A tale of two funerals

Tale one Ravi Sisodia, Tale two Manan Wani

Shehla Rashid
Srinagar, Publish Date: Oct 16 2018 11:29PM | Updated Date: Oct 17 2018 3:06PM
A tale of two funeralsFile Photo

Not very long ago, in Uttar Pradesh’s Bisarha village, which is two hours to the west of Aligarh Muslim University, the alleged murderer of a serving Indian Air Force officer’s father was given a glorious funeral, a hero's farewell.

Ravi Sisodia, a 21-yr old man, was one of the several accused in the brutal lynching of his neighbour Mohammed Akhlaq who is father to a serving Indian Air Force officer, Sartaj Ahmed. Mohammed Akhlaq was dragged out of his house on the suspicion of having beef in his fridge.

The lynching signalled the times to come, as Mr. Narendra Modi’s regime has been marred by brutal lynching of Muslims everywhere in India over which Mr. Modi has maintained complete silence. These ‘lynch mobs’, which will characterise Mr. Modi’s tenure as Prime Minister in history, are non-state actors, often armed with sticks and other simple weapons that can cause fatal injury; they are organised, usually as ‘cow protection squads’; they are religious extremists which want to impose their ideology and choices on the rest of the population; they seek to terrorise; therefore, these may be safely described as terrorist groups. Combine it with the fact that they are supported or encouraged in various ways by ministers in the government and this qualifies as state-backed terrorism. Needless to say, these groups are not described as terrorist groups, because they are not influenced by Islamic ideology. Rather, they are given benevolent names such as ‘gaurakshaks’, ‘vigilante groups’, etc.

For every Muslim lynched by these lynch mobs, at least 8 - 10 Hindu youth are turned into criminals, murderers in fact. After all, the men involved in these lynch mobs are not very old. At the risk of repetition, may I again emphasise that Ravi Sisodia was 21. After much outrage over Akhlaq’s murder, around 20 men were arrested for being involved in the mob violence that took his life. Ravi Sisodia was one of them. According to the police, Sisodia died of renal and respiratory failure - a claim that Sisodia’s family is unwilling to believe. The family in fact demanded a compensation of one crore rupees from the government (which is not unfair, considering the fact that the government failed to ensure his health and safety inside a prison) and further demanded that the other accused in the lynching case be released! Sisodia received a grand funeral where many impassioned speeches were made against the ‘injustices’ done to Hindus. The funeral was attended by a Union Cabinet Minister in Mr. Narendra Modi’s government, Mr. Mahesh Sharma - the Union Minister for Culture. Not only that, Sisodia’s body was draped in the Indian tricolour - a distinction that is usually reserved for members of the state’s various armed forces! Allow me to repeat, Sisodia was accused of having murdered the father of a serving officer in the Indian Air Force. Minister Mahesh Sharma continues to stay in Modi’s cabinet despite giving what can be safely described as a state funeral to a possible member of a violent fundamentalist non-state group - a terrorist, if Sisodia had lived long enough to be convicted in the case. The act of draping his body in a tricolour is a violation of the flag code - a disrespect to the Indian national flag - but no one, not even Minister Sharma, was charged under this section. This was 2016.

Cut to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), 2018. A 27 year old Kashmiri research scholar at AMU Manan Wani, radicalised by the ongoing violent conflict in the Kashmir Valley, left his studies and picked up arms. He was recently killed by the armed forces. Unlike Ravi Sisodia who has hailed as a martyr by a member of the government, Wani is described as a terrorist by the government. The local people in Kashmir Valley prefer the term `militant'. A more neutral term would be ‘armed insurgent’. Call him what you like, but the fact remains that Manan Wani was a learned young man. In fact, this is Kashmir’s biggest misfortune. Talented young cricketers often fall prey to bullets in a crossfire. Learned intellectuals spend their lives in jail. Human rights activists and lawyers face continuous surveillance which makes life quite difficult for them. Due to the conflict, even common people have very low tolerance for opposing views. If minority groups or women express their concerns, there is denial and, worse still, resistance. As such, well-meaning people who raise concerns of social justice within Kashmiri society are also silenced, by normative pressures, if not by violence. These are the reasons why socio-political discourse in Kashmir is stagnant and terribly redundant. Radicalisation goes unopposed because any opposition to fundamentalism is immediately co-opted by Indian media - a spectacle of which no self-respecting Kashmiri wants to be a part. Manan Wani is a product of this conflicted web of emotions, aspiration and radicalisation. No matter which side of the debate you are on, you can’t help but feel grief at the loss of young lives - Ravi Sisodia in one context, Manan Wani in quite another. Except, this time the funeral in question was attended not by Union Ministers, but by bereaved classmates and friends of Manan Wani who had gathered to pay their last tributes to their friend in absentia - a basic religious right.

In Kashmir, funerals of insurgents (be they armed militants or stone pelting civilians) are attacked by the armed forces with showers of bullets and pellets, causing further casualties and injuries - the psychological injury being much much deeper and difficult to heal than the physical ones. This is part of what former J&K Chief Minister Ms. Mehbooba Mufti describes as ‘muscular  policy’ of the Indian state, which she contends won’t work in the long run. Denial of basic social and religious rights such as the right to bury one’s dead is not winning hearts in Kashmir. Majority of the Kashmiris are non-violent by choice. They choose not to respond violently to incidents of harassment and violence against their children outside the state, or to the frequent provocations aired from TV studios, or to routine fake encounters, and other human rights violations. Kashmiris have chosen to ignore and forgive most of the state aggression directed against them. The Indian state, on the other hand, has responded to the slightest aggression by Kashmiris with disproportionate violence. This policy is being replicated in AMU where three students face charges of sedition for allegedly attempting to hold funeral prayers for their fellow student Manan Wani. This has prompted Kashmiri students in AMU and other campuses to unite and raise their collective voices against the unjust treatment. They demand that the expulsion of the Kashmiri students by AMU administration be revoked. Kashmiri students in AMU have threatened to leave en masses if their peers are not taken back on the rolls of the University. They number more than 1,200 according to the Vice-President of the Students’ Union Sajjad Rather. 

Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju has put forth his opinion on the issue. He contends that holding of funeral prayers is a basic religious right protected by the Constitution of India. But BJP’s obnoxious labelling of any dissident as “anti-national” disregards the Constitution entirely. As the JNU experience has shown, the charges of sedition will not hold good in a court of law, but sections of the media and the ruling party will milk the issue to polarise voters - an exercise that will further fuel the fire in Kashmir and alienate Kashmiri students who study outside. Besides traders, students serve as a link, a bridge between Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri people. By attempting to severe this link, the ruling party BJP does injustice to its own self-professed cause of a ‘united India’ with Kashmir as its crown. In fact, BJP’s policies of aggression against Kashmiris and violence against Indian Muslims has served no ‘national interest.’ It has only served BJP’s electoral interests which are often opposed to the national interest, as the Rafale scam (described by Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan as the largest ever defence scam in India) has so aptly demonstrated. 

Even for a Kashmiri who is in favour of staying with India, it is distressing to see the double standards, the discriminatory stance toward Kashmiris. Terror accused Col. Purohit - founder of the terrorist network Abhinav Bharat - gets a hero’s welcome when he gets bail and is escorted home in an army vehicle. Union Minister Mahesh Sharma gives a tricolour funeral to a lynching accused. Yet another Union Minister Jayant Sinha garlands lynching convicts! But three kids in a University trying to offer funeral prayers for their fellow student are the only ones charged with treason! One can’t elaborate this any further.

 If 1,200 Kashmiri students were to quit AMU as they have threatened, a few of them could possibly pick up the gun, stirred by injustices such as these. Even if none of them (hopefully) takes Manan Wani’s path, they won’t forget this discrimination as long as they live. Each one will be received by dozens of distressed family and extended family members back home. They will tell tales of discrimination to their friends. Such aggression toward students is not winning the Indian state any hearts in Kashmir. BJP is pushing Kashmir into chaos and precipitating the demand to secede. This will fuel hysteria in the rest of India and can win the BJP another electoral victory in 2019 General Elections. For the BJP voters who believe that Kashmir is an integral part of India, please remember this when you vote: for its own narrow gains, BJP is losing Kashmir for India.

(Shehla Rashid Shora is former Vice-President of JNU Students' Union)  

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