Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar has said “Muslims can continue to live in this country but they will have to give up eating beef”, joining a growing list of leaders from the BJP and its allies who have weighed in on the issue of cow slaughter.
“Muslim rahein, magar is desh mein beef khaana chhodna hi hoga unko. Yahan ki manyata hai gau (Muslims can continue to live in this country but they will have to give up eating beef. The cow is an article of faith here),” Khattar was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
“They can be Muslim even after they stop eating beef, can’t they? It is written nowhere that Muslims have to eat beef, not is it written anywhere in Christianity that they have to eat beef,” he said.
After his remarks were extensively reported by the media, Khattar contended that his comments had been “misconstrued and twisted”. He told ANI: “If anyone has been hurt by my words, I am ready to apologise to them.”
Khattar added: “We were raised in unity in the society, our ideology is that of secularism.”
The senior BJP leader had made the remarks while responding to questions on how he viewed the lynching last month of a Muslim man in Bisada village of Uttar Pradesh over rumours that he ate beef, and whether such incidents would communally polarise the country.
Khattar, who completes a year in office later this month, described the lynching as “wrong” and said it was the “result of a misunderstanding”. He said “both sides” had committed wrongs.
“It should not have happened – from both sides,” he said. Khattar claimed 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq, the man who was lynched, had made a ‘halki tippani’ (loose comment) about the cow which hurt the sentiments of people who attacked him.
“But I say that attacking and killing the person was also wrong,” he said. Those responsible for the lynching could be prosecuted under several sections of the law, he added.
However, Khattar compared the lynching with the actions of a “man who sees his mother being killed or his sister getting molested, and his anger against the perpetrator getting the better of him”.
Even if the person commits an offence under the law for which he should be punishable, “we have to go behind the incident and examine his manyata. We have to understand why he did what he did,” he said.
He said the cow, the Gita and Saraswati were articles of faith for the majority in the country and Muslims would not violate their religious beliefs by giving up beef.
The 61-year-old Khattar, who has been associated with the RSS for nearly four decades, listed the Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan law adopted by the Haryana assembly to ban cow slaughter as one of the achievements of his government.
Violation of the law is punishable with a 10-year jail term and beef-eating can land an offender in prison for five years.
Responding to an observation that preventing people from eating food of their choice is an infringement of their constitutional right, Khattar said: “Culturally, we are democratic. Democracy has freedoms, but those freedoms have a limitation. Freedom of one person is only to the extent that it is not hurting another person.
“Eating beef hurts the sentiments of another community, even constitutionally you cannot do this. The Constitution says you cannot do something that offends me, I cannot do something that offends you,” he said.