It is crucial to note that after the rise of the Hindu nationalist forces and under the new leadership of Shah-PM Modi, the contours and forms of communalism have now taken a different shape. It has to be noted that everyday forms of communalism and violence like mob-violence, lynching, hate crimes, in the name of cow protection, against minorities and Dalits, have become now, ‘ new normal’ in the public and cultural arena. At the outset, Ziya Us Salam has made crucial points by saying that, ‘lynching has replaced the age world communal riots as means of polarization’ (P-4).
To understand more deeply the changing contour of communalism, let me look at the present above mentioned incidents in the historical context. As historians of modern India have noted that due to the ‘divide and rule’ policy adopted by the colonial rule, which had communally constructed (as historians of subaltern studies have had underlined that through the enumeration and colonial census, the colonial state had constructed ‘communalism’ in India) the Hindu and Muslim relations and as a result of this tensions, the large scale of ‘communal violence’ occurred under the tutelage of the colonial regime. However, for most of the left-liberal historians, native conservatives and communal organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the role of the Muslim League would not be bypassed as for as sharpening communal divide between the Hindus and the Muslims were concerns, to fulfill their narrow political interest during colonial India.
Take, for instance, the concept of two-nation theory based on religious identity, earlier put-forward by the Hindu Mahasabha and later championed by the Mohammad Ali Jinnah could be seen in this light too. Unlike in the case of Pakistan, after independence, in spite of the pressure from the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, a democratic and secular constitution was drafted by Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar. However, after the demise of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Lal Nehru, the history of India has been replete with ‘riots after riots’ and during the height of Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 the intensity of communal violence had spread across India and became ‘pan-India’ phenomena. And hence one cannot deny the fact that foundations of our ‘secular democracy’ enshrined in the Indian Constitution came for the first time under serious threat and confronted deep crisis.
After the Gujarat riots (2002), the Hindu and Muslims communal divide further got intensified and the social scientists and civil society intellectuals had started to ponder over that will secular India now survive? However, the fact must be underlined that after the Gujarat riots no major riots have taken place except Muzaffarnagar in UP (2013). To note that this one took place in the so-called secular regime led by Samajwadi Party (SP).
To note that the ‘everyday communalism’ in the form of mob-lynching, hate crimes, around the bogy of love jihad, etc. continued unabated against mostly Indian Muslims and with India’s Dalits too. This forms of low-intensity and some time high intensity including everyday form of communalism as the strategy adopted by cow vigilante groups namely by the Gau rakshaks and other similar outfits (to note that most of these fringe elements who lynched innocent Muslims have not given punishments) against Muslim and Dalits which have been brilliantly discussed and documented by the Ziya Us Salam, in his book, LYNCH FILES: The Forgotten saga of Victims of Hate Crime, published in 2019. To be very precise, Salam Saheb is a senior journalist, and was a columnist in Hindu for 19 years and currently working as an associate editor with Frontline. He has authored a book like, Till Talaq Do Us Part, 2018, and Saffron Flags and Skull Caps, 2018.
Having briefly outline his works, I am here not going to review all his works but my discussion will be confined to the recent book like, LYNCH FILES, which published by Sage in 2019. The foreword of this book has been written by social activist like Jignesh Mevani, currently MLA from Vadgam, Gujarat. To note that Mevani is known for his Left- Ambedkarite and progressive stand against the current ruling dispensation and played a pro-active role in Una and other agitations and protests.
Contrary to the claim of PM Modi like Sabka saath Sabka vikas and politics of caste and communalism will triumph over the politics of development, Mevani says in his foreword that violence against Dalits and Muslim community in the form of mob-lynching, hate speech, humiliations and caste atrocities, etc. continued unabated and became the “new normal’ (p-x). As Mevani in his foreword writes, “after Akhlaq[who killed in Dadri, UP] the Muslim community faced a regular specter of attacks, humiliations, and death on the roads, simply because some Hindutva brigade members believed that they had killed cow, or consumed beef’’.(P-x) However, it is unfortunate to note that for communal forces and even for the BJP ministers to kill a Muslim in the name of cow protections is a ‘patriotic’ act, adds Mevani(p-x).
This book has documented a detailed analysis of every lynching or mob-violence has occurred during the last five years of Modi rule. As said earlier, most of the victims of lynching and hate crimes are from Muslims community and took place in the BJP ruled States. However, the irony is that those who are victims of mob-violence did not easily get access to justice and perpetrators of violence still are roaming freely without any fear. Besides, most of the perpetrators of violence or so-called self-proclaimed ‘Gua rakshaks Dal’ are getting encouragements from the ruling dispensation.
It is unfortunate that the Muslim community has not registered any strong protest and made these inhuman and heinous acts as ‘national issues’. In the case of Dalit, it has been noticed that they have registered and launched nation-wide protests. For instance, in the case of Una agitation, leaders like Jignesh Mevani and others have launched a protest and put pressure on the government and including PM Modi to take stand against the ‘Gua rakshaks Dal’. As a result of this, the violence against the Dalit somehow got politicized and government succumbed to the pressure to address the problems of Dalits. But in the case of Muslim, lynching continued unabated, the point which have been also touched by the book under review. As in his preface, Salam writes, ‘there is nothing spontaneous about lynching. All such actions were well-organized affairs where perpetrators knew beforehand that their public display of violence or even its recording or sharing it with a large audience on the social media was not going to have an adverse impact on their life’. (P-xvii)
While describing who are the most victims of lynching, Salam mentions, ‘at least 33 persons were killed in these attacks-29 or 88% of whom were Muslim. Over 56 % of all attacks occurred in states run by BJP governments,’ (P-4). While discussing intentions of gau rakshak, he has said: “the mind of a gau rakshak has little space for love, none for debate or dissent. It is not even for a cow. It is only about hatred of the ‘other’ ” ( P-46). However, it is said to see that the even police has failed to do justice with victims of mob violence. As the author writes, ‘Hussain (Ajju) was first attacked, then paraded naked, the police watched on, refusing to step in to stop the humiliations of the victim’ (p-84).
In the name scared animal how the so-called cow vigilante groups have murdered Dalits and minorities. As Salam writes, ‘the cow is held as a sacred animal by a section of Hindus. But in the case of lynching, it becomes a political animal with which to browbeat and even murdered the minorities and Dalits’ (p-23).
However, in the light of historical facts prevailed during the ancient time, a noted Marxist historian D.N Jha has in his work underlined that cow meat was being given to deities and consumed by the people including by the upper-caste in the ancient past the point is also highlighted by the author (P-43).
Broadly speaking, the book covers and made a detailed discussion on lynching related five files and documented detailed stories of every lynching took place in different states of India. For Salam and others, lynching has become now ‘normalized’ in our society.
In the first file titled as lynching, he talked about the current phenomena of lynching which has now become ‘substitute for communal riots’. While discussing long term impact of lynching on Muslim community, Salam says, ‘it (lynching) strikes at the very identity of the community. It is far more demoralizing than traditional communal violence’ but servers the same purpose as riots’ (p-4). In the second file, titled, Muslims: Easy targets?, the author has documented systematically saga of victims and hate crimes and lynching in different states mostly ruled by BJP like UP, Haryana, Jharkhand. In this respect, he documented and studied several lynching cases like, Akhlaq( Dadri,UP), Afrazul (Rajasthan), Mohsin Shaikh (Pune), Junaid (Ballabhgarh, Haryana), Mustain Abbas (Kurukshetra, Haryana), Alimuddin Ansari (Ramgarh, Jharkhand), Usman Ansari (Giridih),and Mazlume Ansari(Latehar)etc. which took place during the last five years of the BJP rule. To note that empirical evidence suggests that most of the victims of lynching, hate crimes happened to be lower caste Muslims.
In the third file titled ‘the mob now Targets Dalits, Salam has discussed about the lynching that followed Dalit uprising in the case of Una, Gujarat. While showing the ill-treatment done on Dalits and Muslims, Salam observes, ‘like in the case of Muslim men in Chittogarh who were paraded naked, the Dalit men also paraded half naked on the road in full public view’.(p-156) In the file no-4, Lynched and forgotten, he has shown that some the incidents has been largely missed by the media, society and polity too (P-163).while citing various incidences of lynching, Delhi, Srinagar DSP lynched, Assam, Bengal, Andhra, Dalit man lynched in Rajkot, Dalit man dead in Kanpur, Kerala etc., the author has argued these incidences have not been properly reported by media and was dismissed. As Salam says, ‘the media also either stayed ignored or even when the incidents came to light it was dismissed as without sustained enquiry and investigation’ (p-163). In the file-5, titled, Aftermath, Salam has noted that the Supreme Court has taken a positive move to curb the mob-violence and lynching.
So in the given times of cultural intolerance and violence permeated in all sphere of life, the book has successfully documented the lynching stories and exposed myth propagated by the Modi’s government by raising the slogan like Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas as also discussed in this book earlier. In fact, after going through this book, it would not be a mistake to say that lynching, mob-violence and hate crimes against Muslims and Dalits have become ‘new normal’ in the Indian society particularly after the rise of Hindutva politics. In short, this book has exposed the tall claims made by PM Modi during 2014 general elections and underlined that violence, hate crimes, and lynching against minorities and Dalits have increased. However, while highlighting the positive steps taken by the Supreme Court Salam writes, the supreme court judgment has given hope that dawn may not be illusion’(P-185). After the court judgment in case of lynching, PM Modi has also accepted that it is crime. As he (Modi) said, ‘I want to make it clear, lynching is a crime, whatever the motive’ (cited by Salam, p-184).
Therefore to understand the recent pattern of violence, discriminations, humiliations, lynching and everyday from communalism against minorities and Dalits, it is necessary for learned audiences to have a look. So, given the current political situations of our countries, I recommend strongly for scholars, activists, politicians and the general reader must read it.
The author is a research scholar University of Delhi