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'PM's speech should be matched by action'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
June 29, 2017 20:15 IST
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'The PM should have spoken out much earlier and I would urge him to act, since speaking is not enough.'
'What we are demanding is action.'
'Immediate orders have to be issued by state governments to officials that such incidents should not happen.'

IMAGE: The #NotInMyName campaign in Mumbai, June 28, 2017, saw a healthy turnout of concerned citizens. Photograph: PTI Photo

On Thursday, June 29, while marking the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad, Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally spoke up against cow vigilantism and lynchings.

Indulging in violence in the name of 'gau bhakti' (cow worship) is unacceptable, the prime minister said, and goes against the ideals of the Father of the Nation.

Documentary filmmaker Saba Dewan, who spearheaded the #NotInMyName campaign against the recent lynchings in the country, is elated that Modi has finally taken note of the murderous vigilantism and lynchings and the citizens' movement against it.

The #NotInMyName campaign began after a mob killed 15-year-old Junaid Khan on a train at Ballabgarh, Haryana.

What began as an argument over a seat on a train took on communal colours when the mob accused Junaid of eating beef and beat him to death.

Saba Dewan, left, spoke to's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

Prime Minister Modi says killing people in the name of the cow is unacceptable.

His statement is the result of the #NotInMyName campaign.

In all these years he did not say anything (about the lynchings).

The impact of the #NotInMyName campaign on people has forced him to make this statement against gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes).

When you began this campaign did you think it would become such a big movement?

We began this campaign because we felt we needed to do something and could not remain silent on the lynchings.

We had to protest.

This campaign reflected the feeling of grief and anger about the way minorities, and especially Muslims, were being targeted in India.

This got all of us onto the streets.

We felt the ideas of democracy and secularism were being assaulted.

We worked on the campaign for just three to four days and it is heartening to see that there are thousands of people across India who share our sentiments.

It is these people across India who spontaneously organised this protest.

Do you feel the prime minister's statement against gau rakshaks has come too late?

Late or otherwise, he has made the statement, for whatever it's worth.

The PM should have spoken out much earlier and I would urge him to act, since speaking is not enough.

What we are demanding is action.

Immediate orders have to be issued by state governments to officials at the district and administration levels that such incidents should not happen.

The administration and police are to be answerable if such incidents happen.

The PM's speech should be matched by action.

This is the second time the PM has spoken out against atrocities by gau rakshaks.
The first time was after the Una incident in which Dalits were beaten badly.

Speaking is not an end in itself. We are demanding action on the ground.

The government at the Centre and in the states are duty bound to uphold law and order and protect the lives of citizens.

They have to provide security for them and we are demanding action.

Henceforth, there should be no more attacks of the kind we have been witnessing.

Speedy and time-bound justice has to be delivered to the victims of these attacks.

Would enacting a new law help?

A law is being proposed. There is a draft which is apparently doing the rounds, against lynching.

I have not seen the draft yet, but we will definitely support such a law.

Earlier, in the aftermath of Mohammad Akhlaq's murder in Dadri in September 2015, there was an award wapsi campaign by writers and intellectuals against the Modi government, which was criticised.
Your campaign has not been so criticised by Modi voters. Why?

I thought the award wapsi campaign was a very significant and important protest.

I have the greatest respect for it. It influenced a lot of people too.

I will not compare that with this campaign. Each protest is significant.

I think it is heartening to know that there are enough decent people who just felt repulsed that in the name of the cow, people were unleashing violence on fellow citizens.

Do you feel lynchings over the cow will stop after the prime minister's statement?

We can only hope that happens.

The fact is that one campaign itself cannot put an end to these things.

The prime minister has tweeted on this issue and thousands of people across the country will take note of it, as will state governments and the police.

We hope this will lead to action on the ground, however late it is.

Do you feel this issue needed to be highlighted because you are a Muslim?

(Interrupts) I am not a Muslim.

My name is Saba, but I am not born in a Muslim family.

I am an Indian. I am responding as an Indian citizen.

And as an Indian citizen I am deeply outraged that the secular and inclusive fabric of this country is under attack.

And that Muslim men and women in my country are under attack.

As an Indian citizen I am responding to it.

It has nothing to do with me being Hindu or Muslim.

I asked you this because activist Shabnam Hashmi has said that she felt threatened in today's India because she had a Muslim name.

I don't know what Shabnam said. I am proud of my name.

My parents, who are not Muslims, gave me my name, Saba, which reflects the plurality and the cultural heritage of our country.

I cannot bear to see this plurality under assault.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf /