Modi's stance on gau rakshaks serves party rhetoric, but govt must take steps to curb communalism
The Narendra Modi government cannot effectively work against communal violence and elements like gau rakshaks while in the same breath promote the ideals that promote it
On Wednesday, a mob in a village outside Jharkhand's capital Ranchi severely beat up a man over suspicions of him killing a cow. Usman Ansari was attacked because the mob suspected him of slitting the throat of his cow and killing it. The cow had died earlier of infection and police reports mention that it was a mischief-maker who had slit the cow's throat. The mob also set Ansari's house on fire and turned riotous when the police tried to take a beaten-up Ansari to the hospital. At the end, the police had to open fire to disperse the mob.
And while all this was happening, events were being held across the country to protest the lynching of 15-year-old Hafiz Junaid Khan under the banner #NotInMyName. The contrast is glaring, but perhaps that's what one will get in a diverse country like India. Behind the dark cloud of growing communalism, there is the silver lining of tiny bits of civil society that stand up to resist.
But it's time we woke up to the harrowing truth. The country has changed over the past few years. The change may have happened a lot earlier, but it has clearly become visible. As a society, India is growing increasingly communal and her communities are growing further apart. Incidents such as the one the train in Mathura, and the one in Jharkhand only show that deep communal divides that existed but were dormant, are finally beginning to rear their ugly head, once more.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally addressed the issue on Thursday during an event marking the centenary of the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. During his speech, Modi invoked the memory of Mahatma Gandhi stating how no true gau rakshak would go ahead and kill in the name of gau bhakti (reverence for cows). He said:
"Constitution teaches us it (cow protection) is important. But do we get the right to kill a human (to save a cow)? Is this how we worship cow? Is this cow protection? This cannot be the path of Bapu. Vinoba Bhave’s life doesn’t convey to us this message."
He went on to add that non-violence "is our way of living, and killing human beings in the name of gau bhakti is unacceptable".
Recent events have brought to light that the question of Indian identity is an open one. Even whilst talking about violence against minorities in the name of cow protection, the prime minister acknowledged that the Constitution of India calls upon the citizens of India to protect the cow. The Constitution does call upon the state that the state should take steps to promote the protection of milch cattle and to promote animal husbandry.
The Article 48 says:
"The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle."
Article 48 is in the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution. The Directive Principles are not enforceable, but even the most liberal reading of Article 48 cannot lead to a conclusion that it is an individual duty of a citizen to try and protect the cow. It talks about the state's role in trying to ensure that there are sufficient milch and draught cattle available for the facilitation of agriculture amongst which a prohibition cow slaughter is one of the options that are listed.
Article 48 is on agricultural policy and has nothing to do with gau bhakti or gau rakshaks. But by implying this, Modi has tried to provide a false constitutional cover for these activities that have been rising in India over the last few years.
Let's be clear one one thing though. This government, in particular, can't really be blamed for promoting this attitude of not tackling communal violence. By and large, this government has had the same approach to communal elements that previous governments have had — making statements and not really doing anything about it.
No government in India has till date really gone after the communal elements because one way or the other it affects the vote bank politics. The governments in India are guilty of a gross national negligence over the past couple of years.
In fact, if one reads history it is not hard to come to a conclusion that they treat communal relations the same way the British did by silently tolerating it. It's understood why the foreign government did it, but when a democratically elected government repeats it, one wonders what was the reason behind the Struggle for Independence.
The communal forces are aware of the fact that the post-Partition Indian identity question is one that remains open and there will never be a really strong and effective government response for it. So, at present, they are actively exploiting it. Be it Right Wing Hindu gau rakshaks or radical Islamic groups in Kashmir, each entity has found the identity question to be an open statement that they would actively exploit for their own ill ends.
Which is why it is important to revive the idea of a constitutional Indian identity rather than an Indian identity that is founded on beliefs or cultures. The constitutional Indian identity is an all inclusive one.
India is home to diverse populations, which is why it is impossible to identify a unifying cultural characteristic to define it. While Hindus in the North and other parts of the country may take issue with eating beef, there are also Hindus in the South of the country and the east who will eat it. For example, there are large Hindu communities in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and North India who will eat beef without issue. Further, apart from the variety of linguistic lines that the country already has, there are also caste blocs, sub-caste blocs, religious blocs, tribal blocs amongst the various other blocs. A national identity founded on a citizenship and constitutional values is the only one that will functionally make sense in India unless we want a large segment of the population to suddenly be rendered non-Indian.
The idea that India is the home of many people, many faiths, many cultures living in harmony with each other united by their citizenship and a common commitment to their mutual welfare, is something that has remained constant for the past seventy years.
The future of India requires that this constitutional narrative is revived. But it cannot be one where the prime minister says that cow protection is something that the Constitution calls for but don't take the law into your hands. While it may sound like great rhetoric, it is hard to escape the implication that there is tacit approval for the activities done by the various vigilante groups.
If we are to have a law on cow slaughter, it cannot be one party imposing their will on another. Issues like this have to be dealt with pan-community consensus with compromises made by each party. The Centre also needs to focus on bringing in a law to address vigilantism in the name of religion (all religions) in particular. The current provisions of the Indian Penal Code are rather ineffective in this manner.
Rather than a seemingly stern warning that is based on a No True Scotsman fallacy (no true gau rakshak would kill), Modi needs to come out and engage with the underlying discomfort that minorities are facing with regard to the position of his government and groups allied to it. Consensus has historically been the basis of Indian democracy.
The government needs to take active steps to restore communal harmony and relations. It cannot effectively work against violence while in the same breath promote the ideals that form the basis of that violence.We cannot let it descend to a situation like it has now, where one can't go a week without hearing distressing news about communal violence.
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