Lynching in Assam: Living amidst Lords of the Flies

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The cruel lynching of two innocent and budding youth in Kacharigaon village under Dokmoka police station of Assam’s Karbi Anglong district is the harsh reminder of the state in which we are living today. In last couple of years India’s public spaces have turned into squares of mediaeval Europe in which people were publicly executed for ‘heresy’, ‘witchcraft’, for petty theft, for being a Jew, Gypsy, gay or diseased with plague. The executions were the outcomes of populist demands cheered by stone, rotten egg or tomato pelting crowds. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century US thousands of black Americans were lynched by white Americans on fictitious accusations of raping white women or stealing cattle. The victims were killed in most horrific ways to inflict maximum pain and suffering. But the dark days of the mediaeval Europe and racist and segregated America forwarded towards reformation, renaissance and enlightment paving the way towards the establishment of state systems based on egalitarianism, democracy, desegregation and human rights. The makers of Indian Constitution too kept all these human developments while ensuring the equality and rights of its citizens in order to make our country a worth living. The citizens of India too, despite the scars of the Partition horror, maintained order and sanity in its formative stage to a large extant. But the recent developments in streets of India has been pushing us behind as mobs vandalising and ransacking objects and properties they don’t like and even lynching individuals allegedly involved in activities which they (the mob) oppose. This is in fact the attributes of the allegorical Jungle Raj or the animal kingdom exemplified by George Orwell and upheld by William Golding turning us to live in a pariah state where common good sense is overwhelmed by wild emotions fuelled by rumours.

The union of India is a collective of such a diverse people of faith, language, customs and regions that disparities are sure to happen despite the celebration of its plurality and inclusiveness. There are dominant narratives to negate the importance of diversity and plurality of India by promoting a particular set of values and customs at the cost of others. Such narratives are getting momentum in the last two decades or so for which selective violence is justified against a particular community by another one terming them as ‘spontaneous mob fury’. And we buy these theories. The taking of the law in owns hand leads to the non-existence of state machinery which results in the empowerment of various forces that subscribe to such narratives. Given a chance they erupt in a reverse journey to the wild past.

Our heads down in shame when a twenty five years old Laxmi Orang, hailing from Biswanath Chariali was stripped naked in broad daylight by a mob on November 24th, 2007 at Beltola, Guwahati because some of her fellow compatriots were indulged in rampaging parked vehicles and shops following a rally by All Adivasi Students Association of Assam. The perpetrators of that heinous attack were never booked by the law. As the memory of the Beltola stripping faded fast from our collective consciousness, we were again reminded it again on 5th March, 2015 in Dimapur, Nagaland where a man from Assam, alleged to be a rapist was stripped naked, paraded in the street before killed by a cheering mob with smart-phones. After that it became a regular phenomenon in various states of India where mobs lynching individuals for allegedly possessing beef, stealing cattle or participating in ‘Love-Jihad’ resulting in the deaths of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri near Delhi, Majloom Ansari in Jharkhand, Una Dalit-lynching in Gujarat, Pehlu Khan in Alwar, Rajasthan etc.  More recently in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, mob lynched two rape accused Sanjay Sobor and Jagdish Lohar by barging the police station in Tezu.

The spurt of lynching in our society reminds us the link of our primordial instinct of the pre-civilized life which psychologist has been insisting that it reoccurs given a chance. This observation is well narrated in Nobel Prize winning novelist William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) in which a group of British schoolboys are stranded in a remote tropical island as their aircraft crashed with no adult survivor. The boys soon develop to become a tribe of hunters believing the existence of a ‘beast’ in the island which they want to kill. The boys also offer a pig-head on a pole where flies swarm which reminds a sensible fellow member that the ‘beast’ is non-existent at it is within everyone. The boy discovers a dead pilot ejected from a crashed jet in the island and rushes to inform the group. But the boys mistake him to be the ‘best’ and lynch him to death. However the entire group turns up to be civilized again as soon as they are rescued by a Royal Navy vessel.

We are living amidst these lords of the flies. The ‘beast’ is the rumour which are spread to fuel fear, apprehension, hatred and what Professor Thomas Homer-Dixon of the University of Waterloo has formulated as “appropriately organization of circumstances” to behave in such horrific ways. It ‘dehumanises’ the victim and it happens when someone de-individuates and caricatures members of the out-group and does not regard them as participants of his/her moral community. The rumours like Sopadhora (child lifters) have been on for almost a century, most of the time used as ploy to scare non-abiding young children. Then the tale of Monkeyman attacking people in darkness, sucking blood and taking out body organs like kidneys got a free flow in our society resulting in the killing of an endangered flying squirrel (the Flying Fox) in Lakhimpur district in 2001 or attacking on mentally retarded persons drifting in streets in many parts of Assam in the pre-social media era. Now the social media, particularly the WhatsApp is spreading these rumours with morphed pictures, doctored audio and fake videos unchecked and mass consumption of these feeds by least educated, ignorant and deprived population have turned them wild and hysteric with animal instincts.   It is a modern form of tribalism, as argued by Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee of Ambedkar University, Delhi, where enemies–differentiated by religion, race, caste or ideology–are bracketed for elimination. In Kacharigaon, for the rumour fed ignorant villagers to take law in their hands consciously is attributed to the lack of participation and intervention by law enforcing agencies and civil administration on matters affecting their everyday life. It appears that besides ignorance, deprivation amidst rampant corruption by elite ethnic leadership, social exclusion and a distorted vision about non-tribal outsiders by the locals are responsible for the tragedy. The rumour mongers may also have some other plans in the area to achieve something sinister by mobilizing a frenzied mob. The investigating agencies must find out all of these possibilities.

The need of the hour is to give justice to the victim’s families. One big step in this regard should be legislation of a stringent law against rumour mongers. Otherwise there will be numerous lords to spread rumours with swarming flies.

(The writer is a freelance journalist based in Assam) E;mail: [email protected]



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