“My son is gone, he must be in the heavens. It's human for us to grieve. The prophet (Muhammad) said, "If you kill a man, you kill the entire mankind. We cannot move forward as a country if we hate each other. Violence will lead us nowhere.”
These aren't the words of a composed thinker or an intellectual; these are the words of a father who lost his 28-year-old son to a savage crowd baying for the blood of anyone who wore the symbol of a religion they chose to oppose. Newspaper reports spoke about the generous father who had no hatred towards those who brutally killed his son but was asking for peace. Sadiq Shaikh stayed in a communally sensitive city called Pune which wore the veneer of sophistication and intellect—home to some of the most prominent IT offices and educational institutes.
A compassionate man, far removed from the world of intellectual sophistication of a metro city; a man who lost his elder son, the sole bread earner of the family, who could only beg those who ruled him for justice. There was little he could do but display compassion.
It is unfortunate that Shaikh had to be the first casualty post elections of a fringe group 'Hindu Rashtra Sena' which has been functioning in Pune with impunity having had hundreds of cases registered against it. However this attack on Shaikh, who worked as a manager in the IT department of a textile unit, should not be seen as a surprise or an aberration, for this was long feared, anticipated by those familiar with the larger game plan of right wing elements which have claimed to be a part of the victory plan of the BJP.
In the last three months, this writer and many of her colleagues in journalism have written editorials giving an indepth insight into the galvanisation of the RSS cadres to achieve power in 2014 at all costs. Covert techniques of polarisation were employed across the country, many laced with communal overtones in their endeavour to establish power on the lines of the script prepared by the Sangh leaders.
This, as we now witness, is payback time for them. Their attempts in this particular incident ably backed by a rather inefficient Congress as opposition in the state which seems to have already reconciled to defeat in the forthcoming assembly elections.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in a conversation with this journalist stressed on the fact that he had spoken to the kin of the victim and offered five lakhs as compensation. Chavan, considered to be one of the most efficient head of state in recent times, has refused to see beyond the immediate threat this incident poses for the state of Maharashtra which has seen the worst kind of communal polarisation in the last three decades.
How did the 'Hindu Rashtra Sena' manage to attract four thousand members in Pune itself? This when Pune has had a history of sheltering fringe elements. For about a week, minor riots in Pune continued unabated without any coverage by the mainstream media or interference by the state government. Mardrassas in the city were vandalised with orange flags hoisted over them.
The riots allegedly sparked over a social media post of a morphed photograph of former Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. The state police sees a mischief in the post being viralled and considers it be the handiwork of those who had pre-planned the violence in the city.
Mohsin Shaikh’s murder has absolutely no surprise element as Maharashtra goes to polls late this year and communal frenzy as well as propaganda has been the most efficient tools employed by politicians across the spectrum during elections—the Muzaffarnagar riots being no exception.
The readers must be reminded that Pune has been one of the first few cities to see a mushrooming of the Sangh Shakhas. Himani Savarkar, kin of Veer Savarkar, who played an instrumental role in the formation of the Abhinav Bharat has her base and offices in the city, who was controversially let of by the ATS in 2009 for her involvement in the 2006 Malegaon blasts. Savarkar occupies a key position in Abhinav Bharat, an organisation which came to prominence after its association with Col Purohit and other accused in the Malegaon blasts became public. Maharashtra ATS claimed that a professor from Pune—Dr.Sharad Kunthe who taught at the Nowrosjee Wadia college had trained 7-10 men in the preparation of pipe bombs at the Sinahagad fort in Maharashtra. These men were later found to be accused in blasts at Malegaon. Kunthe who was with the college for 32-years was also the president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for two decades before.
With a history like this, was the Maharashtra government lax in initiating action in the state? This does not require much debate and questioning which the state will have to answer for. But the murder of this young boy goes beyond the indifference of the state to such radical elements.
Shaikh's killing unfortunately endorses to a great extent the fear of right-wing dominance and destruction of the pluralism of the Indian state. His death should be a wake up call for the prime minister of this country, who is yet to be alarmed with the situation at hand.
Right after the killing of Mohsin Shaikh, activists of the fringe group which killed him, as he was on his way back home from the mosque exchanged messages in Marathi that the first wicket had fallen.
They were right, this perhaps could well be the beginning of the empowerment of fringe elements across the elements in the country, out to grab their pound of flesh.
I am perhaps being cynical, but the approach of the Central Government, no less the state government, the legitimacy being given to the likes of self-styled culture gurus Dinanath Batra by the new government justifies my fear and those of the alleged liberals and secularists who have been at the receiving end of criticism for being alarmist, for not giving the prime minister a chance to give shape to the inclusive government he had promised while swearing in.
Within days of her taking over the reins of power as the HRD minister Smriti Irani gave an audience to Batra who heads the “Shiksha Bachaao Andolan Samiti” and has been vocal in his criticism of free speech. It was Batra who was responsible for the pulping of Wendy Donigers book ‘’ The Hindus: An Alternative History” which created a furore over the fundamental right to free speech but died a silent death with few takers willing to take the fight ahead. It is relevant to note that Batra’s opposition was not just to the content of the book but his perception of the author who he claimed in his petition was driven by “Christian missionary zeal with a hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light”.
The octogenarian was amongst those who moved the Delhi High Court in 2008 to rule on dropping AK Ramanujan’s famous essay on the many, culturally specific versions of the Ramayana from Delhi University’s history syllabus. It was he who sent a notice to the Frontline magazine in 2010 for using the word Hindutva terror on its cover.
Despite having a history of provoking violence in the garb of liberating education from the clutches of alleged liberals, the legitimacy given to his views by the HRD ministry sets a trend which could be difficult to reverse.
Batra who calls proponents of free speech, the children of Macaulay and Marx, has given the newly appointed HRD minister a charter of demands in a meeting with her right after assuming office, the charter which includes changing the CBSE syllabus and incorporating Hindu icons in history. Irani who had to face many detractors in the BJP, including leaders close to Modi, took charge of her ministry amidst much controversy over alleged faulty and misleading details of her education.
However those in the know believe she was a candidate chosen to keep in mind the diktats of the Sangh for which education is the key to further its idea of Akhand Bharat. She is expected to deliver on the lines of another Sangh ideologue and Modi baiter Murli Manohar Joshi who in an earlier stint as HRD minister had ensured that the vice chancellors of universities were men who had the same ideology and idea of India as the parivaar.
Both Mohsin Sadiqs brutal death and Dinanath Batra's regressive campaign on free speech needs our attention as much as it needs the attention of those sitting in the highest office. Bigotry against any religion, culture needs condemnation by those in power as well as those who belong to civil society—those like us who rage over the condemnable and objectionable material being disseminated on social media but do little to bring the perpetrators to book.
The next few years will be crucial in protecting the values of pluralism and secularism which we have held with pride, there could be suffocating consequences for standing up and speaking up against the fundamentalist and radical voices. But remember History will be objective and unforgiving in assessing those who remained mute spectators in what has been a rather unpopular battle to uphold the values that the worlds largest democracy has stood for.