Lynch Militia And Communal Fault Lines

The Bihar Police has withdrawn the sedition case against scores of celebrities. The case was filed on a complaint by a maverick person who has a history of filing such charges against all and sundry to hog headlines. The 49-odd celebrities were no run-of-mill names. They constitute some of the finest artists, writers and actors in the Indian kaleidoscope, including internationally acclaimed film directors Aparna Sen from Bengal, Shyam Benegal in Mumbai, Adoor Gopalakrishna in Kerala and historian Ramachandra Guha.

Their crime? These public figures had written an open letter to the prime minister of India, expressing serious concern on the repeated cases of mob-lynching, especially against minorities and Dalits, a malaise which seem to be spreading beyond control in the last five years. Even a highly respected ‘Hindu’ police officer was lynched in Bulandshahar, Uttar Pradesh, by a violent mob while he was trying to restore law and order. Besides, there have been the usual cases of women branded as child-lifters or witches followed by lynching in several places, especially in the tribal state of Jharkhand. The 49 celebrities had stressed that the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan was being reduced to a “provocative war cry”. They also pointed out that there was “no democracy without dissent”.

While India is no stranger to mob violence, there is certainly a sinister pattern in the current lynching madness. These deaths, a majority of them triggered by suspicion over possessing beef, are not the outcome of kangaroo courts; nor are they following any so-called ‘communitarian’ process of localised, primitive justice. They are solely driven by hate, distrust and xenophobia, similar to hate crimes all over the world, as was meted out to Afro-Americans and Blacks in slave-driven America and in the West. Or as it happens with deranged fanatics, armed with sophisticated guns shooting down school children or immigrants in ethnic or mixed localities in advanced capitalist countries.

Only that in India, especially in the Hindi heartland, it is now well networked. It often seems a planned public spectacle whereby social media and messaging platforms are used to first spread rumours and then exhorting small groups to reach the spot. The crowds collect faster than you can imagine, the cops disappear or become inaccessible, and the district administration turns a blind eye to this macabre act of public lynching.

According to a media group study, there were 45 lynching deaths reported in the country since May 2015. While majority of such violent incidents occurred in the Hindi heartland, 18 of the deaths took place in Jharkhand alone.

This reporter travelled across the interiors of the beautiful tribal state, with its lush green forests and simple people, and discovered that this hostility or hate has been master-minded, calculated and planned to create communal polarisation in a landscape where such feelings never existed. Indeed, tribals or adivasis in Jharkhand have never nourished such hate politics, nor were they hardline supporters of extremist Hindutva, especially because anthropologically and historically they really do not belong to the caste hierarchy of the Hindu ‘varnavyavastha’, though the ritualistic attributes of Hinduism has certainly seeped into their culture as well over the years. However, they neither hate Muslims nor Dalits, nor are they very powerful in the social or political hierarchy. If anyone, their only revered hero is young Birsa Munda, the charismatic tribal leader who led a massive, violent and spontaneous rebellion against the British in late 19th century, and who was reportedly killed in prison.

That is why, it is not difficult to unravel the ‘modern’ one-dimensional pattern in the gory public spectacles that is mob-lynching, especially in Jharkhand. A study of such cases will bear testimony to this phenomenon.

In July this year, at Saraikelan in Jharkhand, a newly married and young Tabrez Ansari was tied to a tree and brutally beaten up as a public spectacle overnight even as he was made to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’ by men who were openly aligned to right-wing extremist Hindutva outfits, sporting saffron mufflers. Those who did not take part in the beatings, cheered the culprits and recorded the event on phone cameras.

Tabrez was taken to the police station after he lost consciousness and kept there, and by the time he was taken to the hospital, it was too late. Tabrez’s alleged ‘murder’ and lack of police action led to massive outrage and angry protests across India, even while it marked yet another dark chapter in the chronology of mob-lynching across India, especially in Jharkhand, the state ruled by a BJP-led government.

Often, the lynching is also an ‘economic hate crime’ derived by vested interests and social jealousy. The killers use the apparent impunity they enjoy to push their macabre agenda. It’s a dark irony, but given the circumstances, there are cases when mob-lynching really makes good business sense.

On March 18, 2016, a 32-year old cattle trader, Mazlum Ansari, and a schoolboy Imtiyaz Khan, who would assist Ansari, were found hanging in Latehar, Jharkhand. A group of men, allegedly Hindutva musclemen, had threatened Ansari to cough up money if he wanted to continue with the trade. The killers used nylon chords used to tie cattle in tying up the two victims, sending a message through the act. The case, which created headlines, was not the only such incident.

On August 19, 2017, Murtaza Ansari and Ramesh Minz were beaten to death by a mob in Godda district in a love jihad case. On September 9, 2018, Wakil Khan was lynched by a mob in Palamu.

Another case belongs to Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh, Jharkhand. The Tropic of Cancer crosses Ramgarh’s outskirts, surrounded by green hills and dense forests. ‘Selfies’ are popular at this spot. In its bustling market, Alimuddin was lynched by a mob on June 29, 2017. He was accused of carrying beef. Most of those charged were associated allegedly with the with the Sangh Parivar and cow vigilante groups. Of them, 11 of the accused were sentenced to life-imprisonment by a fast track court in July 2018.

The high court gave some of them bail. Surprisingly, then Union minister Jayant Sinha chose to garland the accused and gave them sweets. His picture garlanding them became viral in the media. He had openly backed them through the trial.

Maryam Khatoon, Alimuddin’s widow, had this to say: “What great act did they do to deserve being garlanded by a big minister and given sweets? How can this government be proud of them? What message are they sending to the country by doing this public act of felicitation? Do they realise how it hurts us and our entire community, and all those who believe in the Indian Constitution?” The questions have remained unanswered.

That it polarises the entire area into deep and irreconcilable communal fault lines, is a priori. That these fault lines help certain forces in the elections, too is inevitable and proved. In the final analysis, truly, it seems as if one or several masterminds are operating on a pre-determined chess board, practising their heinous moves, playing this sinister game with no remorse which unleashes nothing but violence and tragedy.

#MyVote2019 – ‘Modi Has Nehru's Charisma’

th amendment to the Constitution. Of course, there is a flip side to being too decisive, it can turn into rigidity if one is not careful. Narendra Modi needs to be careful and balanced if he gets a second term as the prime minister. I would love to see him get a second chance in 2019. I see no other leader, who can stand up to Modi. Rahul Gandhi needs to better himself many times over to be taken seriously as a potential candidate for prime ministership. Having said that, there are some things that Modiji needs to take care of if he gets the mandate. He needs to take care that he doesn’t just limit himself to being a ‘ghoshna naresh’ (king of big promises and announcements). He should fulfil the promises he made to people or else people will stop trusting him.  The Indian electorate is very astute. A certain section of the society is not happy that he has not followed up on his promise about the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Artists like me feel hurt that he only talks about curbing cow vigilantism, but does not act on it. As a pensioner, the price rise in petrol costs and the subsequent rise in prices of perishable items like vegetables etc. do pinch my pocket, yet being a part of the middle-class, we have been making adjustments almost all our lives. Also, Modiji should think several times over before taking a step like demonetization. I was preparing for my daughter’s wedding when the announcement was made and had a very difficult time organising her wedding and paying off everyone. I think it was purely a political strategy, rather than an economic one, that was played out keeping the then UP elections in mind. Recently the government announced 10 percent reservation for the economically weak among the upper castes, but what use is it if there is no job creation? Practical legislations are the need of the hour. However, I feel Modi has done some good work as the Prime Minister. People now take cleanliness way more seriously. Modes of public transport like buses and trains are cleaner — one doesn’t shudder at the thought of undertaking long journeys. The seed of being sincere towards taking care of the country has definitely been planted in the minds of youngsters. However, end to end waste management still needs to be taken care of. That is something that should be focused upon in 2019. Some members in Modi’s cabinet, such as external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj and defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman have thoroughly impressed me. I love how they conduct themselves without any fear. I am impressed by the way women are taking centre stage in Modi’s cabinet. When I hear people say that there is an atmosphere of hatred that has been created, I feel that they are just jumping to conclusions, without going in-depth. I have many friends in the Muslim community and we have no problems with each other. We participate in kavi sammelans and mushairas and enjoy being together. Yes there are people who kill others in the name of religion (lynchings), but in my opinion they are not representatives of Hinduism, rather they are anti-social elements who deserve to be punished. There’s a lot of love in this country of ours and I am proud that as an artist I have been able to spread love among the people. In 2019, I want a balanced country; a country that is strong both on the outside and inside; a country that values both modernity and tradition. People, who will vote this year need to be careful not be swayed by fake news that is being spread around these days. I personally try to keep myself well-informed, so that I am able to take the right decision when the time comes.]]>

‘We Can Survive GST, Not Hate Politics’

Khurram Mirza, 32-year-old Entrepreneur, Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh) The rise in right-wing nationalism is a phenomenon not only restricted to India, but is finding resonance worldwide. In our country, this started taking an aggressive form since May 2014, when (Narendra) Modi government came to power. I am a Muslim but earlier I didn’t need to prove my Indian-ness constantly. However, since 2014, the main issues related to good governance like health, education and development have been pushed to the background while identity politics has been brought to the forefront. You only have to browse through social media platform to witness this rising phenomenon. Now, our religious identity has taken over our national identity. A lot of people find it easy to openly generalise/stereotype an entire community based on the act of an individual from the community.  Aren’t there black sheep in every group, every collective? Knowing each person individually takes a lot of courage, persistence, openness and compassion while judging others is easy. The ruling party is using technology brilliantly to propagate this judgemental attitude and I believe that the Opposition can stake a claim to power in 2019 only if they also use technology in equal measure to propagate the good values and counter BJP. I want the Opposition, especially Congress, to be proactive rather than reactive. I want them to make their own policies, forge their own path rather than taking actions based on the actions of the BJP. I believe people take all that Congress has done for granted. Apart from the physical infrastructure to the education infrastructure to development policies for the poor and the marginalized, the Congress has managed to give direction to such a huge country. They are not perfect, they made mistakes and they should own up to it. The very technology that Modiji and his party are putting to such good use today was also brought in by Congress – remember Sam Pitroda during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure. Let’s not live under an illusion, ultimately when no one is left to hate, it turns inwards and also starts affecting the people who started hating other people first. We are Indians, and it is a beautiful feeling to perceive poetry, food, music, literature, fashion and psychology and philosophy the way we do. No matter who comes to power, love should be number one on their manifesto. Things like demonetisation, rise in petrol prices, the confusion over GST, we can live with. What we can live is disharmony in society. We all want peace and love. I hope we all make a sensible decision in 2019.]]>

#MyVote2019 – ‘I Will Press NOTA Button'

Narendra Singh, 26, Restaurant Employee, Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh) I completed my graduation in business administration from Jiwaji University five years back. Fresh out of college, in 2014, I voted for (Narendra) Modi. His speeches inspired me. He rose above caste, religion and talked only about development. That was the agenda I too expected from our country’s leaders in 21st century. I even travelled to Uttar Pradesh to attend one of his rallies in March 2014. Mesmerised by the response he drew from the crowd, I felt he was the destiny’s child who would change the way we live in India. I even fought with my parents, who are Congress supporters for generations. But sadly, even with Shivraj Singh in the state and Modi at the Centre, little changed for the common man in my region; I am sure the story is same everywhere in the country. Worse, we are now lynching people for cows, organizing crowds for Ram Temple and building statutes. Whatever happened to the development model! Since March 2014, I have learnt a lot about how politicians of all hues, be it Congress or BJP, thrive on sweet words and golden dreams. In the last five years I have been searching for a respectable job. I can speak fluent English, I have done MBA too. But where are the jobs Modiji promised? In the last four years, I have taken numerous examinations for a sarkari naukri, I have applied in every company from Dilli, Mumbai to Bengaluru that was looking for fresh graduates. Every day I would check my email for a positive response. Finally, look what I am doing here – he points to the ladle and dishes he is carrying – serving daal baati choorma. We own some farm land but the people managing it tell us that the yield is only falling while the cost of seeds and fertilisers are shooting up. For the past three years, there is no income from the land. My family’s favourite pastime is talking about our Bhadoria Rajput lineage. I have begun to feel sick now listening to those stories. Politicians tell us false stories about the future, and voters like my family stay drunk in their false glorious past. The present remains bleak. I will give you my personal example. Several years ago, there was a buzz in my native town that the land near the highway would become costly and builders will be paying handsome money for it. There was euphoria among land-owners. They kept counting their chicken before they hatched. Till date, there are no other takers to those tracts of land. Few understand that real estate business is in poor shape. But people are living in the hope of selling it one day and make good money. This is how politicians keep the voter on the hook – with hope of a better future. This is the lesson I have learnt which no university will ever teach you. I am happy that there is NOTA (none of the above) in the voting machine now. That is where I plan to press my finger.]]>