This is the kind of politics that divided India once, and may divide India again, writes author Taslima Nasreen.
I have not watched how terrorists hacked to death the Bangladeshi freethinkers Abhijit, Bijoy, Washikur, Deepan.
But I have seen how Shambhulal brutally murdered Afrazul in Rajasthan, courtesy his nephew’s video on the internet. The murder-video was broadcast on the internet, just like ISIS does. ISIS knows that in their strongholds in Syria, no police will come to arrest them. Shambhulal probably also thought that no one would punish him.
Both kindness and savageness exist inside human beings. Some people mute the savage in them, others the kindness.
Shambhulal does not suffer from mental illness. He was cold and composed while he hacked Afrazul to death. But what was Afrazul’s fault? He is a poor man from a poor village in West Bengal. Many from his native village come to Rajasthan and other states as labourers. Afrazul was almost 50 years old, and he was not falsely enticing a Hindu-woman to marriage or converting her.
Friends of Shambhulal have said that the he used to love a Hindu woman but that woman had a relationship with another Muslim man. However, that man was not Afrazul. This woman once ran away with her Muslim lover to West Bengal and Shambhulal went after them to bring her back. Apparently, he got beaten up by some Bengali Muslim workers there.
Many women ran off from Shambhulal’s village and married Muslim men. Some say Shambhulal killed the first Muslim man he got his hands on and killed him to instill fear in Muslim men who marry Hindu women to convert.
The question is: how did Shambhulal gain this ISIS-like courage? Are there other people like him, who support his opposition to Muslims? He assumed he wouldn’t be condemned, but praised.
When I criticised the brutal murder-video on Twitter, many people rose up to support him. Earlier when I condemned gau rakshaks beating innocent Muslims to death, I faced similar ire from the Hindus. They threatened me that I must not utter a single word against Hindus while sitting in India. If I don’t appreciate Hindu culture and traditions, then I should leave the country at once.
Intolerance is at its peak now. I have discussed irrational Hindu rituals and oppression of women earlier but never received such threats. For me, humanity, equality, liberty and generosity have always been greater than any religion. Because I have criticised one specific religion does not mean that I like all other religions. If religious notions do not change with time, religion will continue to be intolerant. Then people will have to discard religion for humanity, or cleverly assimilate humanity into religion.
The more religious intolerance increases in India, the more the non-religious people are hated and anti-women sentiments celebrated. This is why the release of Padmavati was stopped or people who kill Muslims for eating beef can enjoy impunity. Or why the people who murdered Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh cannot be traced.
I do not want to accept this changed India and I hope these changes are temporary.
Popular television channels or newspapers treated Shambhulal’s murder and the video like it was just another everyday murder. But it was not. ISIS terrorists wear masks when they kill, Shambhulal did not.
The point of the video is that Muslims can be killed easily. They can be killed because they invaded India, destroyed temples and plundered villages, converted Hindus, took over a Hindu land and ruled over Hindus. And now, they have commenced ‘love jihad.’ Muslim men are apparently faking love to marry Hindu women and converting them to Islam. This is what Shambhulal wants to stop. He will not let Hindu women marry Muslim men under any circumstance.
In opposition to ‘love jihad’, Hindus are doing their own ‘ghar wapsi’ where Muslims should leave behind Islam and accept Hinduism as their faith. Both ‘ghar wapsi’ and ‘love jihad’ are equally deplorable ideas and true love between a Hindu-Muslim couple should not be denied or made the subject of humiliation.
However, the question is: why should Afrazul pay for the mistakes of Muslim invaders in the past?
On 6 December, 1992, after Hindu fundamentalists destroyed the Babri Masjid, Muslim fundamentalists in Bangladesh took revenge by burning down a Hindu temple. Why did innocent Hindus in Bangladesh pay for the crimes of the Hindu fundamentalists in India? And those who think innocent Hindus are not responsible for Babri Masjid demolition, do they also think that innocent labourers like Afrazul should not have to pay for Muslim invaders? If people consider this fair, then they believe in divisive politics. This is the kind of politics that divided India once, and may divide India again.
Supporters of Shambhulal want to prove that Hindus too can become extremists like Muslim extremists. Shambhulal may be in jail, but thousands of Shambhulals are walking about free with their anger, disgust, and hatred. How many of these people can be jailed to maintain peace? How many Muslim people can be liberated from their daily fears and apprehensions?
We are all Indians, South Asians — religion, caste, language, history do not constitute our identity. Our love and compassion is our identity.
Taslima Nasreen is a celebrated author and commentator.
(Translated from Bengali by Neera Majumdar)