‘There are no stains on my government,’ said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to the United States of America. This can only mean that the Prime Minister thinks the bloodstains of innocent Indians are not stains. In actual fact, no one can remember another time when so much blood was spilled in Indian streets. No one can remember another time when the state so nonchalantly backed off from its constitutional obligation of protecting its citizens’ fundamental right to life.
A shiver runs down one’s spine reading the media reports of three lynchings last week. This is a shiver known previously only to the hapless people of failed states, not those living in the world’s largest democracy. The same shiver is felt when thinking of the 70-year-old Maulvi Mohammad Younus, who was shot dead protesting against four unidentified persons throwing meat in a mosque in Uttar Pradesh, when he was offering ‘namaz’.
And when thinking of Junaid, his brothers and friends, returning to their home in Haryana after Eid-Ul-Fitr shopping. A mob lynched him to death while also critically injuring his brothers in a train in Haryana’s Ballabhgarh- not even 50 kilometers away from the national capital. The only person arrested in the case till now, is for ‘looking like Muslims’ and thus being potential beef eaters.
The lynching and prolonged aftermath of India’s ruling dispensation speaks volumes about the current atmosphere in the country. One cannot even fault Junaid’s fellow passengers for not coming to his rescue, as it is well known for these mobs, particularly in Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled states, to lynch anyone trying to stop them, even cops in uniform. The cost of defending the boys could be too much for anyone who dared.
To add insult to injury, authorities are filing criminal cases against the victims, rather than protecting their constitutional rights. At other times, they are even denying that such incidents are taking place. Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for instance, claimed in parliament that the lynching of 55-year-old Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan’s Alwar never took place. The acknowledgement of the lynching by both the state government and the Union Home Ministry is irrelevant.
State Home Miniser GC Kataria meanwhile, justified the lynching of Pehlu Khan, asserting that both parties were to be blamed as cow smuggling was illegal in Rajasthan. The fact that Pehlu Khan and his colleagues were not smugglers, but had bought the cattle from a state approved cattle fair, and had all the necessary papers for it, was not deemed important. Nor was it relevant that the assaulters were self-designated vigilantes, and not the personnel of any law enforcement agency.
This attitude explains the spurt in cow vigilante attacks since the BJP came to power in May 2014; with 63 lynching cases occurring to date. Of these, 32 occurred in states ruled by the BJP.
While Prime Minister Modi was unaware of the lynch attacks and the collapse of rule of law on his watch, he did speak out when the cow vigilantes started lynching Dalits. The Dalit attacks were hurting BJP’s poll prospects, which Modi could not afford. He then had a dramatic outburst, calling 80 percent of the cow vigilantes criminals. Focusing only on Dalits, despite the majority of the victims being Muslim, he offered himself to the vigilantes, rather than calling out the law enforcement for failing in their duty to enforce the law and protect citizens. His exact words, translated, were:
“I would like to tell these people that if you have any problem, if you have to attack, attack me. Stop attacking my Dalit brethren. If you have to shoot, shoot me, but not my Dalit brothers. This game should stop”.
The game did not stop. Vigilantes chose neither to attack him, nor to stop attacking his Dalit brethren and Muslim whoevers, both citizens of India. Law enforcement agencies chose to continue ignoring the attacks, while filing cases against the victims. BJP leaders, including legislators and ministers, continued using every trick in the book to show their tacit approval for the vigilantes- from denial of the attacks to their justification.
While the Modi government continues to be ‘stain-less’, the country is getting more and more bloodstained with every passing day. That cannot augur well for any government.
Samar is Programme Coordinator – Right to Food Programme Asian Legal Resource Centre / Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong