Mathura Violence: Jungle-Raj Raises Its Ugly Head Again In India
03 June, 2016
Mathura, a city in Uttar Pradesh, witnessed a sensational encounter between the police and a semi-religious cult that left at least 21 dead, 2 senior cops among them, yesterday. The police had reportedly gone there to evict members of Azad Bharat Vidhik Vaicharik Kranti Satyagrahi who have been illegally occupying Jawahar Bagh for years on Thursday on the directions of the Allahabad high court. Still fuzzy reports coming out in the media hint that the group was armed to teeth to resist the move and it attacked the police party. The encounter, expectedly, made the parties in opposition blame the incumbent government for a ‘total collapse of law and order’ in the state and the return of jungle-raj.
A while back, the same jungle-raj was spotted in Bihar, an Indian province once notorious for its lawlessness and disorder. The son of a member of the Legislative Council (MLA) allegedly shot dead a student for having the temerity to overtake the MLA’s son’s car. Another MLA is cooling his heels in a jail after getting charge-sheeted for raping a minor. And, a senior journalist has been shot dead, allegedly on the orders of an ex-parliamentarian and political heavyweight. It seems that the state government has abdicated its constitutional obligation of maintaining law and order. For the opposition party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been trying every trick to get into power there, and for the media, this all signifies Bihar returning to the era of Jungle-raj, i.e. the law of the jungle or a collapse of the law enforcement.
And, one could concur. Save, this does not seem to be happening in the once notorious state alone. Lets take for consideration, the security of journalists, a tribe that otherwise enjoys plenty of freedom in “stable” and mature democracies. A day before the fatal shooting of the journalist in Siwan District of Bihar, another scribe was shot dead in Chatra District of neighbouring Jharkhand, ruled by the BJP. The day after the murder of the Bihar journalist, yet another was shot at in Mathura District of Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the Samajwadi Party.
This is no aberration. As per the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international watchdog, India has the dubious distinction of being the third most dangerous country for journalists judging by the the killing rates, right behind war-ravaged Iraq and Syria. Press freedom Index, 2016, released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), another international watchdog, ranks India a lowly 133, out of 180 countries. Not a flattering compliment for a country that calls itself the “largest democracy in the world”. If this is what journalists are facing, one can easily imagine the fate of the ordinary population, not even armed with a camera and keyboard, condemned to live in the provinces.
The reality of the brutality on display daily, however, doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Take the recent case of the goons that tried to molest a girl. They killed her brother, an Indian Army soldier, in broad daylight in Dhule, Maharashtra, when he tried to save her. This happened just a day after the Bihar killing. And, then there is also the BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh, again, which is now infamous for the suspicious serial deaths of 43 people associated with a scandal in entrance tests conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), popularly known by its Hindi acronym, Vyapam. The state is also notorious for routine killings of senior police officers including those from the Indian Police Services (IPS).
Ironically, Bihar is actually doing better than many other states that are not being accused of Jungle-raj, if one goes by the latest findings of India’s National Crime Records Bureau; it doesn’t figure in the top 7 crime prone states in 2014 (latest available figures). Delhi, a union territory with the highest crime rate of 767.4 under IPC crimes, sits at the top of the wall of shame followed by Kerala (585.3), Madhya Pradesh (358.5), Haryana (298.2), Assam (296.5), Rajasthan (295.1), and Telangana (294.5). The data, of course, may hide more than it reveals. There might be underreporting from states away from the media gaze, people might not be reporting crimes for the sake of honour, and so on. Yet, the data does show that the Jungle-raj exists and it is spread across the country, not only in Bihar.
Let us look at the competitive and cacophonous blame game that political parties and their vested interests play closely, as this will reveal the set drama that follows such crimes. The opposition takes to streets and blames the party in power for these crimes and often demands a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, an agency that works under the Union government. The ruling party promises toughest action and punishment to the guilty. A few heads are rolled in the constabulary. Some people get arrested and interrogated, sometimes on absurd charges. (For example, Bihar police has arrested the suspect in the journalist murder case for being in possession of alcohol and thus violating its recent prohibition laws. It is also looking for the lawmaker mother of the alleged road rage killer on the same charge as well!) The public interest starts subsiding after a while. A new crime takes place, captivates the public, and the earlier ones are forgotten. And so the drama repeats, in case after case.
No one asks simple questions, such as: why should the political leadership promise action in cases of violent crimes? What else are the police, prosecution and judicial institutions established for? No one asks, why should it take outrage – by the opposition or civil society or both – for victims or their family to get justice / redress for the victims? This is the right of the people and the State is oath-bound to provide for it.
No one talks of police and judicial reforms to build a system that places a heavy and deterrent cost on crime and restores the rights of the violated citizens without needing political patronage or civil society outrages.
The chosen silences are not coincidence. They serve a purpose, the purpose of keeping the constabulary as uniformed henchmen of the regime and not as impartial law enforcers. The parties in opposition know that they would need the constabulary to cover up their corruption and hide the crimes of their goons once they return to power. The ruling parties know that the opposition knows that. They both invest in their own loyalists in uniform.
And, so the system manifests. It is this massive politicization and favouritism that causes and perpetuates the Jungleraj in Indian states. Selective condemnation of a particular province, based on one’s political ideology, will not change a thing.
Samar is Programme Coordinator - Right to Food Programme Asian Legal Resource Centre / Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong