For many days I am searching for the latest data on Indian lynching incidents. And I find that a host of websites listed at the end of this piece are tracking incidents of hate crimes in India. They are serving the nation with gory facts that humiliate the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. I have also found that Ziya Us Salam in his Lynch Files (2019) has recorded many mob lynching incidents with minute details. In Mob Lynching: Legal and Social Dimensions (2020), edited by Dr Sheetal Prasad Meena and Hitesh Goyal there is a list of mob lynchings from 2015 to 2020. But it has used the source available only at wikepedia.org.
Then one day I come across Ishan Gupta’s article “Mob Violence and Vigilantism in India”, available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/48566204. Accessed 14 May 2023, published by Kapur Surya Foundation. I think my journey ends here. I find a sub-heading “Cow Related Violence 2014-18.” The author has supplied a table of lynching incidents year-wise, and deaths and injuries counted too. I just need data presented by this type of table. Out of excitement that day I shut down my laptop and go to my workplace in a carefree mood.
The next morning I check the source Gupta used and type the same in Google. To my bewilderment both the sources the author used are not working. I am anxious to find the latest data. Gupta has covered till 2018. I just need to extend it to the end of 2022, or if luck clicks I can extend it to April 2023. But my screen shows error messages time and again. I think the sites may be down this time. I need to wait. After an hour I check again, and I find the same result. The next day same things happen. I begin to feel the heat.
By the next week, I find a link, https://scroll.in/latest/937076/factchecker-pulls-down-hate-crime-watch-database-sister-websites-editor-resigns. It states: FactChecker, a website that publishes fact-checks, had launched the Hate Crime Watch database in 2018 to track religion-based hate crimes across India since 2009. The web address p.factchecker.in, where it could earlier be accessed, is not online anymore. Two other FactChecker databases, one tracking cow-related violence in India and another related to violence emanating from child-lifting rumours, were also not available any more.
I am rebuked for my foolishness. The website, lynch. factchecker.in run by the data portal, Indiaspend was shut down in 2019. And I am searching the site for lynching data in 2023. I am amused and bemused. My hope to extend Gupta’s data falls flat. It pains me. If Gupta is writing in 2023, he would have to face the same crisis in collecting lynching data. I think he was lucky. The source he used extensively is not available today.
In 2017, the Hindustan Times shut down its Hate Tracker project after a change in management. The project recorded acts of violence based on religion, caste, ethnicity and gender. The Hindustan Times’ Hate Tracker project reportedly did not go down well with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The project had also been criticised on social media for being selective in its choice of incidents that it treated as hate-based violence (Scroll.in, 12 Sept. 2019).
From this article published by the Print on 21st December 2021 we also come to know that The National Crime Records Bureau has stopped the collection of lynching data https://theprint.in/india/governance/ncrb-stopped-collecting-data-on-lynching-hate-crime-as-it-was-unreliable-govt-tells-ls/785201/. It states: The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) collected data on cases of mob lynching and hate crime in 2017, but the exercise was discontinued as the data was “unreliable”, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told the Lok Sabha. The MHA also told Parliament that the word “anti-national” had not been defined under the law. The data was also “unreliable.”
When asked why the NCRB had omitted data on hate crimes, cow vigilantism, and mob lynching from its 2017 report, Minister of State (Home), Nityanand Rai said in a written reply, “In the year 2017, NCRB collected data on cases of mob lynching, hate crimes etc. It was observed that the data was unreliable as these crimes etc. have not been defined. Hence, collection of data in this regard was discontinued.”
The scientist and writer Ananda Ranganathan claims: To explain that purely in data terms all this data is noise, not signal. 60 odd attacks in 7 years, that too non-normalised data, cannot be anything else but noise in a population of 1.3 billion. On top of it, if this figure is not normalised concerning population and vocation, it doesn’t mean much. For example, if 2 incidents happened in 2013 and 4 happened in 2014, can we shout from the rooftops that 2014 saw a 100% increase in such incidents? Sure, technically, one would be right in saying so, but in my opinion, it would be alarmist to assert this, in a nation where every year there occur more than 60,000 communal incidents involving all communities (https://www.opindia.com/2017/07/data-vs-data-is-india-really-lynchistan/).
What does it imply? Anand Ranganathan seems to hint that in a country of 1.42 billion people, a few hundred lynching incidents should not be taken seriously. It is quite natural for a land with a huge population dividend to lynch some Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection or beef eating or cattle trading. These lynching incidents, the author seems to stress, are “fringe” happenings. So why are so many hullabaloos? Two websites, opindia.com and swarajyamag.com, through their many articles, are arguing in line with Anand Ranganathan. This line of thought exposes the bizarreness of their mob mentality.
A single lynching incident can slay the spirit of a democratic nation. It is a “horrendous crime”, as said by the apex court of India. Here the numbers are not factors. Only a single mob lynching incident can tarnish the image of a nation. And the rising cow-related violence, one might be surprised to note, has taken a significant space in the academic world. Thousands of scholarly articles have been written on cow vigilantism and cow-related violence. Are the scholars too stupid? Why are they spending energy and time raising their voices against mob lynching? In a civilised country lynching, whether in the name of the gau raksha or child lifting cannot go. It is plain as water.
In the end, what I want to say is that lynching latest data in tabular form is not easily available on the internet. Even scholarly articles fail to document it the way I want to access it. Spendindia’s database, if proven biased and selective, should have to be made neutral and free from the practice of selection bias. Why has it shut down its hate crime tracker lynch.factchecker.in? Their argument on the day of departure was not quite convincing, “We have done our bit, and we are truly grateful and appreciative of the acceptance that this initiative has received from our peers and legal fraternity #HateCrimeWatch was awarded at the recently held Data Journalism Awards in Athens…We will continue to address systemic issues such as these, with the same rigour, diligence and passion. We are a team that remains committed to evidence-based and data-backed journalism.
India is a nation where voices against injustice cannot be suppressed. And the websites listed below are tracking hate crimes, and mob lynching incidents daily. And they are guarding the spirit of democracy by highlighting lynching incidents and exposing the Indian mobocrats.
Abu Siddik teaches at Plassey College, West Bengal, India. He is a bilingual author and has been published in India and abroad. He has three critical books— Representation of the Marginalized in Indian Writings in English (Falakata College Cell, 2015), Misfit Parents in Faulkner’s Select Texts (Authorspress, 2015), Banglar Musolman (Sopan, 2018); two poetry books and a short story, published by Authorspress in 2020 —Rugged Terrain, Whispering Echoes, A Birdwatcher and Other Stories. Website: www.abusiddik.com