What kind of a human being stomps on a dead body? What kind of state allows it?
The man has been arrested but only because video of him stomping on dead body went viral. Policemen did nothing to stop him. One of them also appears to have recorded video. Hindus in ‘New India’ ?
Like the rest of the nation, I was horrified to see a man in Assam jump on the dead body of another man, shot minutes ago. The man who stomped on the body was a photographer. It shocked many while many more were indifferent. The fact that the dead man was a Muslim, an ‘encroacher’ in a remote corner of Assam and the man stomping happened to be a Hindu was incidental. Or was it?
My mother, who never had doubts about her Hindu roots and culture, and as daughter of a freedom fighter who revered Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, taught us never to speak ill of the dead, however evil they might have been when alive. She exhorted us never to violate our dharma and karma by going against human values and the right thing to do, even in the face of great odds. “It is your karma that should matter to you, not that of the dead person. God has already punished him or at least that person will have no salvation wherever he is now. Why do you wish to destroy your karma for someone else’s?”
Ours was not an overtly religious or ritualistic family, rather modernist in our ways but this advice was in the best of Hindu tradition. Which is why I was stunned to discover that the photographer who stomped on the body of the dead man was a Hindu. No, correct that to Hindutvawadi. No true-blue Hindu, however modernist or traditional, would ever destroy his or her karma by an act of such brutality against a dead man, by all appearances innocent.
For what was this dead man doing after all? Protesting against his eviction from his home, armed with only a stick against a huge posse of policemen, all armed with both firearms and sticks and who shot him in the chest before raining blows on his dead body. He was shot in the chest, instead of his legs, as the police manual still presumably prescribes. But a politicised police force and radicalised Hindutvawadis are as bad and evil as the radical Taliban and it is only when we look upon them as such – men and women, with no tradition of Hindu culture and only rooted in hate for others -- that we can understand what drives them to such brutality.
BJP is a terrible machine of hate these days but it has always propagated hate. Assam was among the first of my assignments as a journalist and I still find myself recalling my traumatic reportage of the Nellie massacres of 1983. The victims of that massacre – whose bodies I saw floating in the Brahmaputra turned purple with their blood – were all Muslims who had given no provocation to anybody except by their mere existence. But I remember Atal Behari Vajpayee, later lauded as liberal and secular, who had visited Assam days before and provoked the population by saying, “if they kill one of yours, you should kill two of theirs.”
This was the man destined to be India's Prime Minister in a couple of decades and the only reason why he could not inflict any lasting damage on India was because he had to necessarily head a minority government with several parties who would not allow the Hindutva agenda. But at the time in Assam, as I recall, no Muslim had killed any Hindu to warrant Vajpayee's exhortations, though Assam was even then a complex border state with several groups of tribals agitating violently for a separate homeland and much of the ire of the local Assamese directed against Hindu Bengalis settled in jobs and other businesses in their state by the British than against either Muslims or even Bangladeshis.
But they were provoked to massacre Assamese Muslims – there were no Aadhaar or Voters' ID cards at the time but every survivor I met at the refugee camps following the massacre showed me their ration cards that had names of grandparents or parents crossed out in proof of their Indian - and Assamese – identity. Today, I had tears in my eyes as I saw videos of the families of the two dead people, one a mere boy of 12, show journalists their Aadhaar cards with similar hope and poignancy as all those years ago.
I found Muslims in the state spoke Assamese, not Bengali or Urdu and that they might have hated a Bangladeshi in their midst as much as the Assamese Hindus for they would see migrants from Bangladesh as competition for the limited jobs and land. But, today, even if the Union and Assam governments fail to acknowledge the fact, it is Bangladesh that is more attractive to the migrating Indian than the other way round, with its thriving industries and Gross Domestic Product higher than that of India.
Yet the othering of our own citizens continues and this is limited not just to Muslims but also Dalits – how many stories we have heard in recent years of Dalit bridegrooms being stopped from riding horses to their weddings by upper-caste Hindus or young, educated Dalits being killed by upper caste Hindus for merely sitting at tables in parties or for dancing the Garba?
Last week, in higly radicalised Karnataka, a Dalit man was fined a huge sum by a temple administration for the alleged crime of his three-year old son, who had run into the premises of the temple on his birthday. While those who imposed the fine have now been arrested, I again raise the same query about their Hindu tradition, culture or karma. Does God belong only to the upper castes, does a Hindu priest get salvation by raping a nine-year old child in a crematorium, does only an upper caste Hindu have the right to eat at a table or ride a horse to his wedding?
Are we, the non-Hindutvawadis, then moral herbivores falling victim to the carnivores among us? Carnivores who kill not for food but for pleasure? Are they then the rakshasa of Indian mythology and in some ways even worse than the Taliban?
(The writer is a journalist, author and commentator. Views are personal)