Even by the brazen standards of hyper-nationalism that has been foisted on us in recent times, the draping of the national flag on the body of one of the accused in the Dadri lynching case marks a new and obscene low. Soon after the death of Mohammed Akhlaq, who was killed for allegedly keeping beef in his refrigerator — a charge that proved to be false — the saga has taken many twists and turns that can only be described as farcical. Yet, this is a tragedy that could have only happened in the India of today — the frenzy over beef by Hindutva extremists, spurred by stringent government laws, is directly to be blamed for Akhlaq’s death. Banning cow slaughter and consumption of beef has been an article of faith for BJP governments. Among the first acts of the newly-installed governments in Haryana and Maharashtra was to put in place strict penalties against consumption and even possession of beef.
But now no one waits for the law and order machinery to step in; vigilante groups have taken it upon themselves to decide who they will target and what summary justice they will dispense to those who dare eat beef; the facts in such cases are of no consequence, allegations are enough to condemn the victim. Mohammed Akhlaq was one such unfortunate soul who was targeted and then killed. Agent provocateurs like BJP MP Sangeet Som ensured that Akhlaq did not find peace even in death. (It is a bitter irony that Som, the adarsh Hindu who says he does not even eat eggs, turned out to be a director in a meat exporting company.) Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma said the killing was an “accident” — he did not explain how he reached this conclusion — and should not be given a “communal colour”. The authorities said the meat samples obtained by the police were “of goat’s progeny”. That was in December last year. In June this year, eight months after Akhlaq’s death, a forensic report said that the meat that the police had found in a dustbin outside his home was beef after all.
Villagers in Dadri demanded that Akhlaq’s widow and mother be prosecuted and the court ordered that an FIR be filed against them. Clearly, there was to be no closure for the family. Now, with the death — because of chikungunya — of Ravi, one of the accused in the lynching case, the matter has flared up again. And where the locals stand on it is apparent from the fact that they draped his body with the national flag, in the manner of a brave soldier who died fighting for his country. Apparently this youngster, who was facing manslaughter charges, died while protecting “Hindu values”. They claim that Ravi died because of he was tortured in the jail; to assuage their feelings, the state government has transferred the jailor. His family wants Rs 1 crore compensation to be paid by the government and the Akhlaq family arrested and tried. The police and local administration have stayed mum, ignoring the gross misuse — abuse — of the flag. Nobody wants to stir up trouble in a volatile environment.
But imagine the pain of the Akhlaq family and particularly of his son Mohammed Siraj, who is a technician in the Indian Air Force. To lose a father in this horrific way, to worry about the possible arrest and prosecution of his mother and grandmother and now to see the manner in which Ravi has been “honoured”. The Indian flag is draped for a rare few, for their services to the nation, among them soldiers. As an Air Force man, Siraj would understand the deep significance of such a gesture. That his father’s alleged killer gets the same treatment, even if from his family members, must hurt. But such perversity is now par for the course. The government condemns the “politicisation” of the surgical strikes, says Amit Shah, even as his party’s banners appear in Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due in the next few months. All said and done with a straight face.
Don’t ask questions, we are told. And why? Because those who are asking questions about the surgical strikes are “belittling” the Army and falling for Pakistani propaganda, says Ravi Shankar Prasad, blithely linking the government, the Army and patriotism together. Wise generals tell us that this is the time for national unity, the coming together for a common purpose. But blind acceptance of authority is one of the hallmarks of a dictatorship, not a democracy. Whether beef vigilantism or flag-waving nationalism, the mood is now taking an ugly turn. Whether a remote village or an English television studio, the tactics are the same — either shout down an opponent or kill them. Dissenters are seen as dangerous. The flag is all the matters, whether it is waved or draped on an alleged killer. And it’s only just begun....