Bhisham Sahni’s epic novel Tamas, which offers a fictionalised account of real events during the bloody partition of the sub-continent, starts with a tanner, Nathu, slaughtering a pig at the behest of an influential Muslim man who convinces him that the animal would be used for veterinary purposes. Unsuspectingly, Nathu kills the pig and dumps the carcass in a pushcart as told. The next day, the pig’s body is found on the steps of a local mosque and plays a crucial role in stoking communal frenzy. Such mischief in slaughtering pigs and cows during the partition days was a known device used by political interests to flare up communal passions. The ugly and horrifying legacy has continued to disrupt peace and calm of towns and parts of the country from time to time. The uncanny similarity in the Bulandshahr incident cannot be missed. It had all the requisite ingredients – a Muslim religious congregation as a vulnerable site, Hindu right-wing mobs, a 48-hour old cow carcass, rumour mills working on the double to magnify one into over a score and pertinent endeavours to vitiate calm in the district with armed mobs and throw its secular fabric into tatters.
There is something in this plot that sets it apart from Tamas, even from Akhlaq’s lynching in Dadri in 2015, an incident that set the tone for a trend of lynchings and mob violence inspired by rabid Hindu right-wing mobs in the name of cow protection. Like Akhlaq’s killing over rumours of beef, or of Pehlu Khan, and 38 others, the lynch mobs used similar rumours to mobilise gullible villagers from neighbouring areas in Bulandshahr last week. Like all cow related killings, the rulers have gone stingy in outrage but are more than enthusiastic to reiterate their “intolerance to cow slaughters”.
What is new? The lynch mobs of Lynchistan are graduating from the use of bare hands, sticks, stones and sharp-edged objects to sophisticated weapons – guns and bullets. The idea is not only to annihilate minorities or spread panic and fear in their minds to completely silence them but also to make sure that all signs of obstruction in their pursuit of carrying out their designs are destroyed ruthlessly, if needed. If law-keepers come in their way, they must be eliminated. The silence of the rulers and their loyalist ‘protectors of law’ will ensure the unhindered and unobstructed path to their goal by trampling over those who believe in the law of the land and worked towards upholding it.
As always, the prime minister, who has so far addressed the nation with his obscure, frivolous and inane messages in his frequent radio broadcasts ‘Mann ki Baat’, has uttered no word on the cold-blooded murders by rabid mobs. Uttar Pradesh chief minister, under whose jurisdiction Bulandshahr lies, goes a step further in ignoring the murder and speaking only about dead cows. His administration will hound down the ‘cow slaughterers’, picking on any vulnerable minority community members including 10 and 11 year old boys and slap FIRs against them but the rabble rousing cow vigilantes who are accused of having instigated the violence and having shot and killed the cop will mysteriously disappear even as they will continue to circulate their hate-inspired videos on social media, taking pride in the hatred they have induced, in the unlawful activities they have engaged in and the crimes against humanity they are responsible for. What can one expect from a chief minister who is a rabble rouser himself, one who invokes the discourse of ‘Ali Ali versus Bajrang Bali’ to garner votes? What does one expect from a prime minister whose own role in Gujarat 2002 communal violence is a shameful blot on his political record? What does one expect from a party driven by ideological hatred and one that puts a warped interpretation of religion on a higher pedestal than democracy and civilization?
Bulandshahr is a step in the evolution of an unfolding trend of using religious symbolism as a pretext to perpetuate crimes against humanity. In a country, where the cow becomes a pious animal but humans are not qualified to be pious enough, a government is getting away with the discourse of cow above humans, religion above democracy, mob majoritarian sentiment above law and order. The rulers and their loyalist media tell us: Soldiers and cops are held in high esteem even when accused of gross human rights abuse in conflict areas. Their killings will inspire outrage when they are pitted against armed insurgents or unarmed civilians as in Kashmir. But when they are pitted against cow vigilantes, their blood is inconsequential.
Bulandshahr symbolizes much that is dangerously worrying. It reveals to us the fragility of the secular fabric of the society at the hands of mobs patronized by the rulers of the day. It reveals the increasing intolerance for minorities and their rights. It reveals that the naked religious frenzy can go to any extent for silencing voices who stand up for not just minorities but for upholding the constitutional values of democracy, equality, liberty and fraternity as well as those who dare to maintain law and order. It shows us the mainstreaming of the fringe with not just the silence of the rulers but also their outspokenness in justifying crimes in the name of religion. It shows us that only one kind of an ideology is being deemed officially legitimate and valid; an ideology that is derived from contempt of law, civility, democratic values and hatred for humans of a different colour, race, religion and creed, an ideology aimed at weakening democracy and subverting constitution. Interestingly Bulandshahr, a region rich in antiquity, derives its name from the Persian words, meaning high city in view of its elevated topography. The ‘high city’ now sets the rules for rest of the country. The inspector performing his duty was shot and killed to tell the nation that from here and henceforth only ‘Might is Right’. Welcome to a fascist, uncivilized and undemocratic India!