In a recent interview he gave to Omnivoracious, Haruki Murakami says, sitting in the lounge of an airport in Hawaii, “… the airport’s security check is definitely an Orwellian world, an extreme dystopia. If you don’t take off your belt, remove your shoes, put your chewing gum through the scanner, raise both arms and turn around, you can’t board the plane. In response to this, none of the airport personnel give you a word of thanks. And we have to pay such high air fares… When the real world operates this way, why would you have to write a ‘dystopian novel’ that goes even farther?”
The world, it would seem, has got weirder and weirder since we first started suspecting that fact may just be stranger than fiction. This is a world where the poor in one part of the world are dying of obesity because they can’t afford basic nutrition, while in one of the world’s largest democracies, not only are infants starving to death, but tonnes of grain lies rotting in warehouses because the government cannot decide how to distribute it. The Blackberry is used by protestors in one country to topple a tyrannical regime, while the same gadget is used in another country by rioters to plan and co-ordinate looting sprees. In this world only the most absurd forms of protest can express our disgust for the mess we have gotten ourselves into.
One would assume that after years of dealing with the absurd, the illogical and the frankly dangerous, we would all be inured to them. But as each day passes, and a new height of absurdity is breached, we continue to shake our heads in disbelief. The most recent such act of stupidity would be the Madhya Pradesh government’s Govansh Vadh Pratishedh Vidhayak – anti-cow slaughter law – which allows raiding of any premises on the assumption that cow slaughter is likely to take place, or beef is likely to be stored or transported. It doesn’t take an idiot to see how this law could be misused to harass minorities in a state that doesn’t exactly have a great track record in protecting them. So now anyone who slaughters the cow or its progeny, or transports them to slaughter or stores beef will face seven years in prison. This, when the punishment for defiling a place of worship under the IPC is imprisonment for two years or a fine or both.
What this whole business reminds me of is Syed Muhammad Ashraf’s wonderful novella The Beast. I read a recently translated version (a great job by Musharraf Ali Farooqi) late last year, and as I read reports of MP’s new legislation I was stuck by the similarities between fact and fiction. In The Beast, the powerful Thakur Udal Singh makes a pet of Neela the blue bull so that the fearsome animal can protect him and his ill-gotten wealth. As the bull runs amok through the village, goring whoever and whatever lies in its path, voices rise against him. The blue bull must be destroyed. The Thakur, however, plays a card that can trump the strongest of protests. He plays on people’s religious sentiments and tells people that since the blue bull is a relative of the holy cow, killing him would be tantamount to kill the cow herself. His real motive, of course, is to continue using Neela as an instrument of terror and protect himself and all that is his.
What’s to stop us from believing the same about the government of Madhya Pradesh? As Javed Anand writes in his piece Using the Cow, “Cow protection laws may be justified on religious grounds. But the provision of stringent punishments in BJP-ruled states clearly points to the communal dimension.” I should go back and correct myself. The MP government’s act isn’t one of stupidity; it seems to be a cunningly calculated move and perhaps that is why, it needs to be watched out for even more.
In Ashraf’s novel, the Thakur’s ploy backfires on him and the finale is a bloody reminder of the fact that instruments of terror have a way of boomeranging on their creators. I hope the result in Madhya Pradesh won’t be quite as gory, but it wouldn’t be so bad if one of the Holy Cows came and bit these Apostles of the Bovine on their backside.