For those who stay in Delhi, Dadri is the quintessential ‘town next door’ that nobody keeps track of until, of course, something untoward happens. The last time I remember Dadri, a tehsil in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar district, making it to the front pages of newspapers was when the NTPC power plant located there went on the blink in 2012.
Last week, Dadri returned to the front pages after a 55-year-old man, Mohammad Ikhlaq, was beaten to death and his 22-year-old son injured at Bisada village, one of the 116 villages in the tehsil, by a 100-strong mob after rumours spread that the family was storing and consuming beef.
Now there has been a blanket ban on cow slaughter in UP for the past 60 years but, and this is the important part, there is no restriction on the consumption of beef or beef products. The meat has now been sent to a laboratory for testing — as if that were very relevant — but tension in the area is escalating.
“You can feel it in the air,” one of my colleagues told me after a visit to Bisada. “The rupture between the two communities is deep and could be difficult to heal.”
Fearing more violence Muslim families have sent their women and children to relatives in other villages. There was a drop in the number those who attended the Friday prayers and, tellingly, the azaan was not on the loudspeaker. So there is every reason to believe that Muslims are feeling cornered after the violence. This is not surprising since the demography of the place is hopelessly against them.
The area falls in the Satha-Chaurasi (60-84) region, a stronghold of Jats and Rajputs. There are 60 villages where members of the Sisodia Rajput clan dominate and 84 villages where the Tomar Rajputs call the shots. Of the nine accused in the riots, eight have been arrested.
The thing about places like Bisada — agrarian and located on the fringes of economic hubs like Noida and Delhi — is that they are always at risk of such flare-ups because of their demographic mix, politics and a struggling local economy that ensures a steady stream of unemployed young men who are prone to instigating and participating in such violence. In Bisada too, those arrested were either unemployed or into some kind of small-time job.
But communal violence doesn’t happen overnight: Its genesis can always be traced to a string of preceding events, and Bisada is no different. For the past two months, there have been smaller skirmishes around the area over issues related to cow slaughter and with “Pink revolution” becoming a part of the political lexicon, the area was ripe for such an event.
It only took a rumour — just as it happened in Muzzaffarnagar in 2013 — to light the fire. In Muzzaffarnagar, it was a video clip depicting the killing of two youths uploaded on social media by a politician that led to the violence, which claimed the lives of over 64 people and left over 50,000 homeless, mostly Muslims. Like in the Bisada area, Muslims were encircled by Hindus; there are 60 villages of Malik Jats in Shamli and Muzaffarnagar and 84 villages of Raghuvanshi Jats and Tomar Jats in Baraut and Muzaffarnagar.
Moreover, in this day and age of instant communication, all major incidents have ramifications across the country. Events as geographically distant as the recent meat ban controversy in Maharashtra could have help shape opinions in Bisada too. Surely, 100 people cannot congregate at the drop of a hat to start such violence; there must have been extensive pre-planning.
Food is a personal and cultural choice but of late it has been politicised in a big way with vegetarianism getting a moral upper-hand because, as many would love us to believe, India is a vegetarian country. That’s a joke. India is predominantly a non-vegetarian country. Here is the ‘official’ evidence, if you like: The most authoritative study on the vegetarian-non-vegetarian divide was done by the People of India Survey, a mammoth study enterprise of the Anthropological Survey of India completed in 1993. It concluded that of the 4,635 communities, nearly 88% were meat-eating and they ate all kinds of flesh.
So this assertion that the Right makes about the majority being vegetarian and others having to follow must be resisted at every opportunity. Yes, the cow is sacred in India and even many non-vegetarians don’t eat beef, but then that’s matter of personal choice.
It’s instructive to listen to the words of Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthday we have just celebrated. He said in a prayer discourse on cow slaughter: “In India no law can be made to ban cow-slaughter ... I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus.”
Politicians will exploit the situation, as they did in 2013, leading to more violence. In fact, the panel report on the 2013 riots has blamed the BJP and SP politicians and lax administration for the deaths. In Bisada, the script has been similar. After the death, BJP leaders have only created more bad blood by calling the death just an accident; calling the lynch mob “innocent children”; putting the onus on Muslims to maintain peace, etc. In response, Hyderabad MP and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, who is steadily gaining ground in these parts, has called it a pre-meditated murder in the name of religion.
But what I find absolutely appalling is the way Union ministers have been behaving. Take, for example, Noida MP and culture minister Mahesh Sharma. Initially, Sharma termed the lynching of Ikhlaq as a “misunderstanding” but on Friday violated prohibitory orders to conduct a meeting there, escalating the tension.
The second one is Union minister of state for agriculture Sanjeev Balyan, an accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The root of Hindu-Muslim conflict, said the minister, was cow slaughter; he went on to accuse the Samajwadi Party government of failing to stop such incidents. The last thing we need now is a Balyan in Bisada making inflammatory statements.
Muzzaffarnagar had a sinister political motive, so does Bisada. There were general elections in 2014 and the polls are due in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. I fear Bisada will not be the last case.
After Ikhlaq’s murder, his quiet and dignified 18-year-old daughter Shaista asked one question: “If it is not beef, will they bring back my dead father?”
That question should haunt everyone.
Read: Hindu neighbours helped Muslim family in Bisada escape mob