Compensation most foul

8 October should be remembered as the date when India crossed yet another rubicon.  Pratap Bhanu Mehta has talked about one while discussing the so called surgical strikes by India. He says that it was not the cross border attack by the Indian army  was unique or which India did for the first time. It was the public act of the ministers of this government intended to humiliate Pakistan which was quite new.

On 8 October nothing as dramatic as the “surgical strikes” happened. On this date, the government of Uttar Pradesh decided to award a compensation of Rs 25 lakh for the death of Ravi Sisodia , a resident of Bisara, a village in Dadri. Ravi died while in jail due to multiple organ failure. The doctors and the forensic report concluded that it was a natural death. But Ravi was in jail  and not  for some small  crime. He was allegedly part of the crowd which dragged a Muslim man Mohammad Akhlaq out of his house and killed him. It raised indignation across the nation and led to a major wave of protests initiated by a writer Nayantara Sahgal against the state sponsored intolerance directed at the minorities. It had happened only a year back.

Only one death. A figure most insignificant when compared with the numbers of Muslims killed in Bhagalpur or Nellie or Gujarat or Sikhs killed in 1984 in Delhi and elsewhere. But the shock it generated was felt across the nation. It played a major role in the assembly election of Bihar.

Death of Akahlaq was a result of the complete failure , not only of the state organs but also of our polity. It was an realisation of the enormity of this failure that 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 the Hindus. I would call it compensation envy or compensation complex from which neighbours of the victim Muslims 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, unable to fend for themselves. They are looked down upon as lesser human beings living on the money of the Hindus who are the real and major tax payers.

The compensation for the death of Akhlaq was made an issue by the leaders of the Bhartiya Janta Party and the villagers. Violent  campaign in the name of cow protection even after this death continued across states which claimed more Muslim lives and more humiliation to them. All this led the villagers of Bisara to feel that killing of Akhlaq was a just and pious act. The fiction of killing of cow and eating of beef turned into reality through a sustained campaign. Within in a year Akhlaq and his family got converted from victims into accused and suspects .They had by their act of killing of a cow, scared to Hindus instigated them leading them to express their anger which led to the death of Akhlaq. The courts have directed the authorities to file criminal case against the family members of Akhlaq.

In the imagination of the villagers of Bisara , Ravi and others became victims and heroes at the same time. That they were jailed was unjust enough. We have seen agitation by the villagers of Bisara demanding their release and withdrawal of cases against them. Similar agitation is going on Muzaffarnagar. These agitations are led by locals blessed by the RSS and the BJP. The BJP has decided to remove the fig leaf , their leaders openly address the revenge seeking crowd, generate a sense of injustice and anger in them.

Ravi 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 agreeing to the bullying of the kin of the accused who refused to cremate Ravi if their demand was not met thecreated a dangerous precedence. What is unique also in this affair is the arrangement though which this figure has been achieved. The state government pays RS ten lakhs, ten lakhs are to be given by some NGOs and five by Mahesh Sharma, Who is  a union minister and Sangit Som, a  BJP MLA , also an accused of the communal violence of Muzaffarnagar.

 

It was a deal brokered by the union minister. The state government agreed as it did not want an impression to go that Hindu deaths didn’t matter to them. That too 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. What was this done? Did the state government not have sufficient funds? What is the Central minister’s contribution doing here? This single act would be deemed as complete capitulation and surrender of its authority by the UP government. It would have graver implications for the principle of division of powers between the state and the centre. It is also an act of informalisation of 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 highest offices. Only consolation available to them has been that these acts violence are recognised as wrong, violation of the constitutional promise given to them .

On 8 October it changed 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 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 Jawahar Lal Nehru which he wrote to Padmaja Naidu from Patna in 1946. He had returned from Bhagalpur which was in the grip of communal frenzy and Hindus were attaching 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 four hundred Hindus were killed. Nehru tells Padmaja that he generally abhorred killing but somehow this act brought solace to him as it 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.

We have traveled far from 1946 and 1990. Only question minorities of this nation have now, when would we throw away the fig leaf of secularism and show ourselves as we really are. 

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