Two days ago, on June 28, thousands of citizens marched across ten major cities in India, including Delhi, in protest against the ever-increasing communal and casteist violence in India, and the Government’s apparent apathy towards this. The march came six days after the lynching of Junaid, a teenager who was returning home after shopping for Eid, on a train bound for Mathura. Junaid, whose brother was present at the march in Delhi, was stabbed and murdered by a mob hurling communal slurs, over an apparent seat dispute. This is but one of the latest in a string of lynchings and violence against minority communities in India, over excuses like the consumption of beef or just for forgetting one’s station as appointed by caste.
Not only has the Narendra Modi-led BJP govt at the centre stayed largely silent about these incidents, its policies can be read as tacit approval of such tactics in the name of cow protection (and mob violence against minorities in general). Even when the PM has tweeted against violence in the name of gauraksha before, he has added disclaimers about the necessity and importance of a non-violent approach towards ‘gau seva‘, using the words and actions of figures such as Vinoba Bhave and Mahatma Gandhi to back up his assertions.
At a speech delivered to mark the centenary of the Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad yesterday, June 29, the PM again condemned lynchings and violence in the name of cow protection. Given the proximity of this speech to the #NotInMyName marches, it has naturally been assumed that this is a reaction to the movement, and has elicited much self-congratulatory back patting amongst elite liberals.
Yet, the PM merely reiterated points he had already made in tweets from August 2016, without reference to, or condemnation of, any specific incident. Moreover, the points themselves are worded in such a way as to lend legitimacy to the entire enterprise of ‘cow protection’ – and thus subtly delegitimise anyone who may not hold such a high opinion of cows – while offering a generic condemnation of some nebulous ‘violence’, thus avoiding the need to get too specific about things. The PM had offered the same condemnation over a year back – and not only has nothing changed, but the violence only seems to have ratcheted up. In fact, as irony would have it, even as the PM pontificated on how one must not take the law into their own hands, three more lynchings happened in Jharkhand and Bihar, including that of a man accused of carrying cattle meat near Ranchi.
Moreover, if the speech was indeed made in reaction to the #NotInMyName march – if the PM only realised that he must ‘break the silence’ after being called out on a national scale during a highly performative protest by a largely middle/upper-middle-class, urban demographic – what precedent does this set? Why did it take the PM almost a month to respond in a vague, generic manner to the Una Dalit protests, where the protesters put a lot more at stake – including their jobs and potentially their lives? Is the PM only answerable to the very same elite liberals that the BJP is so willing to decry? Why did it take an entire week after Junaid’s murder for the PM to say anything at all about these incidents, and yet ignore any accountability to the particular communities that are most affected by this violence (in this case, Muslims)?
The structures that enable such violence to occur, whether in the name of caste or religion, go far beyond the BJP – a fact that many ‘protesters’ would do well to recognise. But the govt, and the PM through his advocation of ‘non-violent’ cow protection (and other, more sinister methods), do their fair share in reinforcing and perpetuating these structures for their own benefit. Any proclamations made by this govt, then, should be taken with the strongest pinch of salt, until they translate into real, genuine action, both on the level of policy and on the ground. Moreover, if we are sincere about combating such violence, then it is about time that the focus of criticism as a whole is shifted from just the centre towards specific actions being taken by parties at the local levels – on a day-to-day operational basis, and not just when a particular incident of violence happens to grab national attention.
After all, for all of the PM’s grandiloquent proclamations about Dalits being his brethren, little seems to have changed.