New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The lynching by a Hindu mob of a Muslim man on suspicion of eating beef has sent shockwaves across India, eliciting reactions from intellectuals and politicians.
Reacting to the incident, one of India’s foremost writers, Nayantara Sahgal (pictured right), a niece of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, has decided to return the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, a literary prize which she won in 1986. Following suit, poet Ashok Vajpeyi (pictured left) did the same.
In his reaction, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee reiterated India’s core values. “Over the years, our civilisation has celebrated diversity, plurality and promoted and advocated tolerance,” he said. Similarly, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the “strongest possible action will be taken against those who try to break communal harmony in the country”.
However, despite such public pronouncements, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained silent. Instead, he has boosted port controls on beef exports, of which India is the world leader, in accordance with Hindutva ideology.
For some analysts, the latest incident also highlight the general failure of Indian political parties to respond to rising political extremism and "hate speech".
Following the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq, a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh Muslim on suspicion of having slaughtered and eaten a cow, writer Sahgal decided to return the literary award she won in 1986 in protest against the assault on “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.”
In a statement titled ‘The Unmaking of India’, which contrasts with Modi’s ‘Make in India’ economic slogan, she bemoaned the fact that "anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva – whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle – are being marginalized, persecuted, or murdered.”
Speaking about recent acts of violence, she added, “In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology.”
In another interview, she goes on to say, "The prevailing situation of the country is very pathetic. The Hindutva ideology which is going on in the country right now is ruining the name of the Hindus and as a Hindu myself, I am very hurt".
For fellow wordsmith, poet Ashok Vajpeyi, India’s “Prime Minister, who is so loquacious on all issues, is silent on a series of ghastly events where writers and rationalists are being killed for their views and a common man has been lynched for his alleged eating habits. Narendra Modi needs to assure the reflective and creative community of this country that the Constitution must be respected by all, including his party members and party sympathisers".
For Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, Mr Akhlaq’s death had not communal or religious connotations. After he visited the dead man's family, he said that the "murder took place as a reaction to that incident", alluding to rumours of cow slaughter in the area. To prove his point, he told reporters that Mr Akhlaq's teenage daughter, who was in the home, was not touched.
One of the dead man’s sons was however in the home and is now in hospital. The other, who one does not live in the village, was not directly involved.
Following the minister’s line, two BJP leaders have accused the state government of trying to appease the minority community by arresting innocent people. BJP lawmaker Sangeet Som said that Hindus were capable of giving a "befitting reply" if innocent members of the community were "framed" for the murder.
The incident and the reactions to it have led some observers to note how slow and indecisive some political parties, especially Congress, have reacted to the incident, compared to Hindu nationalist politicians, who responded right away.
Rahul Gandhi, Congress Party’s number two, visited Mr Akhlaq's family nearly a week after the incident. “It was almost if this ‘politics of naiveté and adolescence’, as Dr Visvanathan calls Mr Gandhi's politics, had abdicated from its responsibility of shoring up bipartisan secular support against the poison of communalism, and left it to the people to fend for themselves,” wrote Soutik Biswas, the BBC’s correspondent from Delhi.
What happened in Dadri has also rekindled the political debate on the beef ban. The latter is already in place in the States of Maharashtra and Jharkhand, both of which are ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party of Prime Minister Modi.
In both states, Hindu extremists have issued new threats if the ban is not fully implemented, even if it takes away one of the main sources of livelihood for Christians and Muslims.
For its part, the Modi administration has decided to step up controls on meat exports instead of cracking down on political violence. This includes setting up laboratories in ports to check for illegal exports of beef.
Even though cow slaughter is condemned by Hinduism, India ranks as the world's top beef exporter thanks to buffalo meat exports, according to a report by the US Department of Agriculture.
This year, India is expected to export 2.4 million tonnes of beef, against Brazil's 2 million tonnes.
According to some reports, there are nearly 1,700 slaughterhouses in India, mostly in northern state of Uttar Pradesh state and the western state of Maharashtra.