Mob Violence And Missing Political Will — Aijaz Zaka Syed

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Peace activist Swami Agnivesh was assaulted by a Hindu-right mob in Jharkhand on 17 July 2018.

Emboldened and egged on by those in power, all the forces of darkness that had been lying dormant for centuries now find themselves suddenly unfettered.

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED | Caravan Daily

AND so it goes on and on. If a widely respected 80-year-old public figure and civil society activist like Swami Agnivesh can be brutally beaten up – and nearly killed – in full view of the world, who is safe in the new India of saffron dreams?

Only last week, yours truly – exuberant and exultant over the stunning physical beauty of the south – had been waxing eloquent, cheering the spirit of sublime tolerance of the friendly, ever-smiling South Indians and the silent celebration of diversity in the region. Who knew one would be brought down to the realities on the ground with such a rude shock, and so soon.

Appearances can be so deceptive. The truth is that this order has truly opened the gates of hell and each one of us is as vulnerable as the venerable Swami Agnivesh or that poor Google techie from Hyderabad, Mohammed Azam, who was dragged and beaten to death like a wretched animal this week in Bidar, Karnataka.

Sightseeing in the idyllic Karnataka, all Azam and four of his friends – one of them a Qatari national visiting Hyderabad – did was offer chocolates to children. Whoever thought that such an innocent, well-meaning gesture could get one killed? But then, that is how unpredictably crazy and volatile things have become in Narendra Modi’s India – especially for its Muslims. Any excuse or none at all is enough to get them killed.

Azam, the father of a two-year old, was dragged like an animal in the streets with a rope tied around his neck before being beaten to death. This regime seems to bring out the best in the famously peace-loving and humble Indians!

What have we become? What, in God’s name, has gone wrong with the country that takes pride in its great democracy and 5,000-year-old civilisation?

But why are we surprised by all this madness and savagery roiling the land? This had been inevitable. We are only reaping what we had sowed in our infinite wisdom. Ignoring the divisive past and poisonous legacy of their leaders, Indians had the audacity to elect them hoping somehow that they would defy their own past and long-cultivated prejudices to deliver ‘achche din’.

And, now, politicians are doing what comes naturally to them, all this love and kindness being spread in the name of the holy cow and other noble absurdities.

Emboldened and egged on by those in power, all the forces of darkness that had been lying dormant for centuries now find themselves suddenly unfettered. A nudge here and a clear nod there from their friends and patrons in high places offer them the licence to kill and get away with murder. Literally.

In fact, they don’t even need any signs or signals from those above to show everyone that the much-promised Hindu Rashtra has arrived. Their very reassuring presence is enough for the faithful to throw their weight around at every opportunity possible. As the old Hindi proverb goes, jab sayyan bhaye kotwal tab dar kaahe ka? (When you are in love with the sheriff himself, what is there to fear?).

And if anyone had been in any doubt about the open support and blessings of the powers that be to the foot soldiers, Indian Central Minister Jayant Sinha, a Harvard University alumnus and former partner of McKinsey & Co, a global management conglomerate, cleared those concerns by proudly garlanding and felicitating those involved in the lynching of poor Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh, Jharkhand.

Sinha is in august company. India’s federal culture and tourism minister, Mahesh Sharma, had been thoughtful enough to pay his last respects to Ravin Sisodia, the main accused in the 2015 lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq, when he died of natural causes. Standing by Sisodia’s body draped in the national flag, Modi’s minister promised ‘justice’, even as others attending the funeral made fiery speeches vowing revenge. If you see a stark method in the madness unfolding across the land, it is because there is one.

This week, it took the Supreme Court of India to break the deafening and deliberate silence on the issue in Delhi’s corridors of power, warning that “the tumultuous dark clouds of vigilantism have the effect of shrouding the glorious ways of democracy and justice”.

A full bench led by the chief justice of India spoke severely on the shameful phenomenon of mob violence, vigilantism and lynching that has erupted across the country.

As an Indian Express editorial notes, “the silence broken by the court is of the political class – most unforgivably, of [a] government which has so far failed to acknowledge the gravity of the recurring crime”.

The Supreme Court needs to be applauded for the unambiguous way in which it has expressed its horror and revulsion at “horrendous acts of mobocracy”, reminding the nation that these patterns of violence are becoming “the new normal” of new India.

But one wonders why it took the highest court in the land so long to take note of these coldblooded killings of helpless and terrorised Muslims. The first lynching in the name of the cow took place in September 2015. Why did it take three long years for the top court to wake up to these horrific killings and the deliberate dereliction of duty by the government and law-enforcement agencies? But better late than never, I guess.

More importantly, the SC bench has suggested a number of measures and guidelines for the prevention, redressal and punishment of the crime of mob violence.

The top court has recommended fast-track courts to deal with the menace and sought the appointment of senior police officers as nodal officers in districts. It has also demanded the identification of vulnerable and sensitive regions and called for more efficient patrolling of these areas. It has emphasised the prompt lodging of FIRs, and compensation for victims and their families besides demanding swift action against the police and administrative officials who fail to uphold the law.

Most importantly, the court has asked India’s parliament to enact a special law to deal with growing mob violence. It is worth noting that a similar law – Manav Suraksha Kanoon (Masuka) – was proposed last year by civil society groups as part of the National Campaign Against Mob Lynching.

All this is, of course, badly needed and is, indeed, the need of the hour. But what do you do when the political will to enforce such a law, even if it is passed by parliament, is missing?

If a government or administration were indeed serious about saving precious lives and upholding rule of law, the existing laws would be more than adequate. But if a new law is what you need to instil the fear of God in the mob, bring it in by all means.

It is sobering that in 21st century India, the highest court in the land should call for a new law to deal with such primitive crimes as lynching and mob violence against religious minorities. It is a reflection on the state of the nation – if it was ever needed – that the judiciary has to remind the executive about such shameful crimes against the most vulnerable sections of society and its spectacular failure to uphold rule of law.

In mature democracies, such censure from the highest court in the land would be enough to bring down governments. In India though, you can count on the current order to brazen it out as usual. If anything, it is likely to flaunt such judicial strictures as a badge of honour.

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The writer is an independent writer and former newspaper editor. Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com  Twitter: @aijazzakasyed

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