Four days before the observance of Gandhi Jayanti – an anniversary that celebrates the birth of a man who believed in the cause of non-violence and communal harmony, an act that defies every inch of the Mahatma’s teachings soured the day of his remembrance. It is ironic how a national festival be preceded by the utmost barbaric and odious crime that shook the democratic and secular roots of our Republic. The heinous manner of the murder of a defenseless fifty years old man, Mohammad Akhlaq by a mob of a hundred men and the assault on his family, including his 70 years old mother has left the nation in utter shock and disbelief and has raised innumerable questions waiting to be answered.
The primary concern that disturbs 180 million Muslims in India is the issue of their security. As an Indian Muslim, (I deliberately use the word Indian here), I truly believe in the consequentiality of secularism for the peaceful functioning of our nation. I understand that the cow is sacred to a large majority of my fellow countrymen, and that its slaughter for any purpose, especially for the consumption of its meat can be essentially disturbing for anyone who considers the animal sacrosanct. This understanding is the reason I accept the law which prohibits cow slaughter in my state Uttar Pradesh, making it a bailable offence with a maximum of two years of imprisonment or a fine of Rupees 1,000 or both. However, the precise law is the cause I sit horrified by the murder and assault of Mohammad Akhlaq and his family. Even if, as the mob believed, the meat Akhlaq’s family was consuming was of cow, was filing a case under the law and getting him imprisoned below the idea of what they considered justice? Is the life of a human being whose beliefs differ from yours so futile that killing and lynching becomes justified? Does not the gruesome crime disregards the essence of Hinduism? Will a Hindu who eats beef (viz. some Hindus in Kerala and other parts) be killed in the same manner for desecrating the teachings of his religion?
As these questions lie answered, yet another concern is that of religious pluralism. India has for long taken pride in the diversity of beliefs, languages and cultures that her people identify with. The 1.3 billion population of our country follows different religions which permit and prohibit different and often contrary things. Reflecting solely upon the context of prohibition in religions in India: Hinduism prohibits the killing of cow and the consumption of its meat, Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol and pork, Sikhism prohibits the intake of tobacco and the cutting or removal of hair from any part of one’s body, Buddhism prohibits the killing of any living organism for food while Jainism prohibits, along with non-vegetarian food, the ingestion of dairy products and root vegetables. Now the question arises, if, like the mob which lynched Akhlaq, each person begins to take the responsibility of discouraging the use of what is prohibited in one’s religion- what will be the communal scenario of the country? In such a hypothetical situation, do I have the right to kill a person I see drinking alcohol or eating ham or pepperoni? Does a Sikh has the right to lynch someone he sees smoking a cigarette or getting a haircut? Does a Jain or a Buddhist has the right to kill someone drinking milk, eating a carrot or chicken? And the irony that surrounds these questions is that if none of these prohibitions enforced by different religions are favoured by the law, why is the prohibition on the slaughter of cow in Hinduism favoured by the law in some states? Does the word ‘secular’ in the Constitution of India not mean that the state neither follows nor favours a particular religion?
However, even if these questions are answered, Akhlaq awaits justice.