On 28 September, 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq, a 52-year-old farm worker in Bisahra village in Dadri district in Uttar Pradesh, was rudely woken up by a frenzied mob wielding sticks, swords and pistols — the mob accused the family of slaughtering a cow and then later consuming its meat. Akhlaq's head was bashed in by the mob with a sewing machine that was kept in the room, later on dragging him and Danish, Akhlaq's 22-year-old son out of the house. Akhlaq died and his son was critically injured in the attack.
There cannot be a debate here, what happened in Dadri was savage.
In the latest in the lynching case, a report prepared by a forensic lab in Mathura concluded that the meat found in Akhlaq's house was in fact, beef, never mind that an earlier report had claimed that it was mutton. According to police, the meat was sent for testing only to establish the motive for Akhlaq's killing. Akhlaq's family, which has always denied eating beef on the day of the attack, has rejected the Mathura lab report. "Dadri police said mutton, now you are saying it is beef. This is all politics," said Akhlaq's brother Chand Mohammad. And he is right. Only politics can turn mutton into beef. And it is this politics that can justify the murder of man by a frenzied mob.
BJP MLA from Dadri, Nawab Singh Nagar had said, soon after the lynching of Akhlaq, that in a village of Thakurs, sentiments are expressed strongly — "When religious sentiments of people are hurt, they get agitated and this sudden anger leads to such incidents,” he said.
And BJP's Shrichand Sharma was confident that the Dadri lynching was not a communal riot because "the Hindu community worships cows. Whose blood won't boil if they see cow slaughter?" he asked.
And, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the incident shouldn't be given a "communal colour". When someone's dinner becomes a national question, it is difficult to ignore the communal colour that the issue is swathed in — Sandip Roy has argued earlier how there is an increased polarisation around food "as a way of defining the other. It does not matter if this polarisation is an old one."
It maybe the case that the Uttar Pradesh police carried out arrests of those responsible for the heinous crime, but what is the relevance of testing the meat that was found in his house? What is the meaning of confirming that it was beef? Does that add 'reasonable doubt' and as Karan Pradhan of Firstpost asks, "Should the quantum of punishment for the perpetrators vary depending on the type of meat?"
Mutton can become beef when elections are around the corner. DN Jha, noted historian noted how the cow has "tended to be a political instrument" in his book, The Myth of The Holy Cow. Vivek Awasthi mentions how the timing of the report is questionable in another Firstpost article, especially considering that the BJP is trying its best to clinch the Uttar Pradesh election.
The BJP oeuvre in the last two years has consisted of fiddling around with issues that have a communal colour — nationalism/anti-nationalism (including beef ban, Bharat Mata ki Jai), converting poor non-Hindus to Hinduism, interference in education, controlling film aesthetic. This obvious promotion of ideology is mainly based on the fear mongering — a great way to retain power.
While the RSS and BJP are making consistent efforts to woo the Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh (as per 2011 Census 20 percent of UP's population) — Ujjain Simhasth, Amit Shah's luncheon with a Dalit family on Tuesday in Allahabad, we must not forget that VHP leader, Giriraj Kishore once responded to a question about the value of a human life versus a cow's: He said that according to the shastras (holy books), the life of a cow was very precious — five Dalit men were murdered by a mob of 30 men in Jhajjhar Haryana who were accused of slaughtering a cow in 2002. Ashok Singhal, VHP leader, in 2002 had called the Godhra riots a "successful experiment" and how "entire villages were cleansed of Islam" and proclaimed that such an experiment would be "repeated all over India."
But that's not to say that the Akhilesh Yadav-led government has nothing to do with this fear mongering, the cow and what it stands for has been used by everyone for political mileage.
Nevertheless, there is a machismo to this violence — a sort of reclamation of what is rightfully yours by creating the illusion that the other is out to get you. And this dangerous rhetoric is creating factions. The mob doesn't think, it only does.
Beef, mutton or chicken, it really does not matter does it? It could have even been tofu. Meat didn't kill Akhlaq — fear of and hatred for the other, did.