India has tragically witnessed the phenomenon of lynching becoming dominant during the last few years. It was particularly around the issue of the Holy Cow and allegations of the consumption of beef that lynchings became more prevalent and two communities had to face the brunt of it, the Muslims and the Dalits. IndiaSpend’s data showed the rise of incidents of cow-related lynching from 2014 onwards, and found that close to 84% of its victims were Muslim. Some 52% of these attacks were based on rumours. Some notorious cases of lynchings were Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri, Junaid on a train to Ballabhgarh in Haryana, Alimuddin Ansari in Jharkhand’s Hazaribag, and the beating of Dalits in Una town of Gujarat.
At another level, it is during this period, after 2014, that noted social worker Swami Agnivesh was also subjected to humiliating thrashing in public. The communal colour of India is so strong by now that many events, even before their details are known, are viewed from the communal lens and false social noises start circulating even before the facts are known.
Nothing can exemplify this more than the tragic lynching of two sadhus and their driver in Gadchinal village near Palghar, a city nearly 110 Kilomenters from Mumbai in Maharashtra. As the news of this tragedy spread, some BJP leaders immediately started blaming the Muslim minority for the crime. BJP leader Nalin Kohli said as much in an Interview to a German news channel. Not to be left behind was BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, who launched a tirade against “liberal-seculars” for their silence on the issue.
As things stand, the truth came out, and the unfortunate sadhus had been travelling from Kandivli, Mumbai, to Surat, Gujarat. A strict national lockdown is in place under government orders and these sadhus did not have permission to travel. Hence, to avoid highway travel, where the police has installed check-points, and going through interior routes. On this route falls the village, Gadchinale, an Adivasi-dominated village where this tragedy took place.
During the lockdown period due to Corona virus the economic and social deprivation of the poor is extreme. Many rumours are floating across the country as a result of the escalated shortage of even basic essentials. In this village, for instance, the rumour that had been doing the rounds was about a gang of child-lifters being on the prowl, roaming around in different disguises, seeking their victims. That is what these sadhus were taken to be: child-lifters.
Since the victims were Hindus, the culprits were deliberately presumed to be from the other community. One recalls that to trigger the Mumbai violence in 1992-93 the rumours were floated in the Jogeshwari area of the murder of two Hindu workers and the burning of the Bane family (also Hindu). Both these claims were false, but still they became the pretext for a lethal attack on the minority.
In this case, not only BJP leaders, the RSS itself jumped into fray along with the sadhu samaj. A vicious atmosphere started building up. The Palghar case dominated the usual media channels and large sections of social media. The government of Maharashtra (the state is ruled by a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance) stood on the solid ground of truthfulness and arrested nearly 100 culprits, none of them turned out to be Muslim. Interestingly, the local body of the village is controlled by the BJP and the chief of this body, Chitra Chowdhari is a BJP leader. While the Maharashtra government is standing on the solid ground of the facts of this case, it has also given the warning that those spreading falsehoods will not be spared.
The cruelty of those who take the law into their hands is shocking. During the last few years, mobs have been breaking the law and killing people with impunity; so much so that lynching is becoming close to the new normal across the country. The real reasons are many. One of this being the lack of proper punishment to those who indulge in such dastardly acts. Not only that, many who indulge in violence are apparently in the good books of the ruling establishment some have been honoured despite their despicable role in such incidents. In case of Akhlaq’s lynching, one of the accused died in the police custody due to an incidental disease. The then Union Minister Mahesh Sharma landed up and his body was draped in the Tricolour, an honour reserved for government staff only, and only in special circumstances, as per the National Flag Code.
In another such case, that of Alimuddin Ansari, when eight of those accused of killing him were granted bail, Union Minister of State Jayant Sinha garlanded them. What message does this send down the line, but of impunity?
The other factors contributing to the rise in intensity of violence is the overall social frustration due to life generally becoming more difficult. The rule of the BJP has encouraged intolerance, where people with differing opinions are looked down upon and called anti-Hindu, anti-national and other epithets. Swami Agnivesh, who criticised blind faith—statements such as “plastic surgery existed in ancient India”, or the “divine” nature of Barfani Baba in Amarnath—was humiliated in public.
The core issue is the dominance of the sectarian mindset which is also being promoted by the ruling party and its parent organisation, the RSS. They are waiting to jump at any event which can be given a communal colour or where the minorities can be demonised. A few news channels, who are playing the role of loud-speakers of divisive politics, are adding salt to these wounds. The degree of hate spreading in society has taken the aid of innumerable social media networks to spread the falsehoods among every section of society.
The need for a central law against lynching needs to be emphasised. All those participating in such dastardly acts of violence need to be punished. Before that, the whole atmosphere of hate-mongering and feeling that those who abuse the law with their criminal acts, and get away with it, needs to be strongly countered. While prompt police action is the need of the hour, those who have made spreading hate their business need to realise that no country can progress without a feeling of fraternity. Demonising the weaker sections may give them higher TRPs, but it is also undermining the path to peace and progress.
Respect for the Indian Constitution and the rule of law needs to be restored. Fact-checking mechanisms such as AltNews need to be activated much more. And lastly, one must applaud the steps taken by the government of Maharashtra to ensure that justice is done and the propagation of hate checked right in its tracks.
The author is a social activist and commentator. The views are personal.