By Somesh Katyayan:
“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Atticus, a lawyer, instructs his child on the virtues of not harming an innocuous songbird, a symbol of innocence. This novel (To Kill A Mockingbird) by Harper Lee is also an allusion to the prejudices prevalent in the society. Why this finds an immediate resonance with my sentiments is not particularly difficult to surmise. The latest incident that took place in Dadri has left me bereaved, bereft of any little hopes that I had from our people, our Nation and from humanity.
It was like any other night in Bisara village when a mob lynched Mohammad Akhlaq and his family following rumours of beef consumption. Akhlaq was brutally murdered, his son critically injured and family scarred for life. Allegedly some announcements were made prior to this incident at the local temple regarding cow slaughter. This ‘understandably’ incited the mob. Does this incident appear to be a déjà vu? Well, to me it does. One that now occurs so often, that it has become ingrained in my psychologically disturbed self. To a few this might appear as yet another occasional rant, to some an overtly emotional indulgence in an incident of least significance.
Our administration admirably swung into action. The meat, without delay, was dispatched to ascertain whether it was mutton or beef. The jury is now out to determine the culpability of Akhlaq’s family. If they were indeed consuming beef then the punishment meted out to them seems to be one of natural consequence. It would absolve the mob of their sins of killing a poor farmer, for their intentions in all likelihood were noble. Mahapanchayats would be organised to mobilize public opinion against the injustice inflicted upon the holy crusaders. The long lost, ‘oppressed’ voices would once again find sympathy. ‘Hurt sentiments’ would finally find solace in this peaceful retribution. The likes of Akhlaq’s family and the few sympathisers with an ‘alternate opinion’ would be deemed anti-national. This landscape, wiped off naysayers and cleansed with riots and rituals, would once again be purged off all ungodliness. There would be a revolution, total revolution.
But hold on. Is not food one’s personal choice? Well, not anymore. Especially when it calls for divine intervention to protect the dwindling interests of our bovine. And with ardent proponents of our ‘Indian’ culture hanging around, our freedom seems to be a by-product of never ending diktats. It was after all my childish credulity that led me into believing that my food preferences had little to do with my religion. And I pronounce myself equally guilty of being in search for the religion of my choice. These have already been unequivocally thrust upon us by the messengers of God.
Now, what if by some ‘remotest’ possibility, Akhlaq’s family did not consume beef? Isn’t the answer as simple as the incident itself? They happened to be victims of an unfortunate sequence of events. Committees would be formed, clarion calls would be given and unity rallies would be hosted. Stringent action as always would be taken and the perpetrators of the crime brought to justice. We would perhaps take pity, stand in solidarity, light some candles and finally forget about the incident by the end of October.
Am I not sounding pessimistic? After all, is this not the emergence of a new India? An India free of diversities. My mother used to narrate to me the stories of the freedom struggle, read out to me the speech delivered by Pt. Nehru and fill me in with the visions of the founding fathers of our Nation. Their India, however, had sounded markedly different. Maybe I am unable to recollect my childhood memories or maybe our idea of India has indeed changed. This India somehow doesn’t seem appealing to my soul, definitely not when an engineer with the Indian Air Force is left grieving for his murdered father while the bigots go scot-free beating drums of culture and patriotism.
Today nothing seems to be truer than these words of Faiz:
“Ye daagh daagh ujaalaa, ye shab gazida sehar, Vo intezaar tha jiska, ye vo sehar to nahin.” (This leprous daybreak, dawn night’s fangs have mangled, this is not that long-looked-for break of day)