PATNA: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar today said incidents like an NDTV journalist being forced to chant “Jai Sri Ram” by a group of men who threatened to set fire to his car on a national highway in his state, “will not be tolerated.”
Two days after Eid last week, Munne Bharti, Senior Guest Coordinator at NDTV, was travelling to a village in Bihar’s Samastipur when he came upon a truck blocking the road. He was told, he said, that there were riots on the road beyond and he should turn back. In the car with him were his 91-year-old father, 84-year-old mother, his wife and children.
When Mr Bharti attempted to turn back, he said, he was stopped by four or five men who came out of the truck. They wore saffron scarves around their necks and were chanting “Jai Sri Ram,” the journalist said.
The men looked into the car, and then turned to Mr Bharti and asked him to chant “Jai Sri Ram,” beating the ground menacingly with lathis or sticks. Mr Bharti said they threatened to set fire to his car if he did not do as he said. They had ascertained that he was Muslim, he said, as his father has a beard and his wife had a naqaab or veil kept by her side.
“I have always respected all religions and would never have any problems chanting Lord Ram’s name. But this time I did so under duress. I said ‘Jai Sri Ram’ to save the lives of my family, turned my car and drove away,” Mr Bharti said.
He had driven some distance when he tweeted about the incident, tagging the chief minister and others.
The incident comes amid a spate of mob attacks, many of them by cow vigilantes against Muslims who they have accused of carrying or eating beef or of cow slaughter. Last month, a few days before Eid, Junaid Khan, a 16-year-old, was stabbed to death by a group of men on a train near Delhi. Junaid’s brother, who was with him at the time, has said that religious slurs were hurled at them, and his cap was snatched and thrown to the ground and his beard was pulled.
“We have to ponder over, pause and reflect when we read in the newspaper or see in the television screen that an individual is being lynched because of some alleged violation or law or not. When mob frenzy becomes so high and irrational, uncontrollable we are to pause and reflect: are we vigilant enough? I am not talking of vigilantism – I’m talking of are we vigilant enough proactively to save the basic tenets of our country,” President Pranab Mukherjee said on the weekend.
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had condemned killing people in the name of cow worship. “Killing people in the name of Gau Bhakti (cow worship) is not acceptable…No person in this nation has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country,” the Prime Minister said.
While saying that protecting cows, sacred for Hindus, is needed, PM Modi said, “No one spoke about protecting cows more than Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave,” he said – “this (violence) is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve of.”
The PM’s comment came a day after thousands protested across the country against mob attacks. It was the same day that Mr Bharti was stopped and threatened in Bihar.