Jaipur — Rajasthan State Commission for Minorities has sought a factual report on a video that went viral on Thursday showing four Sikh men purportedly beaten up by local residents of Chainpura in Ajmer district.The 51-second video shows four members of Sikh community being abused and thrashed by a mob as people witnessing the incident filmed the entire episode…..three to four sewadars (Sikh members) of a gurdwara from Alwar district had visited the village to collect donation.The local residents had then beaten them up alleging that they molested their women…However, according to police, the Sikh men were not found involved in molestation and were asked to file a cross FIR against those who thrashed them but they did not lodge any complaint.
Hotel Hayat Rabbani in Jaipur has finally been opened.
It finally needed an order by an additional sessions judge to open it who when told that despite his order the Municipal Corporation has not complied with it had to send its ‘Naazir’ (head assistant) to the hotel who broke the locks and opened the seal. (http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-otherstates/sealed-jaipur-hotel-reopens/article18711035.ece).
The more than two month ordeal faced by a law abiding citizen would be forever etched in the minds of the people.
Remember neither the forensic department’s clean chit that the meat served in the highly popular eatery was not beef and nor the additional civil judge’s injunction to reopen the hotel had changed its predicament.It was rumoured that one Kamal Didi – whose allegations that beef is being served in the hotel – had unfolded the set of events – and that also just by ‘seeing’ a hotel employee throwing hotel refuse on the garbage dump, was not satisfied with the report of the forensic deptt and that’s why there was dilly dallying on the issue.
The forcible closure of a popular hotel – owned by a person belonging to minority community – where the not so holy alliance between the vigilante mob owning allegiance to Hindutva Supremacist ideology and the police and the administration was starkly visible, in the capital of a state itself, is a representative image of our times.
A less discussed aspect of this ‘operation closure’ of the hotel pertains to a whatsApp message which was allegedly circulated by one of the seniormost functionaries of the city. The message had exhorted people to join this ‘holy action’.
Someone who is supposed to be a custodian of the interests of the city and its residents provoking a section of the populace to join basically a criminal act ! Now the element of surprise has gradually disappeared. One is reminded of Balzac’s writings where the sheriff of the city metamorphoses into criminal/mafia don at night.
It is rightly said that times are such that it is difficult to differentiate between a vigilante mob and the state.
While the mob attacks the victims under whatever pretext it can think of, the police – the most visible of the state’s arm – turns a mute spectator or at times even prods the attackers. One can have a cursory glance at the spate of such killing incidents which have been reported across India in recent times to understand the dynamic. Lynchings in Jharkhand have added a new ‘dimension’ to it.
May 18, 2017: Seven people were lynched in Jharkhand in tribal-dominated areas near Jamshedpur. The lynchings were done in two separate incidents following WhatsApp rumours of gangs active in kidnapping children in the region. According to a report in The Indian Express, police stood by watching the mob lynch four people. The police personnel who saw the lynching included a Deputy Superintendent of Police, a Circle Inspector, two Assistant Sub-Inspectors and at least 30 policemen including those from the local police station in Rajnagar.
We have n number of such examples before us where people have come under attack because of some mischievous rumour and were themselves put behind bars on some flimsy pretext, or seminars attended by leading scholars held in educational institutions have come under attack, participants brutalised and the police letting the the attackers go away scot free. And there is growing ‘normalisation of this brutality’…
Even if it is not possible immediately to comprehend the whole dynamic but future social scientist would have enough raw data available with them to know how a vigilante mob slowly merges into the state and vice versa and how the much cherished rule of law is put on its head or how the state ‘outsources’ work of silencing dissident voices to such mobsters.
The characteristic features of this unfolding violence are evident to even laypersons.
The violence is such that victims can be easily turned into ‘real perpetrators’ and the perpetrators are projected as ‘martyrs’. Remember killing of five dalits in Dulina, Jhajjar supposedly for skinning a dead cow in the year 2003 when a thousand strong mob had thrashed the hapless group in front of police station and in the presence of senior officers of the administration and the police had ‘lodged’ a case against the dead persons for ‘provoking the people.’
A spate of lynching incidents have been reported across the country in the last few months. The attacks have raised grave concern both with the society and the government at large. Here is a look at the attacks in the past three months ….
..May 2, 2017: A mob of right wing activists lynched a man after he eloped with a woman from a different community. The man was beaten to death. A press statement by the UP police said that members of Hindu Yuva Vahini were involved in the lynching.
April 30, 2017: A mob lynched two men in Nagaon district of Central Assam on suspicion of them being cow thieves. Abu Hanifa, 23, and Riazuddin Ali, 24, were chased down by a village mob and assaulted brutally. The two were rescued by the police but couldn’t be taken to a hospital.
April 22, 2017: Four men purportedly from animal rights group People for Animals stopped a truck in Delhi’s Kalkaji area and beat up the occupants badly for suspecting them of being cattle smugglers. ..
April 21, 2017: Cow vigilantes attacked a family of five including a nine-year-old in Reasi district in Jammu and Kashmir. The attack happened in the evening when the nomad family was herding their livestock in Talwara area…
April 1, 2017: A Muslim man named Pehlu Khan, 55, was lynched by a mob of hundreds of cow vigilantes in Alwar in Rajasthan…Not long ago, the Rajasthan government had set the punishment for cow killing to life imprisonment.
March 9, 2017: A Bangladeshi security guard was lynched to death in Tripura who was allegedly part of a group of 12 who had come with intentions of robbery in a village.
Another important thing to remember is that there is nothing spontaneous about it. Despite outward packaging of a sudden outrage, all such actions are well organised affairs, where the perpetrators know it very well that their public display of violence or even its recording or sharing it with a larger audience via social media etc is not going to have any impact on them
If anyone has any doubts about the planning which goes into it one can have a look at the a judgement of Punjab Haryana highcourt regarding the self proclaimed ‘cow protector’ vigilante groups which it delivered last year or report of Director General of Police, Gujarat during Una movement wherein the officer had castigated network of such cow vigilante groups in no uncertain terms and called for action against them. Independent journalists have also written how the new cattle slaughter rules would further emboldent vigilantes. ( https://scroll.in/article/839086/the-daily-fix-new-cattle-slaughter-rules-may-end-up-giving-cow-vigilantes-a-new-sense-of-impunity.)
Normally religious minorities, dalits alongwith dissenting voices of various kinds happen to be the usual targets of such violence. It is a different matter that with the spiralling of such violence people from majority community are also coming under attack as witnessed in the recent killings in Jharkhand.
Of course, whatever might be the scale of violence one witnesses that there is broader acceptance to such acts if they are targetted against the ‘hated others’. Thus ‘sacredness’ of cow makes it possible that human flesh becomes less important than bovine flesh. The elopement of a girl from a majority community with a youth from a minority community – which is portrayed as ‘love jihad’ – can even lead to forcible expulsion of the minority ( may be of the religious or the social type) families from the region with police becoming mute spectator. Or if one is found to be talking of human rights of Kashmiris, then apart from the mobsters the agencies of the state can also apprehend you for being an ‘anti-national’
Thanks to the proliferation of internet this ‘violence’ has taken up another sinister dimension. Here vigilantes – who are called as ‘trolls’ engage in cacophonous clamour on social media to silence anyone with whom they do not seem to agree. The anonymity on virtual space further adds more power to their voices. And thus a handful of people through their twitter accounts can create illusion of a hugely amplified voice. The ‘successful’ manner in which it can be done can be learnt from the recent incident at Swedish Embassy in India which disinvited two leading women print and TV journalists – Swati Chaturvedi and Barkha Dutt “.[F]ollowng mass populist trolling and complaints from the Twitteratti” to an event organised on th e’World Press Freedom day. ( Indian Express, 14 th May 2017, Free Speech ? You Must be Joking !- Nishant Singh)
Media, which is called as ‘watchdog of democracy’ seems to have largely abandoned its critical role and barring exceptions it thus either maintains silence over such incidents of organised violence or remains content in presenting a majoritarian viewpoint or even at times provokes people to join the ‘outrage’. Remember how a large section of media (especially the electronic one) ganged up last year when the government at the centre decided to target Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi under the false pretext that ‘anti-national’ slogans were raised. A few of them had no qualms in presenting fake videos to support their claims.
Judiciary, which is reported to be custodian of the constitution is also found to be wanting on this front. Reports galore in where we are told how it had earlier taken suo motto action while browsing through some newspaper report or when some judge found herself/himself caught in a traffic jam caused by striking workers. One is reminded of an article on ‘Judicial Activism’ by Justice Ahmadi, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wherein he had asked a pertinet question. Why does the much talked about judicial activism stops at the gate of communal violence/ hatespeeches/targetted violence against the marginalised. Forget strict measures there are occasions when it is also found to move because of ‘collective sentiment’ of people.
Look at the Nirbhaya case in which all the rapists have been sentenced to death. While it has rightly raised debate about death penalty, no less controversial has been the remarks of the highest judiciary which had mentioned how this particular case impacted collective sentiment of people. T M Krishna in his well argued piece on Scroll rights raises important questions in this connection :
..Collective conscience makes its appearance through the individual conscience of the judge. So, when judges use this phrase, it is really to express what is essentially their own viewpoint, or they have taken it upon themselves to determine “collective consciousness”. Both these positions are entirely self-generated…
..Our Constitution is based on the principle of justice for the most marginalised, disfranchised, oppressed, unknown, unseen and ignored. This spirit demands that law cannot rely on or be influenced by any delusionary sense or mood of the people.
Situation is such that because of an enfeebled parliamentary opposition which has not been able to put up a strong fight for the defence of secularism or defending constitutional principles and weakness of social political movements of the transformatory kinds India has slowly started looking like a ‘mirror image’ of its ‘arch rival’ Pakistan.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, had rightly prophesised about this state of affairs during the tumultous days of partition riots and asked India people to remain vigilant as he could see that India could easily turn into ‘Hindu Pakistan’
While vigilante mobs kill here under the name of cow, love jihad or similar other emotive issue, innocent people are killed on the other side of the border under the name of blasphemy. Not some days ago Mashal Khan, a journalism student at the Khan Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was stripped, beaten and shot in the head and chest by a mob under the charges of blasphemy. Mashal, a bright young student who talked of Che Guevara and Marx and looked critically at religion , by his fellow students who even videographed the whole lynching incident and circulated it on social media. Centre for Social Justice, a Lahore-based research and advocacy group, has collated information about such killings and according to it
‘at least 62 men and women have been killed on mere suspicion of blasphemy between 1987 and 2015. So far, no one has been executed by the state. ‘ (https://thewire.in/98249/for-the-love-of-god-history-pakistans-blasphemy-laws/)’
It further adds that
‘,472 people who have been accused under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2015 – specifically under sections 295-B, 295-C and 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code. As estimated by the Centre for Social Justice: 730 of these are Muslims, 501 are Ahmadis, 205 are Christians and 26 are Hindus.’(-do-)
There is a disturbing commonality even in the modus operandi of such vigilante mobs. Remember lynching of Akhlaq, from Dadri, around 50 kilometres from Delhi, national capital where a lynch mob in its hundreds had suddently gathered at his house and killed him for storing beef in his refrigerator. Not very many people would like to remember that the lynch mob was mobilised by making annoucements from the loudspeaker of a local temple. In Pakistan, a Christian couple Shama and Shahzad Masih, from Kot Radha Kishan, not very far from Lahore, were dragged out of the 10-by-10 feet room in which they had sought refuge, bludgeoned with sticks and hatchets by a mob that eyewitnesses say numbered in the high hundred. And the lynch mob had gathered there when annoucements were made from the local mosque.
No doubt there is no direct harm to the basic structure of the constitution, its formal structure remains intact, de jure India – as per Constitution does remain a democracy as well as a republic – but defacto democracy has slowly metamorphosed into majoritarianism and the sine qua non of a republic – that its citizens are supreme is being watered down fast.
The phenomenon of mob violence which is packaged as mob justice has not remained confined to the majority community in this part of the earth. It has spread to other religious communities as well and there is a conscious silencing of critical voices in very many ways. The hounding and deaths of two Sikh women in Punjab – both named Balwinder Kaur – under charges of ‘desecration of Guru Granth Sahib’ in controversial circumstances last year and the manner in which the earlier government increased the quantum of punishment in such cases, mainly because of popular pressure is a case in point. Radical Islamist groups active in South India are also reported to be involved in crushing of voices within community or attempting to discipline the whole community in particular ways similarly by mobilising people.
While violence or fact of violence continues to remain a marker in these times, it would be worthwhile to see whether it could be ‘blamed’ merely on the agents/or actors of violence – the Hindutva Supremacist forces or fanatic forces of various kinds – or it has deep social roots in our society. Day and night we keep talking about tolerance of our great culture and keep patting our backs for the same, refusing to see routinisation or normalisation of violence in our society.
It is worth noting that in a country which talks of the greatness of the apostle of non-violence, one type of violence is considered not only ‘legitimate’ but is sanctified as well. Violence against dalits, women and other oppressed sections of the society has received religious sanction from times immemorial and the onset of modernity has not changed the broad picture. Interestingly imprints of many such customs and hierarchies which had their genesis in the Hindu religion is visible in religion as it is practised by others. Caste discrimination in Islam, Christianity or Buddhism which could be unimaginable outside is very much visible in the lifeworlds of the people. India could be said to be the only country where a widow is burnt alive on the dead husband’s pyre. If earlier new born daughter was killed in some brutal manner today parents employ sex selective abortion – thanks to the developments in technology. It is not for nothing that India is the only country in the world where we have 33 million missing women. If we try to look impartially at precepts and practices in other religions, we will find similar valorisation of violence may be against the infidels or the heretics.
A cursory reading of Ambedkar’s writings makes it clear how the violence is ingrained in the society here. He adds if a Hindu denies temple entry to a dalit or thrashes him/her for reading Vedas etc. then you can see that this act may be ‘illegal’ in today’s times but he is observing his religious duty only. His religion enjoins upon him to do it if somebody violates the code of conduct inherent in religion.
A related aspect of the ‘legitimate-illegitimate’ violence debate gets unravelled when one deals with riots and the related killings. To understand the gravity of the situation one can have a look at some old figures related to communal conflicts. ‘Study by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, a Union Home Ministry body, says that between 1954 and 1996, almost 16,000 people lost their lives in 21,000 incidents of rioting, while over one lakh were injured. Only a handful have been held accountable.’(Communal Riots, India Today, July 21, 2003).
It is worth noting that the same citizenry which is categorically opposed to terrorism would exhibit a strange sense of ambivalence towards such indiscriminate violence and arson. This happens despite the fact that many indepth studies of ‘riots’ in post independent India clearly exhibited that today riots are less spontaneous but more organised affairs.
Looking at the fact that today the very act of riot making has reached what Paul R Brass likes to call ‘institutionalised riot systems’ stage in the country, we should be wary of searching for the element of spontaniety in any riot.One needs to emphasise this again and again because what we witness today is the continuous denial of justice to riot victims claiming ‘spontaneity’ to such mayhems.
One is reminded of the whole debate when one finds that it has been more than 34 years that Nellie massacre occurred and the perpetrators of this violence still remained unpunished. It was February 18, 1993 when armed mobs attakced and killed more than 1,800 Muslims ( unofficial claims : 3,300 ) across 14 villages in Assam’s central district of Nagaon in a span of mere six hours. The attackers of this worst case of religious-ethnic cleansing in independent India engaged in such brutal violence on the pretext that the victims were illegal migrants from Bangladesh. A report in “Tehelka” ( 14 th March 2009) tells us that the report of an inquiry commission which was submitted quarter century ago still lies unattended. And there seems to have unfolded an unwritten consensus between the ruling and the opposition parties in Assam not to revisit the killings in the infamous Nellie massacre. It is not for nothing that successive governments which came to power in Assam have refused to publish the Tewary commission report which looked into the gruesome killings. And when a Japanese scholar wanted to present a paper on Nellie massacre at a seminar in Guwahati, she was denied the permission to present her findings without any reason being given.
Let us be ‘Illegal’
In this gloomy situation when majoritarianism is masquerading as democracy and a defacto Hindu Rashtra seems to be coming into existence – albeit in slow motion – question of resistane becomes important. How to envisage it in such a context and how to break new grounds in strategising it remains a key question.
While we contemplate our response it would be opportune to remember the advice given by Martin Luther King – the legendary civil rights leader – in his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.
is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010) Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India(2011). He is also the Convener of New Socialist Initiative (NSI) Email : [email protected]