Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Apoorvanand- Compensation most foul
October 8 will be remembered as the date when India crossed the Rubicon. Nothing as dramatic as the “surgical strikes” happened on this day. On this date, the government of Uttar Pradesh decided to award a compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the family of Ravin Sisodia, a resident of Bisara, a village in Dadri. Sisodia died in jail due to multiple organ failure. The doctors and the forensic report concluded that it was a natural death. Sisodia wasn’t in jail for some petty crime. Last year, he was allegedly part of the crowd which dragged a Muslim man, Mohammad Akhlaq, out of his house and killed him. Akhlaq’s death raised indignation across the nation and led to a wave of protests initiated by writers against the state-sponsored intolerance directed at minorities.
Only one death. An insignificant figure when compared with the numbers of Muslims killed in Bhagalpur or Nellie or Gujarat or the Sikhs killed in 1984 in Delhi and elsewhere. But the shock it generated was felt across the nation. The act and its fallout played a major role in the assembly election of Bihar. The death of Akhlaq was a result of the complete failure, not only of the state’s organs, but also of our polity. It was because of the realisation of the enormity of this failure that the UP government gave a huge compensation to the family of Akhlaq.
Compensation to Muslims in the wake of communal violence has always been an issue with Hindus. I would call this compensation envy or compensation complex - which neighbours of the Muslim victims suffer from. We have heard complaints - most recently in Muzaffarnagar - that Muslims are, in fact, beneficiaries of communal violence. Hindus feel deprived and they believe that the violence is in fact invited by the Muslims themselves for this compensation. They allege that Muslims burn their houses for state money. It also leads to a hatred for Muslims as they are seen helpless, seeking alms from the state and unable to fend for themselves. They are looked down upon as lesser human beings living off the money of the Hindus, who are the real and major taxpayers.
The compensation for the death of Akhlaq was made an issue by the leaders of the BJP and the villagers. Violent campaigns in the name of cow protection even after this death continued across states which caused humiliation and claimed more Muslim lives. All this led the villagers of Bisara to feel that killing of Akhlaq was a just and pious act. The fiction of the killing of a cow and eating beef turned into fact through a sustained campaign. Within a year, Akhlaq and his family were converted from victims into accused and suspects. They had by their alleged act of killing of a cow, sacred to Hindus, instigated and lead the Hindus to express their anger which led to the death of Akhlaq. The courts have directed the authorities to file a criminal case against the family of Akhlaq.
In the imagination of the villagers of Bisara, Sisodia and others became victims and heroes at the same time. We have seen agitation by the villagers of Bisara demanding their release and withdrawal of cases against them. A similar agitation is going on in Muzaffarnagar. These agitations are led by locals blessed by the RSS and the BJP. The BJP has decided to remove the fig leaf: Its leaders openly address the revenge-seeking crowd and generate a sense of injustice and anger in them.
Sisodia was a taxi driver. Did he actually participate in the killing? It was yet to be decided. But he was an accused. And he died due to an illness awaiting trail. Are such deaths compensated by the state? We know the answer. But the UP government thought otherwise.
By giving in to bullying by the kin of the accused — who refused to cremate Sisodia if their demand was not met — the government has created a dangerous precedent. What is also unique in this affair is the arrangement through which this figure has been achieved. The state government pays Rs 10 lakh, 10 lakh will be given by some NGOs and five lakh by Union minister Mahesh Sharma and Sangeet Som, a BJP MLA who is also an accused in the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar. It was a deal brokered by the minister. The state government agreed as it did not want the impression that Hindu deaths didn’t matter to go in an election year. We need to notice that the state government sheepishly allowed its jurisdiction to be violated by the Central minister.
Involvement of NGOs in this compensation package is an innovation. Why was this done?
Did the state government not have sufficient funds? What is the Central minister’s contribution doing here? This single act is a complete capitulation and surrender of its authority by the UP government. It will have grave implications for the principle of division of powers between the states and the Centre. It is also an act that informalises governance.
Muslims in India are quite used to majoritarian violence against them. They are aware of the general reluctance of the authorities and the politicians to ensure justice in such cases. They have also witnessed campaigners of hatred and violence against them reach the highest offices. The only consolation has been that these acts violence are recognised as wrong — the violation of the constitutional promise given to them. October 8 changed that in significant ways. The principle behind state compensation was turned on its head. This was not an act of compassion shown by the state towards one of its citizens. It also negates the crime committed last year and vindicates the stand of the villagers and the BJP.
The government of UP is led by the heir of a man who as the chief minister did not hesitate to order firing on a Hindu mob which threatened to destroy a Muslim place of worship. He only felt bound by the constitutional morality which asked him to preserve the rights of the minorities.
This act reminded one of the letter by Jawaharlal Nehru to Padmaja Naidu from Patna in 1946. He had returned from Bhagalpur, which was in the grip of communal frenzy and Hindus were attacking and killing Muslims. Nehru writes that he was horrified by the madness of the Hindu peasants but what brought some solace to him that the security forces opened fire to stop them. In the firing, some 400 Hindus were killed. Nehru tells Naidu that he generally abhorred killing but somehow this act seemed to restore a semblance of balance in favour of the victim Muslims.
Nehru’s vision was instrumental in shaping our constitutional morality: To stand firmly for the rights of the minorities, undeterred by the threat of the numbers. Indian state seems to have travelled far from 1946 and 1990. The only question minorities have now, when it would throw away the fig leaf of secularism and show itself as it really is.