HARSHVARDHAN TRIPATHY | 3 APRIL, 2019
Part 2 - Learn to live with it, or else
You can read the first part of this analysis here.
The coverage of incidents of lynchings by the mainstream and social media is quite dubious in nature. Primetime debates and shows on both Hindi and English news channels (except a few) are mainly centered on ‘comments or statements’ made by opposition leaders.
These debates and programs focus not the failure of the state machinery in controlling these lynchings, but instead on the alleged ‘politicisation’ of these issues. Anchors do not fact-check the politicians on air, and often join hands with the spokesperson of the party in power to accuse protesters of working to ‘defame’ the government.
This only helps trivialise the issue, and blame non-BJP people for spreading hatred, thereby furthering lynch culture. The culprits and their sympathisers/supporters are largely neglected in such debates and programs.
In the last five years, the role of the social media for perception building around a party, person or issue has gained much prominence. Despite their explicitly pay-to-play nature, social media outlets still manage to sell themselves as indicators of public opinion.
The same is the case with incidents of lynchings. Social media has emerged as a dominant and powerful tool for the perpetuation of lynch culture. Responses to incidents of lynching can be sorted into three broad categories on social media.
First, a set of people who ‘defend’ the mob and justify its actions.
Second, the sets of people involved in spinning conspiracy theories around the lynching, often blaming non-BJP parties or institutions for the incident.
The third category indulges in ‘whataboutery’, posing questions about some other crime (usually involving a caste Hindu victim) and arguing for an ‘overreaction’ and ‘bias’ in favour of opposition parties, or caste/religious minorities.
This again trivialises the lynchings and helps their organisers pass them off as ‘just another form of daily violence’. Although the social media remains a site of contention, the overwhelming presence of the BJP-RSS and their supporters is able to successfully drown out and obfuscate the protests.
Transformation of Culprits into ‘Heroes’
Another important factor in the perpetuation of lynch culture is the ‘herofication’ of the culprits – always men – by members and supporters of the Sangh Parivar.
To only a few examples, Union Minister Mahesh Chandra Sharma and various members of the BJP including MLA Sangeet Som, one of the accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, visited Bishada village to pay homage to Ravi Sisodia, who was one of the main accused in the Dadri lynching and thereafter died in police custody.
Ravi’s Sisodia’s body was later draped in the tricolour and he was hailed as a martyr. Similarly, Shambhu Lal Regar who burnt alive Mohammed Afrazul on the pretext of ‘Love Jihad’ was celebrated as a hero in Rajsamand village, and 516 people donated around 3 lakh rupees to his wife after an appeal for the donation was made online by his sympathisers.
And infamously, Union Minister Jayant Sinha, ‘honoured and garlanded’ eight lynching convicts who had secured bail after a fast-track court found them guilty and awarded life-imprisonment to them along with three others for murdering Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh, Jharkhand, on suspicions of cow-smuggling.
These incidents of common people turning murderers into ‘heroes’ further perpetuates lynch mob culture. It mirrors our deification of the military after crimes perpetrated on civilians in Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Kashmir.
Victim-blaming and Normalising Violence by Influential People
See below for a comprehensive list of hate speech made in recent years by prominent politicians. A few examples:
“We won’t remain silent if somebody tries to kill our mother. We are ready to kill and get killed.” – BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, on the Dadri lynching, 2015.
“People from the Muslim community should abstain from touching cows and provoking aggressive Hindus.” – BJP MP Vinay Katiyar, on the Alwar lynching, July 2018.
“Lynchings will automatically stop if cow slaughter is stopped.” – RSS leader Indresh Kumar, on the Alwar Lynching, July 2018. (This statement was endorsed by BJP MP Giriraj Singh.)
“Not terrorism but cow slaughtering is a crime.” – BJP MLA Gyan Dev Ahuja, on mob lynchings.
“These incidents are given unnecessary importance.” – UP CM Yogi Adityanath, 2018. Uttar Pradesh recorded over 1,100 police ‘encounter killings’ in the space of a year, mostly of Muslims, under CM Yogi.
Such statements made by influential people and those in responsible positions in government only perpetuates lynch culture, as they signal a sense of impunity to the perpetrators. Their targeted violence is justified or endorsed by powerful people who blame the victims with whatever excuse.
Last year Sadguru Jaggi Vasudeven invited to an IIMB conclave said, “If you are living in villages, you would know that lynchings are not new. In villages, lynchings have been happening for a long time.” Then the same Sadguru said of Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and others that “according to the law [unspecified] they shouldn't be walking the streets and it's time to deal with all their types.”
These statements, despite being inaccurate, are allowed to fly in order to trivialise cases of lynching, and so that the ideological/political nature of such lynchings can be ignored. Crimes of the victim are dreamed up – the list is endless and by no means restricted to cows – and the discussion is allowed to centre on those, and the ‘necessary’, ‘spontaneous’ reaction of ‘Hindus’ or whoever else.
This mechanism also justifies the punishment of a minority community for the actions of some of its members, e.g. Indira Gandhi’s assassination followed by the anti-Sikh pogrom, or the Godhra train burning followed by the anti-Muslim pogrom.
Patronage of Government and Police
After the Dadri lynching, the police confiscated a piece of meat from the refrigerator of the victim Mohammed Akhlaq and sent it for inspection to determine whether it was beef or not. After Rakbar Khan was lynched in Alwar, it took the police 3 hours to take him to the nearest hospital which was 6 km away. The first act of the Alwar police was to take the cows involved to a shelter, which was 10 km away from the spot of lynching. The delay cost Rakbar Khan his life.
On June 18 last year, 45-year-old Qasim Qureshi and 65-year-old Samiuddin were lynched by a mob in Hapur. Qasim later succumbed to his injuries while Samiuddin was severely injured. In a video released as part of a sting operation done by NDTV, it could well be seen that police guarded the mob which was trying to drag Qasim.
This apathy of the police towards the victims of lynching only emboldens the culprits and instils in them a sense of impunity.
In 2016, the Haryana government decided to issue identity cards to ‘gau rakshaks’ or cow protectors, in that capacity. Similarly, in 2018 the Uttarakhand Government decided to form a Cow Progeny Protection Committee and issued identity cards to cow vigilantes. This ‘legalisation’ of cow vigilantes will only provide further legitimacy to mob lynchings. It will legalise violence and murder in the name of ‘cow protection’.
The attitude of police in relation to the victims of lynching and the legalising of cow-vigilantism by elected governments – the irresponsible statements made by elected representatives and influential people – the flame-fanning attitude of the media towards the victims – the brushing under the carpet of the political climate that has enabled this in the last 5 years – and the turning of culprits into local heroes – these are some of the major factors which created this violent mob culture in India.
They will ensure its further perpetuation for a long time, as they have been successful in emboldening the culprits’ resolve, the mob’s resort to violence.
Reported Hate Speech by Politicians and Govt Officials January ’17 to July ’18
Centre for Policy Analysis