By Oliver Dsouza
There are a few months left in the year 2018. Even if in the rest of the year no more incidents of lynching are reported, this year could very well go down as the year of the lynch mob in India. So far, in 2018, there have been 54 reported incidents of mob violence across the country, causing 35 deaths. The ongoing mob violence is broadly is of two types. One is cow-related and the other is non-cow related. Most of the cow related violence since 2014 has largely occurred in the Hindi heartland comprising of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Haryana states. According to an IndiaSpend analysis, in 2017, for instance, lynchings were reported from 19 of 29 Indian states, with Uttar Pradesh (9), Haryana (8), Karnataka (6), Gujarat (5), Delhi (5), Rajasthan (5) and Madhya Pradesh (4) reporting the highest number of cases. These are Hindi heartland states. The analysis additionally reveals that between April 2014 and April 2017, over 63 incidents of cow-related violence took place, causing 29 deaths. It also shows that, while between 2010-June15, 2017, Muslims were the target of 52% of violence centered on cow issues, between 2014 and 2017, Muslims comprised 84% and Dalits 8% of the 33 people killed in 63 cow-related incidents. Another analysis of mob violence by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) between January 2011 and June 2017 highlights that cow-related violence has jumped up massively from five per cent of the total incidents (of Lynching) in 2014 to over 20 per cent by the end of June 2017. On the other hand, most of the non-cow and beef related mob violence that has occurred in the country has been reported from non-Hindi heartland states, with most of it occurring in 2018. Between May 2017 and July 2018, 74 cases of non-cow related mob violence has been reported. Of these, 54 incidents related to rumors of child-lifters, resulting in 35 deaths in 2018 alone. During 2017, 8 deaths had occurred due to this type of mob violence. More shockingly, in two months between May 10, 2018 and July 15 2018, 18 cases of mob violence were reported, 16 of them non-cow related, causing 9 deaths. A particularly pitiful incident was that of two youth – Abhijeet Nath and Nilotpal Das, both of whom were professionals who went to Assam in search of musical instruments. Both were lynched following rumors of them being child-lifters. Similarly, two others from Hyderabad, who had gone to Bidar in Karnataka to purchase land, were lynched after rumors spread that they too were child lifters. In another incident, 5 Dalits were lynched after similar rumors were spread about them in Dhule, Maharashtra. Overall, in 2018, while there has been a reduction in cow-related mob violence, there is a massive increase in non-cow ones. According to The Quint, in 2018, of the 54 incidents of mob violence, only 9 were cattle and beef related, while the others occurred over different reasons, overwhleming majority of them being caused by rumors of child lifting.
A common feature of the cow-related violence has been the patronage of politicians, other leaders and the adminsitration to the culprits. Examples of such involvement of politicians in the violence abound. Jayant Sinha, Most recently A US educated Member of Parliament felicitated convicted culprits of lynching when they were given bail by the Rajasthan High Court. He also assured the culprits that the government would not challenge the Court’s order. Sinha’s actions have been cited by party planners as beneficial for its vote bank. Similarly, another legislator publicly stated that lynchings were taking place because of beef eating, thereby surreptitiously condoning mob violence. In a video message on a social website, another MLA from Telangana T Raja Singh said the “war for gau raksha” (cow protection) and incident of lynchings will not stop till the time cow receives the status of “Rashtra Mata” (Mother of the Nation). In Alwar, Sher Mohammad, head of the Alwar Meo panchayat, alleged in the memo addressed to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, that Ramgarh legislator Gyan Dev Ahuja has been “openly saying” that those who beat up Rakbar Khan were his own men. This was an incident in which the right-wing cadres were openly seen indulging in violence, with videos and pictures of the incident being brazenly uploaded to the web. In Rajasmand district of Rajasthan, right-wing politicians were seeking donations for Shambhu Bhawani Raigar, the key accused in the Afrazul murder case. In Bihar, a right-wing leader Indresh Kumar, said that mob lynching would stop if people stopped eating beef. Official patronage of the mobs, however, is not limited to only politicians providing it. The police too are deeply involved. In a characteristically revealing incident in Alwar, a photograph of the incident clearly reveals police officials chaperoning the mob which killed a cattle trader and dragged him face downwards. The officials also treated the victim better than the cattle with him and took three hours to take the severly injured victim to a hospital merely 6 km away (he was declared brought dead). The same police, however, were extremely quick in sending the cattle to an animal shelter. Instead of calling the ambulance, the police first called for the van to transport the cattle to the shelter. What’s worse is that, even though being bereft of any evidence of their alleged bovine-related crimes, the police file cases against the victims and their relatives rather than booking the culprits who commit the crime. In 5% of the lynchings since 2015, culprits were not arrested and in 18 attacks (30%), the police registered cases against the victims/ survivors. Such participation of the administration and the police in mob violence, however, is strictly limited to BJP ruled states, where it has been making intense efforts to communalize and Hinduize the administration and police force. However, the biggest enabling factor of mob violence has been the silence of the government and of the ruling leadership. PM Modi, for instance, only recently spoke about the violence though it has been going on for four years under his tenure. And when he did speak about it, it was platitudes and too late and in. The violence by then had already mutated into nation-wide anarchy. The same has been the case with other ministers of the government. They either fail to speak against the violence or when they speak, their rhetoric is fully nuanced to defend the culprits. Such lack of political will to end the violence and collusion of politicians and the police only encouraged mob-violence in the name of cow. Such free mob-violence in the name of cow led to the creation of an environment of anarchy in the country as the citizenry can see that the justice delivery system is not working or in partial.
Mob violence is not new to India. Through the decades, on and off, there have been sporadic lynchings; most of them concerning alleged witches. A negligible number of them occurred over beef and cow, which is the central excuse with which Muslims and Dalits are presently being targeted and murdered. The present mob-violence is unprecedented. The incident that essentially marked the onset of this heightened new trend of mob violence was that of Mohammed Akhlaq, which took place near the capital Delhi in September 2015. Akhlak was lynched on the basis of a rumor (eventually found to be false) circulated by right-wing and BJP cadres that beef was stored in his house. This incident is also a very significant one because the mechanics that went into the killing has more or less been the same in other bovine-related violence. Firstly, a false rumor is circulated and a mob violence follows. Next, members of the government not only openly take sides with the killers and come to their rescue, but even honor them. In the Akhlaq case, after one of the accused died due to illness, his body was wrapped in the national flag. Thirdly, the police mostly collude with the killers, rather than provide justice to victims and succor to their families. The same mechanics as in Akhlak’s case have occurred in most bovine related lynching. More ominously, the government’s patronage of the culprits in the Akhlak lynching sent the message to right-wing cadres throughout the country that the government supports the violence, that it was government-protected hunting season of Muslims and Dalits – the stated enemies of the right-wing, with both communities being involved in the bovine trade. While bovine related violence occured regularly thereafter, matters took a worse turn after the government put out the new Cattle Slaughter Rules, (which was subsequently stayed by the courts). The rules added fuel to fire by providing an excuse for mob violence under the garb of cow-protection in an already communally charged atmosphere, largely in the Hindi heartland. Immediately, over the next two years, there was a massive hike in the incidents of cow-vigilantism and of Muslims being beaten or killed and Dalits being brutally beaten merely on the basis of rumors as indicated by the IndiaSpend analysis for the period 2015-2017.
The ongoing deadly trend of mob violence did not begin in a neutral vacuum. Rather it started in an already historically communally charged atmosphere in the Hindi heartland. The communalizationbecame intense with the NDA coming to power in 1998. It started the aggressive promotion of majoritarian Hindutva ideology, which has nothing to do with religion, rather uses religion for political gain and dominance, marking Muslims as the enemy, around which to consolidate Hindu voters. It envisions a theocratic state run not by a democratic Constitution, but on Hindu law and where the minorities have no equal status and the low castes are condemned to live as outcastes. This is the ideology of the ruling party, with the party existing as a political wing of rightwing forces pursuing those goals, taking its orders from their parent organization, whose majoritarian, theocratic and casteist designs for India are well known. After gaining power in 2014, the BJP took the Hindutva agenda to a different level, thereby raising communalization to unprecedented dark levels. Unlike 1998, when it had allies to keep it in check, now there is nothing to hold it back. Alongwith its sister right-wing organizations, – over 130 of them-, it has gone full throttle to establish a theocratic state, using the cow as a tool like never before. Rather than having any real religious basis for its venerated stature, cow has been used as a tool by right-wing forces to consolidate Hindus behind right-wing politics and ideology. As indicated by the regular utterance of various BJP and right-wing leaders, there is a conscious, vigorous and constant effort by them in the region to enforce veneration of the cow by all communities and to end beef consumption, for which they are encouraging cow vigilantism. Oppressive goals, such as those of Hindutva, require a target enemy against whom people can be united. Muslims are the readymade target enemy because, apart from following a beef eating faith, they are also active in various aspects of the cattle trade, making them easy targets for false accusation of beef or cow violations to raise Hindu sentiments. The result of the aggressive push for Hindutva through various means by the BJP in the last four years is that, since 2015 the nation started witnessing unprecedented mob violence against Muslims over cow and beef. By one estimate, hundreds of right-wing cow vigilante groups sprung up all over the Hindi-heartland. (Members of right-wing groups are usually the ones who figure in the FIRs filed by police over the violence). As pointed out by various analysts, the instigation patronage of mobs by politicians and leaders of other right-wing organizations, ensured that the mobs had a free run, establishing anarchy in the Hindi heartland.
For the BJP and its sister organizations striving to create a Hindu state, perpetration and patronage of cow-related mob violence may be serving their desired purpose, but has triggered general anarchy nation wide. This is because, in the face of blatant government and political patronage of mob violence, the message went across the country that mob violence as a means of delivering justice is the new normal. The fact that the general population does not speak against the violence, further bolstered this new normal as the silence is misconstrued by those indulging in it as approval. Consequent to this anarchic atmosphere, the cow-related mob violence that started off as a tool of to consolidate the Hindu vote, mutated to becoming one in which it is being resorted to by all over country to deliver justice. What was earlier limited to the Hindi heartland violence, now, it is taking place in the rest of the country, usually triggered by false rumors of the victims being child-lifters or of being witches and so on. So far, in 2018, a majority of the incidents have been non-beef and bovine related. What the nation is seeing is probably the start of India’s descent into a prolonged period of widespread anarchy and mob violence. The PM’s extremely late condemnation of the violence has had no effect in curtailing the violence as incidents have occurred even after that. Besides, the record of his government in patronizing and even honoring mob violence leaves him with no credibility – something required for getting people to listen to you. It is the lack of the government’s desire and credibility to end the violence that prompted the Supreme Court to direct the government to institute a law against lynching. Whether a law on lynching will rescue of India from its descent into becoming a permanent lynch nation, is a moot point. There are already enough laws that can be used to stop the violence. The problem is one of a lack of dutiful application of law in such cases –something that the state has deliberately failed to do. It is the lack of political will to end the violence that ensures its continuity. The solution will have to start with ending all the intensely communal rhetoric emanating from the right-wing politicans and leaders, pitching the Hindu and Muslim communities against each other. Instead these leaders will have to openly condemn communalism and need to be seen to act against it. Added to this, the government has to strictly and impartially enforce rule of law, even if actual crimes that infuriate a group of people who later become a mob, take place. For this to happen, the law and order machinery needs to have a free run and communal elements within it are discarded. This will happen only if the politicians running the country change their outlook, demonstrate their political will against communalism, mob-violence and anarchy … and allow the police to do its job in obeisance to the Constitution. They have to start acting against their own cadres. They have to start questioning the ideology that has besot them. At the same time, larger civil society has to vocally and firmly speak and stand against all violent and communal elements. It cannot expect to be a mute onlooker, expecting others to do the job as, the others, such as the government and political leadership have already demonstarted their lack of will to do so. The question is will all these entities do what is required? As far as the government, it is highly doubtful. As matters stand, the writing on the wall is that only a change of government will begin the process of neutralizing the communalization that has taken place, of restoring the people’s confidence in the justice system and of fully prosecuting the criminal gangs which go by various names, disguised as nationalistic outfits when all that they do is truly anti-national. As far as civil society is concerned, it has to realize that the right-wing ideology being pushe aroun respects no one and is totally oppressive in nature. The non-cow mob violence may be curtailed through various efforts, but such will not be the case with cow-related violence because of its deep and deceptively pretentious religious roots. Right now, the right-wing that ushered in the era of anarchy leading to widespread mob violence may be targeting Muslims, but going by the attacks on Shahshi Tharoor’s office and on Swami Agnivesh, the indication is that they will soon go after civil Hindu society that opposes it in any way. There is no quick and easy way out of the anarchy.