By Aamil Syed:
In January 1999, Graham Staines, a pastor from Australia and his sons Philip and Timothy, aged eight and ten were burnt alive in the forests of Manoharpur, a sleepy village of tribal Orissa. Their killer was Dara Singh, aided by a group of mindless marauders from the Bajrang Dal. The incident sparked major uproar and then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself asked for the guilty to be brought to justice. The conviction was quick and brutal, a death sentence for Dara.
When the case reached the High Court, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. It seemed that the nation had finally come to its senses about capital punishment. Like Gladys Staines (Graham Staines’s wife), who pardoned the killers, perhaps India’s judiciary too had recognized that murder is not the answer to murder and that an eye for an eye is not justice. But, in January 2011, something happened that completely changed the way things were headed.
On the 21st of January 2011, the Supreme Court of India upheld this decision of the High Court. But it was more than just this; it seemed that the Supreme Court of India was announcing another verdict. It was posthumously sentencing somebody. Only when the judgement came out, did it become clear who-
“In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity,”
The Supreme Court stated in a way that Graham Staines was also partly responsible for the events on that fateful night of January 1999. And as if that weren’t enough, the court admonished those who carry out conversions and held that even voluntary conversions were just as bad as the ‘use of force’, provocation, or incitement to interfere in someone’s beliefs, or in other words, to hurt someone’s religious sentiments.
Of course, the rest of the country wasn’t sleeping and in the face of unprecedented criticism of its statements, the apex court, for the first time in history, expunged its comments. But by then, the damage was done and it was made clear to the people of the country, and to those who would eventually come to rule them, that the religion of the majority of Indians was not to be disturbed.
Now, in September 2015, we are finally able to see how that story has been taken forward. On 28 September in Dadri, a small village of Uttar Pradesh, a state still out of the clutches of the Sangh, a mob ransacked the house of a man ‘suspected’ of consuming beef. The mob, of course, was out for blood and was only satisfied when it killed Mohammad Akhlaq and beat his son, Danish, to within inches of death. Danish is still in a critical condition at the hospital.
Thankfully, we don’t have to worry that our new PM will address this atrocity and call for swift justice like Atal Bihari Vajpayee did in 1999. And luckily for us, this time we won’t have to wait for the Supreme court to tell us why Akhlaq was killed or to even surmise about the lesson that he was being taught by the faceless mob from the local Hindu temple. The police have, most efficiently, gathered up the piece of meat that caused the whole ruckus from the refrigerator at Akhlaq’s house and have sent it for testing to find out if indeed it was beef.
Soon, the report will be out and the wonderful people of our country, especially the majority that believes in the sacredness of the cow, will finally know if Mohammad Akhlaq did consume beef or not.
But seriously, whether or not he consumed beef, nobody can say that Akhlaq deserved to die. Then why is the police force probing the meat for even the slightest chance that it is beef, instead of bringing Akhlaq’s killers to book? Do they want to transfer some of the blame on Akhlaq as well? Perhaps they want to say that this might not have happened if Akhlaq hadn’t provoked the Hindus by eating the beef in the first place. After all, what’s a police that doesn’t blame the victim?
Union Minister Mahesh Sharma last described the lynching as an ‘accident’ and said that no ‘communal colour’ should be given to it. But this doesn’t seem like a case of collateral damage in the war for dharma. It is a direct consequence of the exhortations of influential leaders who direct the mobs and openly call for a massacre on communal lines, and the sooner we accept this fact, the better.
As this slaughter continues to be carried out on increasingly minor pretexts, and as minorities are constantly reminded of their second class status in this great secular democracy, and dissenters are put behind bars or shot in the confines of their homes, Nitesh Noor Mohanty has written a stirring metaphorical piece on Facebook about the proliferation of fanaticism all over India. He said, “there will be many Godhras, discreetly organised, scattered across the map of this nation, planned & executed clinically as an unleashing of intolerance & fanaticism.” And it seems like a prophecy of doom. But if we look closely, we will understand that it’s not that there ‘will be’ many Godhras, there already ‘are’.