/Decoding Lynching

Decoding Lynching


Status & Figures:

Lynching, which means killing of individuals by mobs, is a public crime. However, it is not listed as a separate crime under the Indian Penal Code. Hence, information about it can be gained only from media and fact finding reports.

According to web portal IndiaSpend, 25 Indians were killed in 60 cow related violent incidences between 2010 and 2017. Ninety seven percent of these incidences were reported after Modi govt came to power in 2014, and 84% percent of those killed were Muslim. A July 2017 report from the pro Right Wing think-tank, Observer Research Foundation, found a sharp increase in cow related violent incidences among total cases of mob violence. These incidences rose from less than 5% of cases of mob violence in 2012, to more than 20% by June 2017. In the last month, at least two cases and three deaths due to lynching were reported. In many cases of lynching, locally organized cow protection groups take the lead and incite mob violence against hapless victims. Hate filled messages fabricated with lies are spread on social media to gather crowds. Police is a passive accomplice, and in most cases criminal cases are filed against victims themselves under cow protection laws.

However, it needs to be underlined that even without cow vigilantism, individuals and communities in India face lot of violence which enjoys passive, or active public approval. Dalits have been facing caste violence for thousands of years. Even now, despite constitutional provisions many of them face every day public humiliation. Massacres of Dalits by gangs of caste Hindus at Kilevenmani, Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe, Khairlanji and recent violence in Una are among the darkest spots in post independence Indian history. Reply to a question in Parliament in the monsoon session of 2017 mentioned 288 cases of honour killing between 2014 and 2016.

Lynching: Prelude to Fascism:

While the lynching of minorities is largely political, the caste and ethnic violence and honour killings are social systemic. While the crowd created by political parties with a purpose indulges in violence, the unorganised association of people carries out the killing on certain faulty premises. People also take the law into their hands thinking that those they target may escape the clutches of law if let free. Democracy is not possible in a society which accepts mass violence as a norm. A society which accepts different kinds of social systemic and random violence as routine, can become an easy prey to political violence of Fascism. Fascism is anti-democratic precisely because it uses violence as a political tool against selected social and political groups.

No Support in Hindu History as well:

Just in context, there isn’t much support for cow worship in ancient Hindu texts (Ramayana and Mahabharata), nor among Hindu scholars like Swami Vivekananda (Madurai lecture) or V.D. Savarkar (Samagra Savarkar Vangmaya). Swami Vivekananda: “There was a time in this very India when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin; you read in the Vedas how, when a Sanyasin, a king, or a great man came into a house, the best bullock was killed; how in time it was found that as we were an agricultural race, killing the best bulls meant annihilation of the race.” Savarkar was dismissive of cow worship: “Let the movement for cow protection be based and popularised on clear-cut economic and scientific principles, and not on religious attributes.”

Lynching Violates Modi’s Professed Principles:

The mindset of plain bigotry to avoid a cab driven by a Muslim or not to be serviced by a Muslim delivery boy to lynching ‘the other’ on the basis of rumours runs exactly opposite to the famed Indian value of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is my family), which PM Modi declared as a guiding principle of his government. Refusal to take note of, or delayed condemnation of sectarian violence, by those in positions of power, signal tolerance of such activity. The changing narrative in the Modi-Shah-Yogi era leads to Taj Mahal ceasing to be an architectural marvel and becoming a symbol of Muslim invasion and conquest. Every inter-faith marriage becomes an instance of love jihad. Love is turned into the fodder of hatred. The more people show acceptance of the current style of aggressive bravado and blatant use of lies and abuse in public discourse, more they become insensitive to others; and then they also become more likely to turn into brutes at any opportunity of lynching. And the irony is that both the people who are lynching and who are lynched belong to the same strata of society—Lower middle class or poor.

In independent India we saw this mob violence in its ugliest form in the 1984 killings of the innocent Sikhs in Delhi by the goons of Congress. Every political party encourages this mob violence. Each political party criticises mob violence only when the ‘mob’ does not subscribe to their ideology or is not affiliated to them. And today, there is a natural, near-universal suspicion that the BJP is actually quite happy with the Hindu vote consolidation that Muslim hunting might bring about.

The other serious aspect is the role of social media, specially Facebook, and messaging service WhatsApp. The police now say that gory WhatsApp images of cows and blood flamed passions ahead of the Dadri lynching. Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpat and Meerut — the violence of 2013 was made possible because of the sprinkling of hatred spewed via the visual-text communications. Same goes on today in Alwar, Hapur, Assam.  Has any action related to the source of these images and messages circulated on WhatsApp been taken by UP or Rajasthan or the central home ministry?

Way Ahead: Resist Violence:
Political parties and social organisations should make special efforts to prevent incidences of public violence. All ‘cow protection’ gangs involved in terrorizing and lynching be banned. Cow protection laws which give a legal fig leaf to such gangs should be repealed all over India. Police and Courts should take an unambiguous stand against lynching and perpetrators punished at the earliest. As in the case of sexual violence, a special law should be made against lynching and given wide publicity to make people aware of legal punishments. If corrective measures are not taken today, the acceptance of lynching on perceived righteousness will permeate the social fabric soon and it will be tough to reverse the process later.


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Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury

Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury is a noted media academic and columnist, heading Pearl Academy School of Media, and had been Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities earlier.