In January this year, 67 retired officers from India’s civil service cadres wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for ‘firm action against perpetrators of hate crimes’ in the country. The letter alleged that in all these cases, the accused have either not been arrested or have been let off easily.
While the acts of such hate crimes have served the purpose of striking fear in the society, the official responses to these heinous acts of violence have created an impression that such vigilantism is beyond the realm of law. It has implied a mainstreaming of what, till very recently, was considered the fringe. This is now being encouraged to follow suit everywhere – thus, creating an illusion of being ‘normal’ and posing the danger of the breakdown of the ‘social fabric’ in our society.
The normalisation of such violence is being witnessed in some of the most recent cases where mobs are taking over civic spaces in India. Mob lynching, a barbaric form of the most violent of expressions, seems to have become the new and normal trend. Today, we can see several videos of such mob attacks being circulated online. While sharing the horrific videos, it seems that the attackers neither have remorse for committing such inhuman acts of violence, nor do they fear the law of the land.
The problem of ‘official evasiveness’ regarding incidents of lynching goes back to September 2015. Back then, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by a mob in Dadri for allegedly killing a cow.
Furthermore, in June 2017, when 15-year-old Junaid Khan was travelling home with his siblings to celebrate Eid, he was stabbed to death by his co-passengers in a moving train after an argument over seats turned ugly. According to reports: “The men (perpetrators) allegedly mocked the boys, tugged at their beards and accused them of being beef eaters.”
The more recent incident of the lynching at Hapur (in UP) is also an example of mob vigilantism. The video of the Hapur lynching purportedly showing a mob beating up a man and forcing him to confess to having slaughtered a cow. It went viral on social media. According to a Hindustan Times report, “Samayuddin (65), one of the men who were allegedly brutally assaulted by the mob after minor tiff with a man on a motorcycle, can be seen pleading to the attackers. The mob can be heard asking him to identify others, who they alleged slaughtered a cow.” Samayuddin can be seen bleeding profusely from his head in the video. Police had earlier said that Qasim (45) was lynched following a minor tiff with a man on a motorcycle, denying reports that a mob attacked him and Samayuddin over rumours of cow slaughter.
Lynching isn’t an occasion just for indulging in debate. Justice and reassurance also need to be provided. In August 2016, the PM did air his opinion about people indulging in ‘anti-social activities’ in the name of cow-protection. But the same people continue to see themselves as moral vigilantees protecting a sacred order – and the state has done little to convince them to discard that delusion.
Not just this, the dissemination of fake news and rumours on social media about child-trafficking is also resulting in mobs killing people across states. On June 8, 2018, in Assam, Nilotpal Das (29), a sound engineer, and Abhijeet Nath (30), a businessman, were pulled out of a vehicle at Panjuri in Karbi Anglong district and beaten to death by a mob, who suspected them to be child-lifters, following the spread of vicious fake news on social media.
In another incident reported under the Ambikapur police station area of Chhattisgarh’s Surguja district, a man in his mid-40s was lynched by a mob after being suspected of being a child-lifter. The police arrested nine people on the basis of video evidence.
Yet another shocking incident of mob violence, triggered by rumours spread on social media platforms, surfaced in Ahmedabad. A 40-year-old beggar woman was hacked to death by a mob which mistook her as a member of child-lifting gang. Startled by the incident, Ahmedabad police issued an advisory asking people not to believe in social media messages and videos on child-lifting gangs roaming in the city.
While all these incidents are indeed a law-and-order issue, we cannot let that become an excuse to carpet over these elements of mob-vigilantism and hate that lead these lynchings. The failure of the government machinery and the law-enforcement agencies to effectively tackle them encourages these anti-social elements to take law in their hand. If such violence continues, it can cause an irreversible dent in the tenets of democracy that has shaped the idea of India. A failure to recognise this new form of violence in India refrains us from introspecting the rot in our society, and also inhibits us from moving forward, politically, to resolve it.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.