By Sanjana Sanghi:
On March 5th, a mob consisting of thousands of infuriated people, stormed the “high security” Central Jail of Dimapur, Nagaland. The security personnel manning the jail watched helplessly as the mob shattered two gates, dragged Syed Farid Khan, the alleged rapist of a 20-year-old girl, and proceeded to take him to the Clock Tower junction for a public hanging, subjecting him to gruesome physical assaults on the way, ultimately leading to his death. The limp body of the man was then dragged behind a motorcycle to the assigned spot and strung up on a fence. The raging mob set ablaze 10 vehicles, forcing the authorities to clamp a curfew in Dimapur district, which is considered the business capital of Nagaland.
Videos and photographs of him being beaten and lynched, and of his blood drenched body, went viral on the internet.
Such hair-raising details of this brutal incident call for further specifications. Syed Farid Khan was a Bengali speaking businessman and reportedly an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant. A serious taint in this accusation, however, are other reports which state that three of his brothers have served in the Indian Army, one lost his life in the Kargil War, while the other two are still serving. His father had also served in the Military Engineering Forces for 20 years. It is hard to brush these facts aside by categorizing these as mere coincidences. He was sent to judicial custody a day after the accusation of rape was brought in.
The dichotomy: Hysteria caused by xenophobia, or a real outrage against sexual assault?
A look into the events that occurred in Nagaland in the past suggests that there exists an immense intolerance for outsiders, as they are seen as those who take away from the state’s already scarce resources, and eat into possible employment opportunities and livelihood of the natives. Muslims engaged mostly as farm labourers or construction workers have often been targeted during anti-immigrant violence. The Naga Students’ Federation, which is the apex body of all the Naga student unions, started protesting against the rape, which fuelled the people’s anger further. But herein lays the real issue. Was the mob lynching of the accused rapist carried solely because he had engaged in the heinous crime of sexually assaulting a native student, or was it fundamentally because he was an alleged “outsider”, an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant? The Naga Council Dimapur and the Naga Women Hoho claimed that “unless all Nagas take responsibility to tackle the menace of unabated Bangladeshi infiltrators influx and their stay here in the state, crimes against our women and daughters by these people will only increase.”
Such evidence, therefore, points towards the latter. Drawing premature conclusions may not signify the epitome of correctness, however, this act of a mob, which also comprised of women and children, publicly murdering a man and committing an outright breach of human rights or civil code, is unlikely to find its roots solely in the incidence of the rape (quick statistic: 92 women are raped each day, on an average, in India). Such acts have grave causal factors that are far more deeply rooted, usually within a particular historical context. And here, that historical context is a general xenophobia amongst the people of Nagaland. This is not to say that being possessive of one’s own geographical boundaries, native resources, especially if scarce, is wrong. However, keeping the issue of women’s safety relatively secondary, and being triggered to the extent of 10,000 people coming together and murdering an individual – innocent or criminal – is unjustifiable on rational grounds and unfit for any parameters of sanity.
Undeniable failure of the security apparatus in anticipating the event, and shameful lapse of law and order.
The administrative machinery could not stop an infuriated mob from executing an individual under trial, leaving aside any success in countering rumours of the accused being an illegal immigrant. A day before the lynching took place, a 9 member representative team of the protesting students, met with the district administration and the police officials. However, during the meeting, the representative team of the protesting students, the administration and the police officials failed to reach any compromise as the students stuck to their demand that the accused be handed over to them. But they were assured by the administration that all the possible steps to punish the accused would be taken.
The police lathi charged the protesters. They also decided to fire tear gas shells and blank bullet rounds, but they were unable to control the crowd. Later, jail authorities allowed the protesters to inspect the cells to identify the accused. Ideally, a situation as volatile as this, calls for a response from the top civil and police officers, possibly even a minister. While the District administration officials stated that they had requisitioned the security forces and services of the Assam Rifles, there was absolutely no sign of them. The administration after clamping Section 144 Cr-PC (anticipatory precautions to prevent unlawful occurrences), could not even follow-up with minimal enforcement.
Not the first incident of its kind
In Meluri town of Phek District, which is approximately 280 kms from Dimapur, an accused was lynched for allegedly raping and subsequently strangulating a girl to death. An incident occurred in 2004, in Nagpur where a man named Akku Yadav was lynched by a mob comprising of 200 women. Belonging to Kasturba Nagar, the mob threw chilli powder in his face and hurled stones at him. Close to 70 stab wounds were inflicted on his body, and the alleged victim hacked off his penis with a vegetable knife. Most astonishing was that this incident occurred on the sprawling white marble floors of the Nagpur district court.
The fact that such incidents have occurred in the past should have been all the more reason for the police and concerned administration to remain forewarned.
This incident points to several grave issues that need immediate redressal. Our security forces and administrative state apparatus need to realise their importance in preventing such incidents from occurring, for they result in a permanent dark spot in history. The natives of this region need to be reminded of the security of their possessions; be made to reduce their angst and hostility towards outsiders; be reminded of an existent system of law and order that they are bound by, as Indian citizens. The term victim in this case, after deep analysis, seems to be laden with ambiguity. For Syed Farid Khan, initially the alleged rapist, the accused, was later rendered a victim because of his draconian public murder – a victim of the collective angst against, and intolerance for outsiders, demonstrated by the natives.