The case of the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq has shocked the public and prompted intellectuals and critics of religious nationalism to act. Writers have returned prestigious awards; students demonstrated at universities. Meanwhile, ‘cow protection vigilante groups’ refine their techniques.
New Delhi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Growing intolerance of prime minister Narendra Modi’s policies; a growing number of intellectuals who are distancing themselves from the political mainstream; the defeat of the ruling party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalist) in state elections in Bihar. But also the rise of a spontaneous movement of "cow protection vigilante groups", willing to do everything, even using violence, to prevent the consumption or slaughter of an animal sacred to the Hindu faith. This is the situation a year after the fierce lynching of Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, where a Muslim man was beaten to death by an angry mob on suspicion of having consumed cow meat.
On September 28 last year, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched, murdered in front of his family, arousing deep anger in much of the population. In Hinduism the cow is revered as a manifestation of the divine: it is considered a sin to kill it or eat it, and the Brahmins (priests, the highest caste - ed) shall refrain from doing so. Only the Dalits (the untouchables) - considered unclean and therefore also called "untouchables" - can eat, touch, or work with its skin.
According to government statistics, beef is the main food for most of the non-Hindu population. About 80 million Indians consume it - that is one person every 13 inhabitants - of which most are Muslims. The data, however, also reveals that Hindus are consuming it in increasing numbers: to date, more than 12 million across the country.
Only later it turned out that the meat consumed by the Akhlaq family, who now live in Delhi for security reasons, was buffalo. Apart from the findings on the nature of the flesh, the beating sparked protests and "self-preservation" movements which involved all society.
Students and intellectuals - including the famous writer Nayantara Sahgal, grandson of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru – raised their voices, many academics returned prestigious career awards underlining the importance of tolerance, diversity and pluralism. However, the defenders of religious nationalism have refined their techniques.
In many areas of the country initiatives in defense of the sacred cow have arisen spontaneously. Among these, groups that have appointed themselves "cow protection vigilante groups", formed by local nationalists who set themselves up as "defenders of state law" (since in many states it is forbidden to slaughter cows). But government officials are not to be outdone: the police raided the canteen of the Delhi residence of the chief minister from Kerala, triggering a veritable "political incident."