Murderers are evil. That's what 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq would have thought before he saw a mob of 100-odd people attack his house for "religious" reasons. On the night of September 29, his illusion of living in a safe neighbourhood shattered with the rude knock on his door. Before he was lynched to death and his lifeless body dragged on to the streets he saw his house getting ransacked, son being beaten up, mother slapped, daughter molested in the house his family has lived in for generations. Suddenly, the village crowd he spent his life with became hostile to his existence. All this, in the name of religion with which Akhlaq's family, and many others of his community, had coexisted peacefully for years.
Akhlaq's life and death have become an example of the dichotomy in the narrative of India. He lived in a village dominated by Rajputs, worked as a blacksmith, was proud father of a soldier - his elder son is a technician with the Indian Air Force, and was respected by his neighbours. It's the stuff the "glorious India" tales are made of. The real life example of the unity and brotherhood stories kids in school are told in August 15 speeches. That day Akhlaq and his family saw it shatter to pieces. They saw the hidden side of this narrative playing in front of their eyes: Murderers who were not evil till a day before. They were neighbours and friends who on that fateful night turned into the mob that would destroy the family forever. All in the name of religion.
It all started with a rumour, a fabricated story that Akhlaq's family is engaged in cow-slaughter. New reports that are filtering in indicate that it might be more than just that. There is a possibility that the crowd was provoked intentionally to attack the only Muslim family in that Rajput neighbourhood. I find this as disturbing. Whether it was about beef or not, how can a two-day-old rumour, make neighbours turn their back on the family which was one of them for years? How can a rumour, even if it had a religious colour, be so powerful to severe the ties strengthened over decades? Is the fear of somebody acting against the religious code followed by the majority of population in an area so strong that bonds of humanity cease to matter?
I have grown up in a Hindu-dominated mohalla with just one Muslim family. I feasted in their house on every single Eid and numerous other festivals ever since I remember, and so did most of the other families in the neighbourhood. After Dadri, I thought about that family. And I wonder who should I be more scared of: rumourmongers, or acquaintances among us.
If the curiosity of what is stored in somebody's fridge, if an appeal by a rabid religionist, can convert us into evil murderers we must be living in a rotting society.