage, leaders of the ruling BJP are busy trivialising the issue. On 8 October, 2015, PM Modi, who had come under severe criticism for failing to speak up on the issue or restrain his party leaders from making incendiary statements, broke his eight-day silence on the Bisara lynching. Instead of acting tough against the communal forces and without outright condemnation of the lynching, he made a sweet homily of communal harmony, rubbing salt deep into the wounds of the Akhlaq’s family.

The fact is that at least seven of the 10 accused in the case are related to a local BJP leader (Sanjay Rana). Two youth, one of them the son of a local BJP leader, were arrested on 3 October for playing a key role in the lynching.  The village should have felt shame but on 4 October, the mood in the village was hostile, with some openly blaming the media for biased coverage. In the morning, a mob of some 100 women chased and hit journalists and damaged the OB van of a TV channel. A TOI correspondent was hurt in the scuffle.

After this shameful incident, BJP leaders came out with the following hypotheses:
1. Lynching was an “accident”; “his 17-year-old daughter was not raped,” proudly said Dr Mahesh Sharma, the Union Culture Minister. Sharma took great pains to explain that the mob which lynched Akhlaq was rather a “cultured one”. After meeting Akhlaq’s family on 2 October, Sharma while pointing to Akhlaq’s grieving daughter said, “not a finger was laid on his 17-year-old daughter”.

2. “A case of misunderstanding”: Another controversial statement came from the Union Culture Minister who is also BJP MP from Noida. He claimed that two other families who lived with the family of the murdered man were not touched, essentially shifting the blame to the victims. “About 10-12 houses of the other community are in the outlying part of the village but no incident concerning them has happened,” he further said.

3. “Be a victim”: Worse, BJP MP Tarun Vijay said on 1 October that it wasn’t the Hindu community’s responsibility to maintain peace while the Muslim community remains mute. “Why responsibility to keep peace and maintain calm is always put on the Hindus alone? Be a victim and maintain silence in face of assaults!” tweeted the former editor the RSS’s Hindi mouthpiece, Panchajanya.

4. “Members of the lynch mob are innocent children”: A local BJP leader who was a former lawmaker in the area, Nawab Singh Nagar, stoked controversy on 30 September by describing the members of the lynch mob as “innocent children”. Soon after visiting the village, Nagar said, “If anybody was consuming cow meat then that is wrong.” He added that the “innocent kids” who allegedly killed Akhlaq were “children barely 10-15 years old”.

5. “Arrest cow slaughterers instead”: The BJP wants action against those who allegedly killed a cow, even though proof of same is completely missing as police after the laboratory tests has clarified that the meat in question was mutton.  

“The police have arrested innocent people. We also demand legal action against those people who are engaged in cow slaughter as it is hurting Hindu sentiments,” said local BJP leader Vichitra Tomar on 30 September.

6. “Some people (just) got agitated”: PJP leaders were more interested in police investigating whether beef was consumed by the victim’s family, rather than bringing the perpetrators of the horrific incident to book.

“The locals gave samples of meat to the police but they (the cops) did not take it seriously. Then some people got agitated,” BJP district president Thakur Harish Singh said on 29 September, suggesting that the “agitation” was justified.

7. “Akhlak did not die because of the injuries but because of shock”: BJP leaders even came up with an alternative theory for the 52-year-old man’s brutal murder. “The man did not die because of the injuries but because of shock when someone (wrongly) told him his son was dead,” Shrichand Sharma, vice-president of BJP’s western UP unit, told The Indian Express on 1 October. “This happens every day. When we hurt people’s sentiments, such clashes take place. This was not a communal riot. The Hindu community worships cows. Whose blood won’t boil if they see cow slaughter?”, he further opined.

He blamed the local police for not registering an FIR after reports of the alleged cow slaughter. He called for a mahapanchayat (mass conclave) on 11 October if the administration, district magistrate and other officials don’t listen to their demands. “From Friday, we will go from village to village and mobilise people. We will not tolerate harassment,” he said.

Criminalisation of victims
At the very first instance, police instead of arresting the murderers, were busy investigating the “beef.” A mob gathered outside the family home. It broke down the door and entered illegally. One man was murdered and another was critically injured. At the very minimum, four separate crimes were committed against the Akhlaq family, one of which is a heinous crime whose punishment is death. Why is it then that meat from their refrigerator was sent to the forensic department for examination? Instead of probing murder and arresting killers, the police was busy probing “beef.” Even if the meat in the Akhlaq home was beef (which was not), it would not justify the mob attack on them and the murder of Akhlaq. So why have the contents of their refrigerator become a police evidence? It was clearly to justify the killings.

Hindi press presented Akhlaq as “Cow killer”
Going by reporting of the murder in some Hindi newspapers, it is clear that Mohammad Akhlaq was a cow-killer. There has also been violence following the arrest of members of the mob, suggesting some political mobilisation. Rather than focussing on the chilling attack on a Muslim family, Hindi newspapers devoted more space to the clashes that erupted after the police made arrests, making it a prejudiced case. “Pashuvadh ke aaropi ki maut”, (“Man accused of killing an animal is dead”) -- this is how the Hindi newspaper Amar Ujala reported the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in its Delhi edition on 30 September. Even though there was no evidence of an inter-community clash in Dadri, the face-off between a Hindu mob and the police was obfuscated as a “communal conflagration” in Dainik Jagran’s Greater Noida edition on 30 September. Other Hindi newspapers followed the same trend of biased reporting.

Similar treatment in Jhajjar

The events in Dadri are an echo of the 2002 lynching at Jhajjar in Haryana of five Dalit men - Virender, Dayanand, Raju, Tota and Kailash, the youngest of whom was 17. Three of them prepared and dealt in animal hides. The other two were the driver and cleaner of the tempo they had hired to carry a cow carcass they had bought. The men were dragged out of a police station at Dulina by a mob that claimed they had killed the cow, and lynched them all in the presence of policemen and district officials. The police sent the cow for an autopsy which found that the cow was dead when it was bought. The question that still remains is why, with five men lynched before their eyes, did the police feel the need to send a cow carcass for an autopsy? It signalled that, in the eyes of the police, the mob had “cause”. The then Haryana CM Chautala rubbed salt deep in the wounds by saying “the mob mistook them for Muslims” as though killing Muslims was justified.

 Despite many BJP leaders reiterating that the Dadri lynching was not communal, it’s hard to believe that this was not part of their sustained polarisation campaign.