Indians divided as Dadri murder shows hatred’s corrupting power

By Savi Hensman
October 12, 2015

The brutal murder of a Muslim in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, has exposed deep national divisions, including among Hindus. The far-right fanaticism that led to the killing can be found among overseas Indians too, though others are working to resist bigotry. Meanwhile minorities continue to face frequent attacks.

On 28 September 2015 Mohammad Akhlaq was brutally beaten to death by a mob and his 22-year-old son Danish was seriously injured. It had been announced through a temple loudspeaker that the family had taken part in slaughtering and eating a cow.

In reality it would have been near-impossible to kill an animal without neighbours noticing. Meat was found in the fridge but it was actually mutton (not that this should have been relevant). But the attackers were in no mood for reason.

Some – though not all – Hindus avoid eating beef and a number are vegetarian. Many in India’s Muslim minority do not eat pork. Under the principles in India’s Constitution, it is a multicultural democracy which creates space for difference.

However, this has not always been put into practice and divisions have deepened in recent years. A far-right movement which uses a distorted version of Hinduism in its quest for power has grown in strength. It received a boost when one of its leaders, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected as Prime Minister in 2014.

He won support from some moderate voters keen on economic growth, though his track record on this when Gujarat chief minister was unexceptional. However he also relied on a network of extremist organisations which formed his core base.

He has been a member since childhood of the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and recently attended one of its gatherings. Legal proceedings drag on over his role in allowing mass killings of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. He and other BJP ministers have helped to create a climate in which violent extremists feel emboldened.

Whipping up anti-minority sentiment over beef-eating has been one way in which this movement has tried to win support, especially in the run-up to elections. Some states have now passed laws restricting the killing of cattle, and sometimes even eating beef (though the same politicians often show little real concern for animal welfare).

In this setting, a rumour turned a previously peaceful neighbourhood into a place of murderous hatred. One of the youths arrested afterwards was the son of a local BJP leader and several others accused of involvement were also relatives.

The readiness of local young men to take part in a lynching, and lack of remorse afterwards, was chilling, observed a senior editor of NDTV India, Ravish Kumar, who visited two days later. “The way they react to emotive issues clearly shows that someone has already done some spadework here. Someone has planted the seeds of a poisonous tree, which is bearing fruit in their minds now,” he wrote (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-34409639).

At a national level, BJP leaders played down the seriousness of the events in Dadri. The Prime Minister himself, after several days of silence, issued a vague appeal to communal harmony, while critics continued to call for a more adequate response.

Whereas some of the media have glossed over the background to the murder, others have delved more deeply, despite possible risks from the far right in and outside government.

One example is a short but revealing documentary, completed just a few days before the incident, shows how extremists are capturing the minds of young children and teaching them to hate. Meanwhile there have been hundreds of attacks on Muslims and Christians since Modi came to power. The film was made by Mandakini Gahlot, herself a Hindu, and broadcast on Al-Jazeera (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FE8p9-rtHkY).

Among overseas Indians too, indoctrination into prejudiced views has often been combined with military-style drills. In the UK in early 2015, the Charity Commission opened an inquiry after an ITV documentary aired worrying scenes at a Hindutva extremist youth camp.

Investigative reporters from Cobrapost and Gulail have also exposed the involvement of far-right politicians in spreading false stories about Muslims boys seducing Hindu girls as part of a takeover plot (http://thewire.in/2015/10/05/bjp-rss-leaders-caught-using-love-jihad-bog...). Such claims have been used to justify terror attacks while also winning votes.

The strength of India’s far right has been bolstered by overseas backing for its figurehead, Narendra Modi. Some political and business leaders abroad are willing to lavish him with praise and assistance in order to bolster their own power or wealth, seeing him as a strategic ally.

But the suffering of Mohammad Akhlaq’s family – including his elderly mother who was beaten herself while her son was killed in front of her – is a reminder of the human cost.

And the practical, as well as emotional and spiritual, consequences if violence and militarism spread should be considered. India is a huge and influential country. The increasing confidence of the far right there is a matter of global concern.

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© Savitri Hensman is a widely-published Christian commentator of politics, religion, welfare and allied topics. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the care and equalities sector.

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