New Delhi: Independent MLA Abdul Rashid Sheikh from Baramulla, popularly known as Engineer Rashid because he has a BSc degree, is a maverick. And even though seen as such by the voters he has won their loyalty, and they turn out to support him election after election.
Why? Because he walks the streets with them, does their work, and nurtures his constituency with diligence unlike most who assume power, Kashmir being no different from other parts of the country in this respect.
Given his penchant for plain speak, it was not a surprise when Rashid decided to hold a 'beef party' in protest against the Jammu and Kashmir government's decision to impose a ban on the meat. The Supreme Court, intervening in the matter, has imposed a two month stay on the ban now. However, Rashid was beaten up mercilessly inside the state Assembly just hours ago by the Bharatiya Janata Party legislators. "One more kick and Engineer Rashid would have become Mohammad Akhlaq of Uttar Pradesh" the shaken MLA told The Citizen in an interview just after the violent attack.
Q. What was this 'beef party' all about? Why did you hold it?
I had organised it because of the strange position being taken by the Peoples Democratic Party. It was a protest against the move to curb the fundamental rights of the citizens, of any community. The beef party was not intended to hurt anyone. We did not kill any animal, we do not cook any meat, we just got food from outside and had the party in the lawns not inside the rooms of the MLAs hostel. So how did it hurt anyone, there was no question of hurting anyone. Besides we were doing nothing illegal, breaking no laws as the Supreme Court has stayed the beef ban order in the state for two months now.
Q. But were you not hurting others by this?
No we were not even trying to do that. The gesture was against the government for its approach to the issue. I believe in communal tolerance and harmony. We are not mad people.
Q. So what happened in the Assembly today?
I myself do not know. Everything was moving smoothly and I was suddenly attacked by the BJP MLAs. One got me by the throat, others started kicking me hard, all over my body. The night before they had beaten up the employees in the MLA's hostel who were not involved with the beef party. I was saved by the MLAs of the National Conference and the Congress. One more kick and Engineer Rashid would have been Mohammad Akhlaq of Uttar Pradesh. The PDP legislators just stood by and watched.
Q. So what is the beef about beef? Is that a staple food?
In the cities not, but in the villages it is eaten because it is cheaper. But you won't believe it, when I first became the MLA in 2008 I took an oath that I will not eat meat in any house or shop within the parameters of my constituency. Any meat, beef, mutton, chicken. Because I did not want money to be spent on all this and told the people that they could donate the money instead to education or other such sectors.
Q. So this issue was not personal for you only political, is that what you are saying?
Yes. It is a question of freedom to eat what we want to eat. And not to interfere in other peoples lives, and take away their rights. In the MLAs hostel the rooms of the BJP legislators are full of bottles of alcohol. Many of them drink and get drunk every evening. This is against our religion, but so long as they do not come out on the streets in that condition who are we to stop what they do inside their own rooms, and houses? I do not believe in intolerance, we believe that all of us should live in amity and communal harmony.
Q. So what now?
Look, I want India to be always united, to get a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, to develop and progress. But all this will not happen if the BJP continues to target people and communities, this only creates anger and unrest. The Muslims have also sacrificed their lives for the independence of this country, for its progress, for its development. And we certainly are not going to be treated as second class citizens.