Mark Twain And Harishankar Parsai On The Culture Of Mob Lynching

After 2014, when a new government assumed power at the center to govern India, one message informally, unofficially trickled down the line particularly to supporters of Hindutva organisations like Rashtriya Swayansevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Karni Sena, Gaurakshak Dal, etc – Do not hesitate in taking law in your own hands and deliver a verdict on anything by gathering a mob and carry out lynching on anything that makes you suspicious, goes against your propaganda or idea of Indian society. Let the court of law be out of this business of mass level delivery process.

Incidents of mob lynching in India have caught attention of different sections of society. Mob lynching is not a new phenomenon but its impunity and normalisation is definitely a new threat which is grasping and overshadowing the ideals, principles of our Indian Constitution. At a time where mobs have become hyperactive in taking the law into their hands, I feel the need to recall two literary icons from the field of Hindi and English literature – Harishankar Parsai and Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens).

In 1901, Mark Twain gave an excellent description of a violent mob in response to a racial lynching in Missouri. He warned about this danger on a democracy. He wrote – “It must be that the increase comes of the inborn human instinct to imitate–that and man’s commonest weakness, his aversion to being unpleasantly conspicuous, pointed at, shunned, as being on the unpopular side. Its other name is Moral Cowardice, and is the commanding feature of the make-up of 9,999 men in the 10,000. I am not offering this as a discovery; privately the dullest of us knows it to be true. History will not allow us to forget or ignore this supreme trait of our character. It persistently and sardonically reminds us that from the beginning of the world no revolt against a public infamy or oppression has ever been begun but by the one daring man in the 10,000, the rest timidly waiting, and slowly and reluctantly joining, under the influence of that man and his fellows from the other ten thousands. The abolitionists remember. Privately the public feeling was with them early, but each man was afraid to speak out until he got some hint that his neighbor was privately feeling as he privately felt himself. Then the boom followed. It always does. It will occur in New York, some day; and even in Pennsylvania.

…. Then perhaps the remedy for lynchings comes to this: station a brave man in each affected community to encourage, support, and bring to light the deep disapproval of lynching hidden in the secret places of its heart–for it is there, beyond question.

Then those communities will find something better to imitate – of course, being human they must imitate something. Where shall these brave men be found? That is indeed a difficulty; there are not three hundred of them in the earth. If merely physically brave men would do, then it were easy; they could be furnished by the cargo. … We are out of moral-courage material; we are in a condition of profound poverty. We have those two sheriffs down South who – but never mind, it is not enough to go around; they have to stay and take care of their own communities.” 

Just ten years short to a century later in 1991, Harishankar Parsai wrote an article named- ‘Awaara Bheed ke khatre’/ ‘आवारा भीड़ के खतरे’ with aim to understand the mindset who easily flows into the deep sea of hate whose result ends up in ‘Mob-violence’ which in today’s India has become ‘Mob-Lynching’. He writes

“In a discussion within a group of 4-5 writers, Lakshmikant Verma, hailing from Allahabad recalled an incident of last Diwali. In a Sari shop, a dummy model was kept for show off. All of a sudden a youth picked up a stone and threw at the dummy model, the glass shattered. When asked about this violent act, he reverted back with a reply- Bastard, “she is too damn beautiful”/ “हरामजादी बहुत खूबसूरत है.” We debated the reason behind the young man’s action. What does it mean? What kind of a mentality was behind the act? How did this mentality come to existence? In the latter half of the 20th century, this question is being raised on youth of developed countries of the west to the poor nations of the third world….the young man in this scenario was wearing kurta pyjama. His face was loaded with languish and was unenergetic but at the time hurling the stone, his angry desperation was evident. Educated but jobless, he was wandering in search of a job. The young man’s family was going through tough time. Insults at home, disrespect outside, he was full of guilt, suffocation, anger and negativity having a grievance against everyone. In such a state of mind, extreme beauty would be irritating. Blossoming of flowers would seem to be extremely unpleasant. Someone’s beautiful house becomes a hate subject. A stylish car makes you feel to spit on it. Hearing a melodious song is to be in pain. Alienation from friends who are well dressed. Anything that gives the feeling of happiness, beauty, completeness, success or prestige leads to anger….Students and youth symbolize carriers of revolution and social transformation with a vision for good. If they have the power of fresh ideas, direction, organization and positive energy, and they are able to comprehend the ills of the older generation, then they would neither inherit the weaknesses of their elders nor add some of their own to take the tradition of degeneration forward.  Resentment causes self-destruction.

An aimless, frustrated, Jobless crowd is dangerous. In the past, they were easily mobilized by fascists such as Napoleon, Hitler and Mussolini. This crowd starts following religious fanatics. It becomes most prone to be part of any organization that teaches fundamentalism and hate. This crowd can easily become the weapon of fascists.  Then this crowd can be made to indulge in all kinds of destructive acts. It is this very crowd which is on the rise in our country which is in action as well. In upcoming time, this crowd could be deployed in large numbers to crush and destroy all national, humane and democratic values.” 

Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, Junaid Khan, Ayub Pandit, Qasim, Gautam Verma, Vikas Verma, Gautam Gupta, Baban Musahar, Murahu Musahar, Nilotpal Das, Abhijeet Nath… the list goes on and tragically is increasing in the world’s largest democracy with the biggest young population. The pattern and increase in incidents have a direct relationship with the rise of the Right Wing power. It aims to establish a nation which is the antithesis of today’s Republic of India. The leverage and free hand to attack anyone on mere suspicion by the outraged population aligns with the hyper-nationalistic sentiment unleashed by leaders of the ruling party where they commit to carry the whole expense of 4 people convicted for lynching two Muslim adults. Even the conviction rate in mob lynching cases is much more demoralizing. Between 2014-2018, there were 86 incidents which had 33 deaths and 282 victims but till date, only 11 people have been convicted that too only in the state of Jharkhand.

This new form of hate is getting normalised and socialised by ineffective policies of the government where it failed to create job opportunities for the youth of this nation and by providing impunity to miscreants, religious fundamentalist organisations who aim to grab a chance to execute barbarity. Many of us may reject or take this argument of considering mob lynching as common incidents of crime but it differs from all as it has something to do with humiliating the minorities either caste-wise or religion-wise. Hope cautionary warnings of Mark Twain and Harishankar Parsai fall on our ears to vehemently oppose transition of Indian Democracy into Mobocracy or Hindustan into Lynchistan.

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