Lynching has become the new normal in India! There can be no debate about that. It is visible, it is violent. The victims 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 those responsible for these bloody murders. All this portends ill for the future of the country.
‘Lynching’ is best described as “ a 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 four years, must surely give the country the pride of place among the violent nations of the world today.
Mob violence or lynching is certainly not a new phenomenon in India. It has been taking place with frightening regularity all over the country. In November 1984, in the wake of the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the country witnessed mobs going round in Delhi and other parts of North India singling out Sikh men and brutally murdering them . Much of this was documented however; most of the big perpetrators were allowed to go 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 apparently 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 the State. 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. There were also two State Ministers in the police control room who were apparently 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.
Unofficial estimates state that more than two thousand Muslims were killed, many more injured and several thousands 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. They dragged out one Syed Khan, who was apparently arrested on 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. In just about a year, there have been 27 lynchings across nine states in the country.
On 3 July, the Supreme Court of India stated that violence in the name of cow vigilantism was not acceptable . “This is a law and order issue and each state has to be responsible. These kind 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 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 bench observed. The court warned against linking mob violence to religion “a victim is a victim” and asserted, “this is crime. This is actually mob violence. Nobody can take law into their own hands and nobody can wash off their hands from their duty,”
The frequency of the lynching cases has led to a demand for an anti-lynching law. But 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.
A couple of days after the Supreme Court order, 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. All these are not aberrations but a carefully orchestrated manner of the Government providing legitimacy to these crimes against humanity.
Rumours and ‘fake news’ spread via WhatsApp turned out to be the biggest ‘culprit’ for some of the recent lynchings. The Government spared no efforts in pointing to this, in an attempt to control social media. One needs to be aware of the harm that ‘fake news’ can cause. Pope Francis has warned us about this in his message on ‘communications’ for this year. However, if the Government was serious about controlling the lynching they should have first booked their Ministers and others of their ilk who through hate speeches target the minorities, the poor and the marginalized of the country. There seems be a general apathy and the lack of a political will to deal with the mob violence; the reasons are obvious! Besides, police lethargy and even inaction in some of these crimes, is a major cause of concern.
Recently, India has been faring very badly on several value-based fronts. She has now earned for herself a new id email@example.com . At this moment, the country desperately needs to be reminded of the words of Martin Luther King Jr.,” it may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important”.
*(Cedric Prakash, is a human rights activist. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 16th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 29)