Lynching: India’s Shame!
On Friday 5 July, thousands of people had gathered at a rally in Surat to protest against the growing mob lynching incidents in different parts of the country. There are different interpretations at what happened during the rally: with police blaming the rallyists and those in the rally blaming the police for using teargas shells upon them without any reason. The fact remains that a section of the crowd (the rallyists say ‘outsiders’) turned violent and was dispersed; besides several of the leaders and organisers of the rally were arrested! That the crowds are on the street protesting that lynching is non-acceptable, speaks volumes of the reality in the country today!
Surat Police open fire as clash breaks out with people protesting against mob lynching
Earlier, on 26 June, several hundreds of thousands of people in more than fifty cities across India gathered together to protest against yet another lynching. Tabrez Ansari, a twenty- four-year-old Muslim was brutally attacked and killed by yet another murderous mob. This horrific incident took place in Jharkhand on the night of 17/18 June. Videos of the lynching clearly show how Ansari was tied to a telephone pole, after being accused of stealing a motorcycle. As he was being mercilessly beaten by the mob, he was forced by them to say “Jai Sri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”.
As these unbelievable videos began growing viral on social media, online users expressed their horror and disgust at the frightening regularity at which lynching was taking place in India. The lack of prompt and effective police intervention was top of the concerns of the protesters. Posters with the face of Tabrez were creatively made. The hashtag #JusticeForTabrez began trending number one in the country. The protestors were vehement in their call that the attackers of Tabrez are brought to book expeditiously and that the Government demonstrates a political will to halt all lynching immediately!
Protests were held in several other cities, in many countries across the globe particularly in the US and the UK. The online portal ‘twocircles.net’ reports on the protests in the US, “Concerned citizens also protested in Chicago to demand immediate action against the perpetrators of lynchings as well as the politicians encouraging them. They said, “We, the concerned citizens of India and of Indian Origin living in US condemn such lackadaisical attitude of the government towards mobocracy and therefore, encouraging Law of Jungle and demand that the country be saved from falling into a dark era where mobocracy takes over”.
People of all ages and faith held posters and banners that expressed, outrage, grief and a demand for justice. One poster read “Punish criminal political patronage to lynching”, while other one had the names – “Akhlaq, Pehulu, Afrazul, Junaid…Tabrez. Stop before it is you…It is a matter of grave concern for all people to raise their voices against this attack on Right to be of a section of people and individuals. It is an attack on all people and is a form of state terrorism carried out by the ruling elite to attack , divert and divide people, who are struggling hard to find solutions to basic problems such as food, water, shelter, safety and security which are caused by the rule and plunder of a handful few. We must not let this pass” said Jaspal Singh who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A poet present in the group read a poem written in remembrance of Tabrez and how Ram’s name is being used to spread fear and hatred. University students, doctors, scientists, workers, teachers and many others were part of the gathering in the famous Harvard Square”.
Most of India’s so-called mainstream media, on expected lines, hardly gave the recent lynching and the subsequent widespread protests the attention it necessarily deserved. Matters of no consequence to the ordinary citizen of India once again hogged prime time! That the average Indian citizen (and those in the diaspora) is concerned about what is happening in the country today should have merited headlines. But sadly, it is not happening! Mainstream media (now owned by corporate and political bosses) are certainly culpable in not playing a responsible and more active role in arresting lynching, and every form of mob and other violence which seems to become the DNA of the nation today!
Last April, an Adivasi Christian was killed allegedly for skinning a dead ox; apparently, after a farmer Adranish Kujur told the village of Jhurmo in Jharkhand that his 20-year-old ox had died in his field, at least 35 villagers went to carve it up. Minutes later, a mob, armed with rods and sticks, attacked them, claiming they had slaughtered a cow. While most managed to flee, Prakash Lakra was killed and three others injured in the assault. Two days after the mob violence, Jharkhand police booked the three injured Adivasi Christian men, who were undergoing treatment at hospital, under the state’s bovine slaughter Act. The murderers of Prakash are still scot-free!
Lynching has become the new normal in India today and one does not need to have too much of an intelligence to realise that! Thanks to the videos from smart phones: it is visible, it is violent and it goes viral (some onlookers and even perpetrators take sadistic pleasure in video-recording the violence)! The victims, as one can ascertain from https://lynch.factchecker.in/,are invariably from minority and marginalized communities; someone regarded as an ‘outsider’ who is ‘not one of us’. The tragedy of lynchings in India today – is that they apparently have the official sanction by the Government of the day; in fact, some of the central ministers have publicly anointed and garlanded those responsible for these bloody murders.
‘Lynching’ can be best described as “premeditated extrajudicial killing by a group. It is most often used to characterize informal public executions by a mob in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate a group. It is an extreme form of informal group social control and often conducted with the display of a public spectacle for maximum intimidation”. Lynching must be considered as an act of terrorism and punishable by law. Instances of lynchings and similar mob violence can be found in every society. However, the lynchings in India, particularly in the last five years,(according to https://lynch.factchecker.in/ there have been 175 major assaults due to cow-related violence only causing 47 deaths)must surely give the country the pride of place among the violent nations of the world today.
In the wake of the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in November 1984, the country witnessed mobs going around in Delhi and other parts of North India singling out Sikh men and brutally murdering them. Much of these gruesome acts were documented; however, most of the big perpetrators went scot-free. Sadly, after so many years many of the victims still do not have the comfort of experiencing a sense of closure to that terrible chapter of India’s history.
The Gujarat Carnage of 2002 provided lynching with the aura and legitimacy with which it holds sway today. Rampaging and rapacious mobs murdered, raped, assaulted, looted, and burnt innocent and hapless Muslims all over Gujarat. It is evidenced knowledge today, that those who presided over these heinous crimes and instigated the unfettered mob violence were those who ruled the State; two State Ministers were in the police control issuing orders to the frenzied mobs. The police stood aside as mute spectators and sometimes even indulged in acts of violence. “We have no orders to save you!” is a retort from a police official to a Muslim victim desperately pleading to be saved.
More than two thousand Muslims were killed, (according to unofficial estimates); many more injured and several thousand displaced in the bloodiest chapter of post-independent India. Thanks to the dogged efforts of several individuals and groups like the ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’ (www.cjp.org.in) several of the perpetrators have been convicted and some have even been given life imprisonment. The plain truth is that the masterminds, the ‘big fish’ still remain free, roam the land with impunity, and have even managed to cloak themselves with immunity. That so many (and specially the powerful) could get away undoubtedly serves as a motivating factor to those anonymous individuals who are easily manipulated by the hate rhetoric, gossip and rumours that often fuel mob violence.
In March 2015, thousands of people broke into the Central Jail in Dimapur and dragged out one Syed Khan, who was arrested on alleged rape charges. They stripped him; they beat him up, tied him to a motor cycle and dragged him for seven kilometres. He died on the way. The murderous mob then hung his body in full public view. Police reports state that it was not rape but that he had consensual sex with a local tribal woman and apparently paid her for it.
Exactly a year ago, on 3 July 2018, the Supreme Court of India stated that violence in the name of cow vigilantism was unacceptable. “This is a law and order issue and each state have to be responsible. These kinds of incidents cannot occur. It cannot be accepted in remotest sense. It is obligation of the states to ensure that such incidents do not occur,” a said a three-member bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India. “Whether a lynching happens as a result of cow vigilantism or because people believe someone is a child abductor, it does not matter — lynching is a crime, period. Who will stop cow vigilantes? Some mechanism has to be there to prevent violence indulged in by these groups. This must stop. Some kind of planned and well-coordinated action is required by the governments so that vigilantism does not grow”. The court also warned against linking mob violence to religion “a victim is a victim” and asserted, “This is actually mob violence. Nobody can take law into their own hands and nobody can wash off their hands from their duty,”
On 17 July 2018, in a landmark judgment Supreme Court of India condemned the lynching incidents across the country. The Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak said the horrendous acts of mobocracy could not be allowed to become a new norm in India,“The horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land. Earnest action and concrete steps have to be taken to protect the citizens from the recurrent pattern of violence which cannot be allowed to become “the new normal”...The State cannot turn a deaf ear to the growing rumblings of its People, since its concern, to quote Woodrow Wilson, ‘must ring with the voices of the people.’ The exigencies of the situation require us to sound a clarion call for earnest action to strengthen our inclusive and all-embracing social order, which would, in turn, reaffirm the constitutional faith. We expect nothing more and nothing less”
The Supreme Court had hardly given its order, when the then Central Minister Jayant Sinha garlanded and felicitated eight men convicted of lynching a Muslim coal trader in a case of alleged cow vigilantism; earlier Gyan Ahuja the Alwar BJP MLA justified the murder of Pehlu Khan a dairy farmer who was also beaten to death by cow vigilantes; Union Minister Mahesh Sharma identified with the family of one of the accused in the Dadri lynching case. Several other BJP leaders have been spewing venom through their hate speeches be it crying hoarse that Muslim women should be raped or that minorities are not “patriotic”. All these provocative statements certainly inflame passions. The lumpen elements, the frenzied mobs (here read: often poor and unemployed youth) go doing their job with a fierce passion. This would not happen if their leaders had not goaded them on to act or provided them with ‘Godse’ as an icon to be emulated! All these are not aberrations, of a few ‘black sheep’ but a carefully orchestrated manner of the Government with the fascist ideology they espouse, in providing legitimacy to these heinous crimes against humanity.
The regularity of the lynching cases has led to a demand for an anti-lynching law. There are enough provisions in the Indian Penal Code, for example, Sections 302 (murder), 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 307 (attempt to murder), 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), to tackle such incidents. These need to be implemented strongly and effectively. In September 2017, the Supreme Court had asked states to take strong measures, including appointing nodal officers at district level, to curb such instances of violence in the name of cow protection, but absolutely nothing has happened to date. In some states, the Government and the law and order mechanisms are blatantly in connivance with the murderous mobs. Last week, Madhya Pradesh was the first state in the country to introduce a bill to deal with lynching providing stringent punishment to those who indulge in mob violence. This bill will be introduced in the monsoon session of the Assembly and will soon become law! However, merely having a new ‘special anti-lynching’ law will not easily quell the murderous mobs. The Central Government has to make it clear, as per the directives of the Supreme Court, that lynching and mobocracy will not be tolerated; the only way it can demonstrate their commitment to this ‘zero tolerance’ is to first effectively punish the ‘Godses’ and other murderers within its own ranks!
Lynching is today, India’s greatest shame! If the Prime Minister and the Government is serious about controlling the lynching, they should first book their own ministers, their leaders and others of their ilk who through hate speeches target the minorities, the poor and the marginalized of the country. These have to be dismissed from the party immediately and appropriate police action should be taken against them. So far, this has not happened; there is a complete dearth of political will to deal with mob violence. As the country celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the leaders of today, need to stop indulging in empty rhetoric and to mainstream Gandhi’s doctrine of ‘ahimsa.’(non-violence).
Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights and peace activist/writer. Contact: cedricprakash[at]gmail.com)