Beef à la blasphemy

The parallels between mob lynching over blasphemy and beef on either side of the Indo-Pak border are rather obvious. The beef-lynching incident in Dadri, just like almost every act of religiously motivated mob violence in Pakistan, was initiated in a place of worship, when Bishada’s Hindu temple announced that 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq had slaughtered a calf and eaten its meat.

Like Pakistan, the Indian religio-fascist mob’s justice stemmed apparently from the need to settle a petty personal score, after the Muslim man’s son got into the Air Force and neighbouring Hindus’ sons didn’t. And just like incidents at Kot Radha Kishan, Gojra town, People’s colony, Joseph colony and countless others, a mob of 200 people attacked the victim’s house, dragging him and his son out, killing the former and injuring the 22-year-old, while flagrantly using skewed jurisprudence.

Even so, in addition to the disparity in frequency of such attacks on either side of the border, one can trace a difference in the public and media dealing of lynching cases. Like for instance, it has been rare to see Pakistani public figures and journalists openly denouncing the blasphemy law, like the anti-beef legislation in Maharashtra and Haryana has been castigated since earlier this year. Not to mention it’s impossible, nay suicidal, for moderate Pakistanis to conjure their corresponding trends to complement #BeefSelfie or #IEatBeef with a hashtag involving the other B-word with similar audacity.

But then again, Pakistan doesn’t present itself as a ‘secular’ state where all religious communities are legally equal. At best Islamabad pretends to treat religious minorities ‘fairly’ and ‘justly’, implying their legislative inferiority. New Delhi, meanwhile is clinging on to the broken record of ‘Indian secularism’ despite the Hindu nationalist party BJP’s totalitarian manoeuvres. ‘Secular democratic India’ has now witnessed bans on beef, porn, India’s Daughter and Maggi noodles. Not to mention the Shiv Sena inspired vandalism during Khurshid Kasuri’s book launch, and the cancellation of concerts featuring Pakistani musicians Ghulam Ali and Meekal Hassan.

In spite of all its denialism, Islamabad has accepted the penetration of religious fanaticism in the society. The National Action Plan (NAP), despite its many flaws, is a clear acknowledgement of there being a wrong that needs to be righted. There’s a lot that needs to be overcome, but in light of recent developments, only the crudest cynics would argue that Pakistan’s not en route to tolerance and relative pluralism – even though it might be dictated by geopolitical necessities rather than an ideological rude awakening.

While the prime minister of ‘secular democratic India’ was silent on the Dadri lynching, the apex court of ‘extremist Pakistan’ upheld Mumtaz Qadri’s death penalty and reinstated him as a ‘terrorist’ overruling Islamabad High Court’s verdict. The same Qadri who has had former high court judges, and a chief justice, fighting his case. The same Qadri who wasn’t publically condemned by the state’s army chief, for the murder of Salmaan Taseer, because he had too many “sympathisers” in the army, only four years ago. 

Meanwhile, Modi’s first comment on the Dadri lynching yesterday, 16 days after the incident, was to call it ‘unfortunate’. Even Nawaz Sharif mustered enough courage to call Ahmadis his “brothers” after the Lahore massacre in 2010 – albeit being forced to retract the statement later.

Modi’s gau raksha politics and his party members’ jingoism have clearly aggravated anti-Muslim sentiments. Shrichand Sharma (BJP Vice-president Western UP unit) wants Mohammad Akhlaq’s family booked for cow slaughter and Sangeet Som is calling for a “befitting reply” if “innocents” are framed. BJP upped the ante on anti-Pakistan hysteria ahead of elections in Kashmir and it has been doing the same in the lead up to the crucial Bihar elections, clearly banking on Hindu supremacism that is increasingly selling in India.

The contrasting events in India and Pakistan seemingly point towards the two countries heading in opposite directions. And with Pakistan’s traditional fixation with being the ‘anti-India’, now might be as good a time as any to be precisely that.

While Pakistan considers reform in blasphemy law – as manifested by the bill mulled to combat the law’s abuse in May, and the SC’s Justice Asif Saeed Khosa mentioning criticism of blasphemy law as not being an act of blasphemy – Maharashtra punishes the act of eating a beef steak more harshly than sexual harassment. As Pakistani law enforcement authorities saved Christians from religiously motivated mobs in two separate incidents in Sheikhupura and Wazirabad, over the last three months alone, India has increased its beef exports, while criminalising its domestic consumption.

The similarity in the beef ban legislation and Pakistan’s blasphemy law should ring ominous alarm bells for all progressive Indians. The reason why both laws are “misused” by mobs is because they give preference to religious sentiments of one community over the other. Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 295-C makes desecration of Islamic scriptures, or insulting Islamic figures, punishable by death, with no corresponding clause for other religions. Similarly the beef ban in India upholds orthodox Hindu religious sentiments in higher esteem than other religions – otherwise it would’ve banned pork and alcohol as well.

Upholding the rights and sentiments of a religious community over others, gives it the unwritten license to “abuse” the legislation and deliver “justice” on its own. Any state that fails to treat its citizens equally, acquiesces to lack of accountability when it comes to the tyranny of majority.

Treating all religious communities equally – also known as secularism – doesn’t mean banning the consumption of anything that might offend a particular religious community – there would barely be anything to eat legally then. It simply means the state not interfering in personal choices and actions, as long as they don’t infiltrate anyone’s personal freedom, no matter how “offensive” any individual or community finds those choices to be.

India’s plunge into religious intolerance shouldn’t be perceived as a point-scoring tool as many among the Pakistani intelligentsia are peddling it as. If anything there are lessons to be learnt, as India manifests a glimpse of Pakistan’s recent bigoted past. Instead of perceiving the events in India as atrocities against ‘fellow Muslim brothers’ and triggering the Ummah card, we should look at it as sections of the majority community, and the ruling party, blatantly targeting the minority.

In a secular democratic country – which India poses to be, and Pakistan should aspire to be – there shouldn’t be any ‘minority’ based on religious identity. Not according to the legislation anyway. That is what should be the logical culmination of Pakistan’s NAP. That is what will prevent India from further sliding into the quagmire of religious totalitarianism.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

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