IRFAN ENGINEER | Caravan Daily
IN his annual Dussehra address on October 8, 2019, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of RSS – a Hindu supremacist organization – stated that lynching was a concept alien to India. He objected to using a foreign word “lynching” to “isolated incidents of social violence”. “Such things have never happened in our country… This is a word for events that have occurred in foreign countries.” (Banerjee, 2019).
It is unfortunate that the Bhagwat problematizes the word “lynching” used to describe a phenomena or events that are most reprehensible and abominable. What deserves strongest condemnation is the incident of violence and the brutalities involved, which most agree, is inhuman. Bhagwat condemns the violence (rather perfunctorily), however attempts to cover up the brutalities involved in the lynchings by problematizing the word. Bhagwat tries to pass such incidents as ordinary phenomenon of violence that occurs in everyday life which can be attributed as natural reaction to provocation. Bhagwat attributes the usage of the word “mob lynching” to a conspiracy to defame Hindus.
Most Indian language media do not use the word “lynching” to describe such incidents. Urdu media uses the word “bheed tashadud” (mob violence). Other Indian language media use translation of words ‘mob violence’ that captures the phenomenon of a mob beating up a few individuals. Does use of any word to describe the phenomena reduce the pain of the victims and their families?
Bhagwat and in fact the organizations subscribing to Hindu supremacist political ideology which are commonly referred to as Sangh Parivar in Indian media, attempt to kill the sensibilities of Indian people in general and consumer of media towards suffering of victims by problematizing the word and passing the incidents as isolated, unconnected ordinary occurrences in society although undesirable.
Calling the incidents ‘undesirable’ are more for public consumption, political correctness and niceties in order to qualify as responsible mainstream organization. However, important Sangh Parivar leaders unapologetically justify and even encourage incidents of mob lynching. They are not even condemned by others from the Sangh Parivar. Jayant Sinha, Union minister in the BJP led Govt. on July 7, 2018 garlanded 8 persons convicted in the lynching case of Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh. Alimuddin Ansari was lynched to death by a mob of nearly 100 people on 29th June 2017.
The message that lynch mobs get from garlanding of those convicted for the crime by the Union minister is that the Govt was with them and supported their ‘heroic’ act. There are other leaders of the Sangh Parivar who have approved and encouraged such heinous act.
The BJP led Union Govt. was over enthusiastic and in terrible hurry to criminalise the practice of triple talaq or instantaneous divorce of Muslim women by their husbands and made several attempts to get the legislation passed in the Parliament merely on the ground that the Supreme Court had recommended it, even though number of such incidents of triple talaq were very few.
The same enthusiasm is not seen in enacting a law against mob lynching even though the Supreme Court directed that such a legislation be passed(News18.com, 2019). The enactment of law criminalizing triple talaq in a hurry and denial of necessity of a law to deal with lynching – both are politically motivated even though the former was sought to be passed off as a legitimate response to the Supreme Court judgment.
What is lynching?
Let us try to understand why the incidents that are described as lynching by the English language media are different from ordinary violence leading physical injuries or even death of the hapless victims. We will primarily try to understand this through two fact finding missions of such incidents in Jharkhand in which this author was involved.
The first incident happened on April 10, 2019 in Dumri Block of Gumla District in which Prakash Lakda was lynched to death and two others were injured. The fact finding mission was appointed by Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) (CSSS Team, 2019). The second incident of mob lynching took place on September 22, 2019 which again led to death of Clemitius Barla and injury to two others in Karra Block of Khunti Dist. This incident was investigated by SAFFORB-India of which CSSS is a constituent and this author was a member of the fact finding team. The report was published on October 5, 2019 and distributed to the media in Ranchi.
The lynch mob in both the cases accused their victims of slaughtering a cow and distributing its meat among the participants. In Gumla Dist. incident, the victims were skinning a dead ox and traditionally the caste Hindus hand over their dead animals to the Oraon adivasis for disposal. The Oraons extract skin and distribute the meat of dead cow and dispose off the carcass of the dead animal. Oraons eat meat of dead animal at risk of their health as they are poor.
On the material day (April 10), a mob of 40-50 attacked those skinning dead ox and brutally beat them up for close to 4 hours till midnight when they called up police to take the injured away and charge them for illegally slaughtering a cow. The police responded by telling the members of the lynch mob to bring the three injured to the police station even though the hospital was on their way to police station.
The lynchers obliged, organized a vehicle and dropped them on the premises of the police station where they continued to lynch them for some more time. Then the police took to lynching the injured and then carried two of the three injured to the hospital at 4.00 am in the morning. By then Prakash Lakda was dead. It is not mere co-incidence that the targets of lynching belonged to Christian community.
In Khunti Dist. the Christian adivasis belonging to Munda community were celebrating their festival Badpahari – an ancient adivasi festival – they were cleaning an ox on September 22, near the river and doing dangri (distribution of meat of the cleaned animal). Badpahadi /dangri is a tradition practiced by all adivasis and despite of conversion to Christianity the traditions continued. At around 8.00 am, 15-20 people armed with sticks and other weapons from 3 to 4 villages 3 to 10 kms away from Suari village where the lynching took place, started attacking them.
The attack could not have been but planned, if so many people from different far away villages assembled early in the morning travelling on foot as the river bed where the attack took place is un-motorable. Those who were cleaning the animal escaped while others who were in the neighbouring field were targeted. Clemitius Barla who died in the incident was handicapped and having his bath on the river was caught and severely beaten. So was Phagu Kachhap, a Hindu from a neighbouring village who was watering his field was wantonly caught by the mob. Kushal Horo’s testimony to the SAFFORB team is important. He said, “without asking anything, they straight away started beating us. We all ran away to save our lives.” Both the team concluded that the incident they were investigating appeared to be planned. The targets were carefully chosen – poor, Christians and adivasis making them triply vulnerable.
Victims of mob lynching
Christians, and that too poor adivasis are unable to fight, raise their voices in media before those who matter or come to their help. They are deserted not only by the media, institutions of the state and civil society, but also by the Church itself which is as scared of the political consequences and accused of conversions. Clemitius’ sister – Karuna Barla – who was eye witness to the lynching of Clemitius told us that after the incident, some unknown people visited them and told them not to file any case against those involved in the lynching. As the case would be time consuming, the result of the case would be uncertain and that it would cost a lot of money.
The villagers got convinced on the last issue. They decided not to file any case as it would cost them a lot of money. They were so naive to believe the strangers and fear of financial cost involved deterred them from taking recourse to legal remedies. They did not know that they would not have to spend any money as the state would prosecute the accused on their behalf.
The triply vulnerable poor Christian adivasis are further victimized by the state by filing cases against them under the Jharkhand Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter) Act 2005. Instead of getting FIR registered against those lynching them, their instinct is to run away to protect themselves from being maliciously prosecuted on false accusation of slaughtering a cow.
The FIR against the lynched victims is registered first before registering FIR against the members of lynch mobs. Tabrez Ansari and his friends were charged for theft in another instance of mob lynching in Jharkhand. Pehlu Khan and his son were charged under Section 5 of Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995 in the case of mob lynching in Alwar in Rajasthan. In the Khunti Dist. case, the police had not charged the victims till the date of our visit. That seemed to be a rare exception. The police took the injured to the hospital immediately, though Clemitius died after his hospitalization.
The main reason why only Christian adivasis are planned targets of lynch mobs is to accomplish their objective of triggering off communally polarizing discourse – Christians slaughtering go mata. That is the plank for the Sangh Parivar to divide Christian and non-Christian adivasis and create its influence among the non-Christian adivasis.
Communally polarising the adivasis blunts their ‘adivasi’ consciousness as having different way of life and weltanschauung and weakens their the struggle to protect their right to land, natural resources, forest produce – minor and major, against the mining mafia and against displacement in the name of development, in short, their right to jal, jungle and jameen. In Khunti Dist., the adivasis – Christians and non-Christians together waged a successful struggle against amendment of the Jharkhand and Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Acts which would have enabled the big corporations to acquire their land. Their traditional rights to jal jungle and jameen are statutorily protected under the PESA Act wherein gram sabhas are all powerful.
The Pathalgarhi movement is to precisely defend these rights wherein the statutory provisions are carved on the stones in the villages. The Christian – non-Christian divide is blunting this adivasi consciousness. The BJP is known to be favouring big business more than any other political party in the country. The discourse of development favoured by the BJP is one which spurs urbanizing, construction of massive infrastructure of roads and flyovers for the urban rich and middleclass.
The lynch mobs and their objectives
The lynch mobs are drawn from the dominant caste Hindus of the region who use symbols like cow as a political tool to further their social hegemony and domination in the area, particularly the adivasis. In the case of lynch mob in Dumri Block in Gumla Dist. belonged to Sahu community. Sanjay Sahu, who was arrested for lynching Prakash Lakda to death and injuring two others has a criminal history sheeter accused previously for extortion and murder. Many Sahus had their brick kiln on adivasi owned land and using the soil of the land to bake bricks without paying a farthing to the adivasis. They wanted the adivasis to live in fear and never demand their land back.
Sanjay Sahu was protecting his hegemony and those of his minions and community members and killing Prakash Lakda was neither his first murder nor would be the last murder. ‘Go raksha’ was a convenient cover to his social, economic and political interests rather than a religious conviction. Sanjay Sahu enjoyed the political protection of elected representatives and the elected representatives need Sanjay Sahu and his minions to push the voters to electoral booths. Sanjay Sahu’s political clout is evident from the fact that BJP MP – Sudharshan Bhagat’s victory procession ended in his village – Jairagi which makes no other sense as it is neither the border of the constituency nor has any other significance.
The accused in the Khunti Dist. incident were allegedly from Bajrang Dal and belonging to Rajput caste. They were from Poda, Jaltanda and Karra block head quarters. Their names are Parmanand Singh, Ravindra Kumar Singh, Bhubaneshwar Singh and Pushpa Raj. Our informer told us that there were other several incidents of mob lynching in the area. However, no one reported the incidents being from the marginalized community. When the victims did summon courage, the police scared them away. Since in this case the lynching resulted into death, it attracted media attention and therefore registration of the FIR. The group was working with impunity and creating their political clout and fear among the marginalized communities. In both the cases, one of the objectives of the mob was to establish their unquestioned social hegemony not only over the victim, but the entire community to which the victims belong.
Lynching and ordinary crimes
The difference in lynching and other crimes lies in the manner in which it is carried out and in the objective. Lynching is carried out openly, publicly, demonstrably and without any fear of law. Ordinary crimes are done with as much stealth as necessary to escape the law.
Unlike terror attacks, caste violence and communal riots, wherein the targets are any and every member of a community, the lynch mobs target particular individuals accusing them of some wrong doing – whether or not the accusation is a fact. The mob may consist of scores of people, from the dominant section of the society enjoying the patronage of the state. The individuals targeted by the mob are under their complete control and can be made to do anything that the mob orders them to do – even eat shit or chant ‘jai Shri Ram’ or ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ or chant any invocation against the most sacred creed of the victim. The target of mob lynching is totally helpless.
The members of a large mob encourage even the worst brutality. No brutality is brutal enough to be not practiced on the victim. This includes jumping on the body of the injured victim lying on the ground and unable to get up, beating for hours together with sticks and other weapons, burning, hacking with sharp instruments. The victim is conceived as worst than animal – a demon whose existence and his/her community’s existence is a threat to the entire society. The brutalities are committed to send a message to the entire community to which the victim belongs. Therefore videos of the brutality are made and uploaded on the social media to terrorise the entire community and gain sympathies of others for the, what one thinks, a ‘heroic’ act.
There is no remorse in the members of the community to which the lynch mob belongs. Lack of remorse surprises us. How can human beings be without any remorse for the brutal act on the victims? While the theatre of communal riots has been mostly in urban areas with some exceptions, mob lynching is communally polarizing in the rural areas as well. Mob lynching is encouraged by Sangh Parivar as a vehicle to take Hindu supremacist political ideology to the rural areas. Empathies of the Sangh Parivar for the lynch mobs is therefore understandable. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are therefore against enacting any legislation to deter mob lynching.
By problematizing the word ‘lynching’ as foreign Bhagwat and others in the Sangh Parivar obliterate this distinction between ordinary social violence and the brutalities that entail mob lynching incident and indirectly acquiesce the incidents. Some even glorify. However, lynch mobs are not only digging the grave of humanity, they are also digging the grave of rule of law in India and Hinduism itself.
(Irfan Engineer is Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism; he is also co-editor of a recent book, Babri Masjid, 25 Years On… Views expressed here are personal.)