Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Muslims, Modi And Brutal Rapes Of Muzzaffarnagar In UP

By Sofia Rayees | Lucknow

"If there are Congress leaders who are visiting the riot affected areas I will welcome any suggestions from them on resolving the situation there. You will see that Samajwadi Party is willing to take constructive suggestions from all quarters and work towards implementing them," declared Akhilesh Yadav, doing his best not to sound defensive in the wake of Rahul Gandhi's unexpected visit to the post-riot relief camps in Uttar Pradesh. 

While media pundits are entranced by the "politics" of this scion v scion spat, no one seems to have noted the grim absurdity of a Chief Minister soliciting "suggestions" to address an ongoing human tragedy in his state. Well, one small step in the right direction would be to stop lying. As INN Live notes, "SP government... has repeatedly made claims of adequate help to the riot victims. 
To the extent that even after a snub from Supreme Court on relief work, the government has insisted that it has provided suitable relief, compensation and rehabilitation to all the riot victims." It's not clear how the Yadav government defines "suitable" relief but it apparently does not include the blankets and clothes required to prevent babies from freezing to death.

Our politicians like to pretend basic governance is rocket science. After 60-odd years of independence, leaders don't know how to impose law and order, limit casualties, or even arrange immediate relief and rehabilitation -- except when it suits them. Hey, we can rescue tourists from the upper reaches of the Himalayas, evacuate lakhs and lakhs of people before a cyclone, but god forbid, the police reaches in time to rescue citizens being raped and butchered at the local pradhan's mansion. 

This is exactly what happened in Lakh Bawdi where 80 people were lured to the residence of the local headman who promised to keep them safe. They were greeted instead by a mob who proceeded to butcher and rape the hapless men, women and children. Calls to the local police on their mobiles proved futile. As Abid tells INN Live, "They arrived, but only at 12.30 pm, four hours after everything was over. 

Around 80 people from my village had been killed by then." One of the other survivors offers this brief glimpse of what ensued during those four hours: “Within half an hour, a group of men from the village entered the compound and attacked us. They hacked my husband right before me.” Was she attacked? Shabana is quiet. I try again. This time, her voice a whisper, she says, “They stripped several of us. Took our honour.” 

They first beat them with batons, then stripped them and brutally sodomised them. The men were stripped and simply chopped into pieces. Shabana and several others were thrown out, naked, an hour later. The women were repeatedly penetrated with batons, their breasts assaulted with sharp trowels, and faces mutilated by vicious bites. The stories are no less gruesome than the December 16 Delhi gang rape, but there is no similar outrage or demands for justice. 

The religious affiliation of the victims -- in this case, Muslim -- makes this a "communal" issue. A word that overshadows their identities as citizens and human beings. No one talks about a failure of governance, but instead the discussion focuses entirely on base politics. While Congress spars with SP, and Rahul tries to show up Akhilesh, the BJP and Narendra Modi maintain a studied silence. This could be a tremendous opportunity for Modi to tout the virtues of good governance, of a state that protects and rehabilitates its citizens, delivers justice irrespective caste or creed. 

If Modi wants to put Godhra behind him, and articulate a new secularism that moves away from vote bank politics, this is his chance. Why not take as active an interest in relief operations in Muzaffarnagar as he did in Uttarakhand -- all are citizens of the Indian state, and equally deserving of his attention, after all.  What we get instead is Modi wooing all the usual Muslim interest groups: madrassas, clerics, and wakf boards. It's just more identity politics of the Congress kind. 

And this is perhaps India's greatest failure of a democracy. For all the talk about Indian vs Western secularism, we have been unable to formulate any version of secularism that incorporates genuine citizenship and its attendant rights. What we get instead is either a pandering of "communal harmony" that endorses a Shah Bano-type of travesty -- i.e. relegating Muslim women to second-class citizens -- or the RSS kind which touts a Hindu rashtra where some citizens are more equal than others, and therefore more deserving of the state's attention, resources and protection. "Voting is only one part of the modern idea of citizenship. 

Citizenship also means that individuals have a bundle of rights , especially with respect to health, education and public order. Such rights are entitlements, not an expression of government kindness. Regardless of class, ethnicity or religion, a democratic polity must deliver these services". One of these services must necessarily be law and order. 

The social contract -- which is the basis of modern democratic nations -- requires citizens surrender their freedoms in exchange for the protection of a neutral and impartial state. What happened in Billu Pradhan's mansion in Lakh Bawdi was a complete breakdown of that contract -- and therefore represents a total failure of Indian democracy. That we are too busy with partisan and communal name-calling to notice represents our failure as citizens.
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