The bloody sights inside that room tell the story of how deep-seated was the hatred in the hearts of those who killed Mohammad Akhlaq. Could such fury, such bestial savagery have ridden on just a rumour that Akhlaq had eaten beef? Basehara village has never had any history of communal tensions that can explain this killing. There are no history sheeters or criminals in this village. Mohammad Akhlaq’s home sits right in the middle of a Rajput settlement. Surely this means there must have been a semblance of harmony here. Then how could one sudden rumour cause Akhlaq and his son to be dragged out of their home and beaten, their heads smashed with bricks? The son is fighting for his life on a hospital bed right now. Doctors say his condition is critical.
Everywhere, it is the same story that can at any moment set fire to our country. An announcement is made on a loudspeaker. WhatsApp is used to spread videos of cow slaughter. A calf goes missing. People get angry. Then pieces of meat are discovered – at times outside a temple, and sometimes strewn outside mosques. How many riots have these pieces of meat caused, how many people have they killed? Both Hindus and Muslims. We all know how this works, and yet, each time, we become violent over these same stories. Who are these people who manage to create this hatred inside us?
Dadri is right next to Delhi. Basehara village is clean and well-maintained. How is it possible that no one looked bothered by what had happened here? How is it that I didn’t find a single person who looked ashamed or had even a shred of remorse? Why was no one distraught that thousands of people from the village could have been transformed into a killer mob? By the time I reached Basehara, most of the village’s young men had disappeared. Some said their sons are unwell. Others said their sons were not in the village. The villagers blame four or five outsiders for instigating the violence. An announcement was made over the temple loudspeaker, and within minutes thousands had collected. This narrow street would not have held them all. The mob must have spilled over, all across the village. Yet, when I asked why so many people listened to a small group of outsiders, I was met with silence. No one saw this massive crowd. No one recognised them. Everyone says those who have been arrested are innocent.
Only the courts can decide who is guilty, but the manner in which Basehara village has returned to normalcy makes me think that the police will never be able to identify the people who made up that murderous crowd. In any case, when have the police ever been successful in such cases? Even if forensic investigations identify whether it was beef or mutton, what difference will it make? The crowd has already delivered its judgment. It has already killed Akhlaq by beating him to pulp. How can Akhlaq’s daughter forget how her father was beaten to death right before her eyes? His old mother was also beaten by the crowd. There are deep wounds on her eyes.
The Dadri incident will get lost under the glory of some foreign trip or some clever rhetoric in an election rally. But, those of us who can think need to think today. What has happened that we are unable to rationally explain things to today’s youth? Elders in the village say, even if it was beef, it was for the police to take action. But the young men of Basehara go straight to the issue of sentiment and beliefs. The way they react to emotive issues clearly shows that someone has already done some spadework here. Someone has planted the seeds of a poisonous tree, which is bearing fruit in their minds now. They are not even willing to listen to the Prime Minister’s statement that communalism is poisonous.
Prashant is a typical young man who wanted to click a selfie with me. He is handsome and works as an engineer. As soon as the selfie-session was over, Prashant said no one should play with anyone’s sentiments. My colleague Ravish Ranjan Shukla interrupted him and said young people don’t know how to speak to their parents in a civilised manner, but are willing to kill someone over sentiments and emotions. Prashant appeared to be a good boy, but it seems that he has no remorse about Akhlaq’s death. Instead, he asked us that after the partition, when it had been decided that Hindus will stay here and Muslims will go to Pakistan, why did Gandhi and Nehru ask Muslims stay back in India? I couldn’t help but feel dismayed. These are the typical beliefs that keep the pot of communalism boiling.
Prashant and I had a heated argument, but I lost. People like us are losing arguments every day. All I could do was ask Prashant to reconsider his views, read a few more books, but he looked self-assured that whatever he knows is true. It is final. I wonder who would have taught Prashant all this? Did someone come amongst these young men well before they coagulated into the mob of that Monday night? Who are those people who have left young men like Prashant to be misled by the purveyors of false histories? Who are those scholars who have left the Prashants of our villages behind to submit their own useless PHDs to earn accolades in foreign universities?
We are not understanding what is happening around us. We are not being able to make others understand. The sparks have been spread across our villages. Young men with their half-baked sense of history want me to pose with them for selfies, but are not willing to even consider my appeal that they give up their violent ideals. Our politics has become a collective of opportunists and cowards.
I had gone to Dadri to cover Mohammad Akhlaq’s death. On the way back, I felt I was carrying another corpse inside me.
(Ravish Kumar is Senior Executive Editor, NDTV India)