A man was killed, in cold blood in Rajasthan. His head bashed in and his body set on fire. He screamed and begged for his life. His crime was that he was a Muslim. The accused went on a rant about 'Love Jihad' and Ram temple. If this doesn't make us cringe, sit up and take notice, then what will?
India for a long time kept aside violence, condemning religious fanaticism, keeping it's vibrant social demographics and democracy alive, irrespective of the fact that the country has witnessed religious strife intermittently. Both Hindus and Muslims are guilty of atrocities and it is not the first time that a Hindu has killed over anti-Muslim sentiments. The most prominent example being of Nathuram Vinayak Godse who shot Mahatma Gandhi. Even though the hardline Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh abandoned him, Godse was extremely erudite in his court statement - he killed Gandhi because he believed Gandhi was soft on Muslims during the partition. Godse's speech was so incendiary that it had to be banned from publishing but the lapse of logic was very evident - one may disagree with a man and his convictions but it doesn't give him the right to commit murder.
Democracy is about dialogue, the right to voicing one's opinions, an opportunity to defend one's faith, to debate and discuss. When voices are shut down forcefully, democracy ceases to exist. This latest killing in world's largest democracy, is a wake-up call to many. This so-called Hindu nationalist, in his own statement, speaking on camera said that the Ram Temple had not been built and Muslims were endorsing 'Love Jihad' - i.e. inter-religious marriage - which is why he went on to kill the Muslim man, a worker hailing from the state of West Bengal.
Eye for an eye makes the world blind
So when did Islam and terrorism become synonymous? It was 9/11 that globally sealed the connection between terrorism and religion, Islam in this case. Before that horrific day, attacks in other countries were considered a matter of individual state's problem. Today, Islamic terrorism is a phenomenon. The wide umbrella of terrorism being associated with a religion presupposes that all of the faith is guilty of crime against humanity.
One might argue that it is the same with regards to the white supremacists, criticised for what they did to humanity, whether it was Hitler or the neo-Nazis. But history tells us of individuals who did their part to save the innocent, taking bullets themselves from their own brethren, lest not forget Malana. Bangladesh and Pakistan is awash in the blood of independent Muslim bloggers and writers who haven't toed the politico-religious line.
It is therefore absolutely right to condemn the actions of Islamic terrorists (ISIS, al-Qaeda etc), Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and other extremists but to believe that all white people are supremacists and all Muslims are terrorists is going to lead to a whole new set of problems such as widespread phobia leading to violence against all members of the community, including the innocents.
New India is a divided India
Social boycott acts as a deterrent for many fanatics from acting on their violent tendencies. But when society and government encourage or propagate this fanaticism, there's no stopping. This is not the new India many envisaged when they voted for the Narendra Modi-led BJP government that promised development, good times and an end to corruption. Yet many will dispute this urban, cosmopolitan view, pointing out that Modi came into the limelight for a very different reason - pandering to Hindu religious sentiments which is rife among many metro but mostly non-metro sections of society.
The official figure of dead during the 2002 Gujarat riots was close to 1,000 but unofficially it was almost double of it - majority of whom were Muslims. The riots followed the burning of a train with Hindu workers returning from Ayodhya - where they were preparing to build Ram Temple. Many in India considered it as a one-off incident, many looked at it as deterrent against Muslim attacks. Many in India agreed with the concept of Islamic terrorism - attacks on the Indian parliament, Kashmir, Gujarat temple and many more - and that the way to counter it was violent retaliation. But not many would have envisaged that the outcome would be lawlessness of this kind from within their own community - pre-meditated killing by a man claiming to be a Hindu nationalist of an innocent Muslim.
India is a nation that claims to have been built on secular principles - a national identity which many seem to reject. A lot of people would have preferred a Hindu nation when India and Pakistan were created. But, that was not what happened and some regret it till date. I have been often asked by those in power today that why shouldn't we be a 'Hindu nation'.
Is it time for another referendum?
I think there needs to be clarity in thought if India wants to be a nation based on religion. It cannot happen on the sly and cannot happen by killing and plundering. It has to happen through a process of democracy. India should carry out a referendum asking the people to decide who they want to be. It will give people an opportunity to decide their path, whether they want to be a part of a nation which has one religious identity. But if people decide to be a secular nation then it would have to be followed in letter and spirit.
Whatever be the outcome, it should be decided through a democratic process. The identity of Indian continent has to be decided by the citizens of India and not by a few people in power. Lawlessness and violence can only end badly. The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi crushed this debate and the Hindu organisation, RSS had to go underground.
Violence such as the present killing makes us question ourselves, most importantly it makes us question our understanding of Indian ethos, culture and its citizens. One may think that it is a nation built by people that share similar ethos. But when cold-blooded murders like the one in Mewat happen, you look within and begin to wonder if you do share any similarities with your fellow citizens. It is a question we must ask ourselves and we must take responsibility as well, because it is a citizen of the country which we call our own who committed this heinous act. You, me, the government and the society at large should introspect and realise their role in turning this man into a righteous killer.
The writer is the editor-in-chief of Democracy News Live