Incidents that insight communal violence are not new in India. Even so, after the BJP government came into power in 2014 there has been a shocking increase in the number of mob lynchings throughout the nation. It is a matter of great shame and humiliation for a country that boasts of being the largest democracy in the world.
Lynching is a modern form of tribalism wherein people are differentiated on the basis of religion, race, caste or ideology that they follow and are then thrashed in public. It is an extrajudicial punishment by an informal group, which takes the law into their own hands, and then practices a barbaric form of political expression.
According to the political scientist Larry Diamond, “Democracy consists of four key elements: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people, as citizens in politics and civic life; protection of the human rights of all citizens; a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all the citizens.” Lynching, virtually makes this and any other definition of Democracy maladroit.
The latest incident which sparked the debate on the barbaric practice of public lynching was when a 16-year-old Muslim boy--Hafiz Junaid--was lynched to death on June 22, 2017, in a Mathura bound train. Junaid and his brothers were attacked by 15 men who demanded that the young Pathan boys vacate their seats. When the boys refused, they were verbally abused with communal slurs, accused of being beef-eaters and were thrown off the train when it pulled into a station.
However, public lynching in our country is popularly believed to have started in September 2015, with the death of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri for cow slaughter. A few days later Prime Minister Modi stated that “The central government has no role in such a sad and undesirable incident." He also said that "The BJP government has always been against Pseudo-secularism. Today when we are faced with such an unfortunate malady, the same debate has resurfaced. This can only be resolved through discussions."
However, a mere discussion is not the solution for lynching which is claiming lives day after day while the culprits are dancing to the tunes of so-called ‘nationalism’ or ‘Hindutva'. These ‘pseudo’ patriots under the guise of nationalism have forgotten the actual meaning of Hindu culture and the identity of India, on the foundation of which our nation stands tall among the developed states in the global map.
Even after 2 years, Akhlaq’s family continues to live in fear.The 18 men accused of his murder are now released on bail. Akhlaq, Jan Mohammad and their family members had been accused by their neighbour ‘Prem Singh’ for cow slaughter. Akhlaq’s family denied the charges yet an FIR was filed against them. Allahabad High Court later put a stay on their arrest warrant except for Jan Mohammad. He now feels like there is a ‘sword hanging above' his head every day even though no charge sheet has been filed against him. They also fear returning to their old home after his brother’s death.Living in a constant fear, their livelihood is destroyed; they are socially bound to take extremely difficult decisions such as leaving behind their native place and aren’t getting any justice. Some of the survivors say that "Their motive is to strike fear amongst us in our hearts so that we flee from our birthplace leaving behind our livelihood." When asked about what instigates such situations they state, "Being a Muslim provokes their neighbours and friends to attack and humiliate us." Jan Mohammad says ‘People who knew Akhlaq, who used to break bread with him, lynched him."
A recent report by "India Spend" states that between January 2011 and June 2017 cow related violence has spiked up from five percent to twenty percent. Even though everyone condemns mob lynching in our society, its presence unfortunately, has only increased. Most of the recent lynchings have been against Muslims. It is being termed as an anti-Muslim hate crime that is slowly gripping the nation like a violent frenzy. Lynching is the most threatening way used by the vigilantes, to show the minorities that the law cannot protect them.
There is no law against lynching in The Indian Penal Code. It has certain sections for unlawful assembly, rioting, and murder but nothing that takes cognisance of a group of people coming together to kill (a lynch mob). This is strange for a country known worldwide for legislating the maximum number of laws. To fight this, a national campaign against mob lynching(NCAML) has been set up for drafting a suitable law “MASUKA”. The founders are JNU student activists Kanhaiya Kumar, Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani and columnist Tehseen Poonawala. The drafting committee members include senior lawyer Sanjay Hegde, Journalist activist Anil Chamariya, Delhi University Professor Apoorvanand, JNU Professor Nivedita Menon, Lawyer Rebecca John and actor SwaraBhaskar. India's Justice system is erratic, slow and understaffed, therefore, cases have taken so long to be heard and justice has long been denied to many. Public Lynchings have increased over the recent years because the vigilantes don’t expect to be punished and the victims also don’t have any hope of justice being served.
Hindu vigilantism is a conscious and well-planned attempt to instigate religious feelings in a secular and multicultural India. The protection of Hindu culture and religion has captured the whole nation's attention and has diverted the focus from other grave issues going on in the country. The rising number of farmer suicides, unemployment, economic slowdown, the Kashmir conflict, terrorism and Naxalism (Indian Maoist armed Guerrilla group)are silently eroding India’s developing strength. If the government keeps overlooking the issue of lynching without taking any stringent action to stop it, then it is feared by many that the young Muslims may fall prey to radicalisation.
In lieu of all this, the world has been given an opportunity to speculate that India is in the hands of intolerant forces, who are determined to sidetrack the minorities, rationalists and liberals. It is dangerous not only for the Muslims and Dalits but also for anyone who dares to speak against the government on any issue. Many people believe that it is safer to be a cow rather than a Muslim in India .
It is surprising that the Mr Modi, who takes pride in his foreign policy initiatives, is oblivious to the great damage being done to India’s image at the global level by the saga of public lynchings. It is because of our precious Indian legacy of pluralism, along with our robust democratic system that our country is held in high esteem globally. India is arguably the most diverse nation in the world compriseing of people of different ethnicities and religions, languages and beliefs working together under the same roof and dreaming the same dreams. The attitude of the current government is akin to the general attitude of human beings towards the other species present on earth . The promotion of one particular way of living is dangerous to the survival of our democracy. If we really want our country to become a superpower, then we need to stop the intolerants from spreading hatred in India.
It is of utmost importance that we stop taking law onto our hands and help our country in maintaining its diversity. We should not allow the ‘rule of sentiments' to take over the ‘rule of law' whatever be the case.