New Internationalist

‘Kill the Beef-eaters!’

08-10-15-Narendra-Modi-590x393.jpg [Related Image]
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India and leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is a divisive figure who is accused by many of having masterminded anti-Muslim riots in 2002. Al Jazeera English under a Creative Commons Licence

A climate of fear is building in India as anti-Muslim sentiment leads to murder. Mari Marcel Thekaekara reports.

No this is not a Tower of London joke from Medieval times.

Last week, a 50-year-old Muslim man, Mohammed Akhlaq, was pulled out of his house and beaten to a pulp. He was murdered by a mob because a priest from a nearby temple made an announcement from the temple loudspeaker, alleging that Akhlaq was responsible for killing a missing calf. He’d eaten the calf, they insisted, and there was beef in the family fridge.

That was enough. Led and instigated by Hindutva extremists, the mob rushed to Akhlaq’s house as he was getting ready for bed. They broke down his front door, then dragged him outside and beat him mercilessly with pieces of furniture, sticks and stones. They hit him with such passion, with such hatred and venom, that the man was dead within the 15 minutes it took for his best friend, a Hindu, to phone the police and run desperately to his friend’s aid.

Since time immemorial Hindus and Muslims have lived in harmony. Most inter-religious battles, known here as communal riots, take place because they have been instigated by priests and politicians of both faiths. It’s pretty nauseating, really, how religious sentiments are manipulated with sickening regularity. A Hindu troublemaker throws a piece of pork into a mosque, defiling it. Or a Muslim throws beef into a temple, similarly outraging the sentiments of the believers. And all hell breaks loose. Mobs go on the rampage raping, killing, looting. All in the name of God.

Still, life has to go on. And communities have lived cheek by jowl, working together, celebrating marriages, births, and major festivals for centuries. As children, we welcomed every religious feast. Christians sent Christmas sweets to neighbours and looked forward to their treats and delicacies at Diwali, Durga Puja and Bakri Id. Everyone enjoyed the neighbours’ holidays.

Though I vividly remember riots in Calcutta in the 1960s, they were never so blatant as this open, poisonous stoking of hate, the announcements aired over microphones, to kill the beef-eaters. Perhaps because I lived in Communist West Bengal and riots were put down firmly and fast. In the North Bangalore area ruled by the rightwing Hindu nationalist party BJP, gangs of local Hindutva goons went around to restaurants and warned them of the consequences if they dared to serve beef. Local butchers’ shops were shut down and cold storages warned to stop selling beef ‘or else’.

The gangs and their goons are vicious, as Mohammed Akhlaq and his family discovered. The question on everyone’s lips is: how far will they be allowed to go, and for how long? Already people assume the guilty will go scot-free. Impunity is the norm for criminals with political patronage.

On the other hand we have a globe-trotting Prime Minister who assures the world that India is the destination to invest in, the world’s most cultured country to work in. Will German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s compatriots, who decide to work in India as urged by our Prime Minister during Merkel’s visit this week, be allowed their prime pieces of steak when they crave German cuisine in India? Or do we only butcher our own beef-eaters?

Nayantara Sahgal, India’s internationally famous author, has returned her prestigious literary prize, the Sahitya Akademi award. She announced in an interview that this was in protest against the growing politics of religious intolerance and the hate politics being played out by the Hindutva regime. Many writers and poets have added their voice to hers. Bollywood, however, is singularly silent. Some of our biggest film stars are Muslims. They too are probably terrified. Vulnerable in spite of their mega-star status. At any time, the tide can turn. This is how a climate of fear has been introduced. And of course, the Prime Minister has not said a word.

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  1. #1 Mazo 08 Oct 15

    Totally preposterous nonsense.

    Even before PM Modi came to office dozens of such incidents have taken place all over India. The fact that those aren't mentioned is not only disingenuous but also exposes the campaign against the current Govt and the Hindu right in general.

    Next, considering that the perpetrators (alleged) in this incident are the villagers of one particular village - not ’right wing fundamentalists’ or any other ridiculous epithets used by the clown circus that has become the intellectual space in India - and it was these villagers who have lived with the victims for decades chose to assault them.

    Finally, the place where this incident took place is ruled by the so-called ’secular’ parties that are in opposition to PM Modi politically and yet they have failed in the past few years to maintain law and order despite their tall claims.

    All these FACTS puncture the balloon of hot gas these self-righteous crusaders against Hindutva and the BJP and especially PM Modi . Facts that speak for itself. Yet there is no shortage or end to the facetous and hypocritical drivel being peddled by all the so-called ’concerned citizens’ and ’personalities’ who find it hard to digest the fact that their almighty progressive liberal ideology was thrashed by the electorate.

  2. #2 Sujatha 08 Oct 15

    Agree with you,Mari.I am a hindu and don't eat beef but I am horrified and sickened at what has been happening.This is not part of the religion that I love and this is not the kind of India that I want.Anyway,be prepared for a volley of abuses and whatnot from our self styled custodians of religion and country,for daring to criticize.

  3. #3 Shoba Ramachandran 08 Oct 15

    Mari, thanks for this article. Total disrespect of our Constitution - and this is the saddest period during our times. Why this insane intolerance? Are we turning into a butcher state lynching Indians all because of the food they put on their platter? You and I are also Indians - hailing from different families/backgrounds/religions/castes/class/professions - and both of us have respected what we do/eat/dress/live/drink/have/earn....... What has gone wrong with these 'immoral butchers' going around to save the Hindu girls! Thank heavens i have never respected the whole concept of Raksha Bandhan (which is prevalent only in the North - and if at all in the South is 'adopted' !! My parents have just me and my 3 siblings and that is our family. Others are girl friends and boy friends (how we have abused both these words too!!

  4. #4 Merlyn Brito 08 Oct 15

    Thank you for your courage Mari. It is fearless journalists like you who will bring about change. Another great and relevant article.

  5. #5 mari 09 Oct 15

    And today the headlines screamed, 'It wasn't even beef, it was mutton'.

    Cold comfort to the family of the murdered man.

    Why the meat should have been sent for analysis is a point that needs to be raised.
    If it was beef did that mean the murder could be condoned?

  6. #6 Prabir KC 09 Oct 15

    And the killing of a foreigner in Rangpur. And the cutting of a hand of a lady from Katpadi in Riyadh.... the cultures of violence and intolerance of difference... the school children shot in the US... the refusal to accept Syrians in one country... the shooting by ’settlers’ in the West Bank...

  7. #7 ludwig pesch 09 Oct 15

    How can intolerance, even senseless violence, be a sign of a modern civilisation? One that, as India thankfully has, signed international treatises on human rights and minorities?

    The report on a recent international seminar with delegates from several South (East) Asian countries (which I attended) well sums up the scenario:
    “The majority Buddhist and Hindu societies of South(East) Asia are not traditionally associated with conflict and intolerance. Yet recent years have seen a surge in international reports of religious tensions and violence by Buddhist and Hindu majorities towards Muslim minorities in the region. […] An adequate response would therefore take into account local specifics, but also strengthen transnational inter-religious dialogues as a means to counter rumours and the sense of threat that gives rise to feelings of insecurity, which in turn have the potential to be mobilised into hate speech and/or violence.” - see here for more on the speakers:

    How long will India remain a country worth visiting or secure for investments (something the present government is particularly proud of)? Not for long if the authorities are seen as fostering a climate of impunity in the face of senseless violence. It’s as simple as WYSIWYG in ict-jargon: “What You See is What You Get!”

    And crude as it may seem, those now basking in the majoritarian ’glory’ are bound to be exposed for what they stand for and harvest themselves what they sowed - the pain, misery and the humiliation nobody ever should face just merely on account of being part of a group, a minority, a convenient scapegoat for others' failings. And not to forget, these groups are hard to leave even for a determined member of a society like India’s; one wherein social pressures and hierarchies are ruthlessly enforced; with near-zero tolerance for individual choices like “love marriages” (“love jihad” according to “modern” Hindutva ideologists).

    Visitors to India are in for a rude shock if lured wooed by one of those ’yogic’ beauty queens seen in full page government advertisements (e.g. in Germany's glossy magazines). But will they see, in their expensive trance-like vacation, what's going on around them, under their very eyes? If so, they are in for a rude shock!

    Fortunately India also has a free press and courageous writers, so nobody can claim they couldn't know or hoped excesses would simply ’go away’ by looking the other side, closing their eyes in blissful meditation on their own Higher Selves. (They never do as Nazi-Germany proved for all to see, if they survived, and for the present world to learn a lesson from, albeit in a different manner than intended by the prophets' of a 1000-year ’empire’, more than a nightmare that was over after a little more than a decade.)

    Back to the real issue masked by ’beef-eater’ slogan-mongers, Devdutt Pattanaik has pondered “our contribution to the rising tide of ahimsa terrorism, while the still starving ‘rescued’ cow wades through garbage in Indian towns and villages, eating plastic.” (“Holy cow, unholy violence” in “The Hindu”, Opinion 6 October 2015).

    Keep telling the stories of those denied a voice of their own, Mari and thanks for yet another excellent piece!

  8. #8 Peter Berger 12 Oct 15

    This is terrible, but the handwriting was on the wall from the time of the Ram Jamnabhoomi/Babri Masjid trouble of 1992, it became clearer when the Gujarat riots took place and again Muslims were the targets. Since the rise of the Shiv Sena and and the BJP nothing has been the same, such a pity. With so much potential to do great things we squabble in God's name.

  9. #9 Ranjit More 18 Oct 15

    Let's say a cannibal kills and eats the mother of the author of this piece. Would you all strive for the killer's freedom and comfort in the name of humanity with this much zest and enthusiasm?

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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