Religion hasn't changed anything in man except perhaps to justify the monster in him...
This is what I was thinking to myself as my car left Indira Gandhi Airport, Delhi, and headed towards Gurgaon in Haryana, where I was to join the families of the five Dalits who were lynched in Jhajjar district on October 16.
While the entire nation seemed to be immersed in the Saga of Salman Khan and the fate of his victims, not many seemed to be aware that only a hundred kilometres from our capital, the clock had turned back to the Stone Age.
Here on this date, a mob purportedly instigated by the police themselves, lynched five Dalits, whose only 'crime' was that they belonged to the so-called untouchable class ... and were apparently killing a live cow.
This of course was later proved to be completely false, as the cow had been dead for 24 hours and the Dalits were merely skinning it to prevent the rotting smell.
Mr. Udit Raj, the chairperson of the All India Confederation of SC/ST, had organised a ceremony where nearly a hundred Dalits including the relatives of the five lynched by the mob, were to abandon their Hindu faith in protest and convert to Buddhism, Islam and Chistianity, in a symbolic gesture of revolt against a system which had oppressed and humiliated them for centuries.
As I got out of my car and navigated my way through the crowd, a female journalist from Star News thrust a mike in front of me. "What are you doing here, sir?" she wanted to know. "I'm here to express my outrage," I said, as I headed towards the dias.
Barely had I joined the other leaders of various organisations, which included Mr Joseph D'Souza, president, All India United Muslim Morcha, when Udit handed me some pictures.
It was like holding red hot charcoal in my hand. Mutilated bodies with their eyes gorged out stared at me, mocking at the very idea that this is a land of non-violence, of rishis, sages and of Buddha ... even as, ironically, the chanting of Buddhist hymns went on stoically in the background, as the conversions took place.
But what really tore into my heart was the silence of the relatives of the deceased, the vacant stares in their eyes, and the father who managed to smile at me when I was introduced to him.
"They lost their children because those brutes believed that they had skinned their cow-mother while she was alive," whispered Udit in my ear.
"Even if assuming for a moment this was true, do you kill five mothers' children in such a manner, for one cow? If they really believe the cow is their mother, how can they sell their own mother for Rs 200 when she gets old and stops giving milk? And why do they not cremate her themselves, why do they give her to the Dalits to do what the son is supposed to do according to their religion? Conversion is the only solution for the Dalits if they want to have a life of dignity which is free of oppression and humiliation," he said before handing over the mike to me.
Talking to a gathering which has been devastated by a tragedy of this magnitude is no easy task. But the heart overwhelmed by emotion finds a way of saying what it wants to.
"I come here to mourn your loss like a family member does," I said. "I come here to express my outrage. But please do not let this rage which has ignited within you be smothered with time. Fan it, intensify it, spread it, for it is only your rage that can stop the oppressor in his tracks.
"Though these conversions have made a very strong point today, they cannot stop these incidents from recurring. The Dalits need to fight to get into the mainstream of Indian society. They need to have economic power. This is a brutal world, it only responds to strength. Not in "Love thy neighbour as thyself" but in the terror that if you try to kill your neighbour you will also be destroyed along with him, lies the future of mankind.
"How long is anyone's guess. The human being is not run by gods but by men. Men whom you and I have placed in the seat of power. It is they who can bring about the change -- if they choose to. And if they don't, let us bring in those who can. Enough is enough. At least we have the power to say: thus far and no further, and that's a lot of power.