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Mainstream, VOL LV No 32 New Delhi July 29, 2017

Lynching to Power

Saturday 29 July 2017

by Irfan Engineer

Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old journalism student, was seized from his dorm room by a mob that stripped and beat him, then shot him dead on April 13, 2017 in Mardan in North West Pakistan. Khan was accused of offending Islam. (Rasmussen and Baloch 2017) In the month of May 2017, a mob attacked a police station demanding that Prakash Kumar, a 34-year-old Hindu, arrested under the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, be handed over to the mob. (AFP 2017) Just over a week later, a mob attacked a mentally ill man who claimed to be a prophet at his local mosque in north-western Chitral (Pakistan). He was rescued by the police. The spate of incidents followed the Government of Pakistan’s drive against blasphemy. Unproven allegations of “insult to Islam” led to dozens of mob attacks or murders since 1990 in Pakistan.

India is trying to catch up with Pakistan with a spate of mob lynchings after the BJP Government was elected to power in May 2014, different only with regard to minor details. Replace the allegation of “insult to Islam” with “cow slaughter” and you get the same lawlessness and lynch mentality on this side of the border. The similarities between Pakistani—jihadi if you prefer the term—and Hindu supremacist lynch mobs are many—on both sides of the border the blood-thirsty lynch mobs were encouraged by specific legislations—blasphemy laws in the case of Pakistan and anti-cow slaughter laws in the case of India.

The lynch mobs on both sides of the border target their respective minorities with the state law and order machinery laid back and taking little action against the members of the lynch mob. They target the economically poor, politically weak and socially marginalised within the minorities. Not the elite within the minorities. The lynch mobs do not target owners of the beef packaging and exporting industry and large slaughter houses. Slaughter of a large number of cows and their progeny would come to a near halt if the fear of God was put in the owners of beef exporting industry.

Instead of taking strict punitive action under the law against the members of the lynch mob, the machinery mandated to uphold law and order investigates the allegations made by the mob against their victims. Booking the victims of the lynch mob is meant as a measure to appease the blood-thirsty mob. The Pakistani Police registered offence against Prakash Kumar. In the case of Mashal Khan, the Abdul Wali Khan University launched an inquiry whether Khan had insulted Islam. In the case of the Dadri lynching, the police sent the sample of meat to the laboratory for testing whether it was beef.

In both countries, the lynch mobs enjoy the patronage of politicians from the ruling party and dominant religio-political organisations—Hindu supremacist in India and Islamic fundamentalist organisations in Pakistan. In both the countries, law abiding citizens were horrified by the violence invoking religious issues. Protesters in India protested in various cities and towns under the #NotInMyName campaign after the lynching of a teenage boy, Junaid, in Haryana. Protesters gathered across Pakistan, calling for justice, after the lynching of Mashal Khan. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, condemned the murder — although it took him two days. Prime Minister Modi too condemned the so-called gau rakshaks for the records more than nudging the police to act against them effectively.

The Indian Constitution is democratic, whereas Pakistan is believed to be dominated by the “jihadi” ideology. While there have been only about a dozen lynchings in Pakistan since 1990, in India, the media reported 33 incidents of mob lynchings since the year 2015 beginning with the one at Dadri. Some say there were 67 incidents since 2015. Eighteen persons, including one Hindu, were killed and 71 persons were injured. Seven of the 71 injured in the lynchings have been Hindus and 14 Dalits. Two incidents of lynching took place in Karnataka and one each in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Assam, West Bengal and Bihar. Whereas 26 lynching incidents have taken place in the BJP-ruled States, including Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, UP, MP, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir.

We are made to believe by the lynch mobs in Pakistan that they are protecting Islam and the lynch mobs in India that they are protecting cows. Wrong. Neither Islam needs protection of by the lynch mobs nor are the cows protected by them. In fact their actions endanger both—cow and Islam. Pakistani lynch mobs are in fact defaming Islam by their violent actions. Experts have pointed out that the peasant would not be able to bear the burden to maintain a cow beyond its lactation period and they may opt for other milch animals and the number of cows in the country may drastically go down. The animators and leaders of lynch mobs have other objectives which we would like inquire into a little later.

Silence of the Majority

Lynching is possible in a context wherein a social group is demonised and stigmatised for years, particularly the minorities in Pakistan and India. Minorities are demonised so frequently and so widely using the media and social media platforms that they are perceived as anti-nationals and loyal to the “enemy” state. Just because a few Muslim women wear veils and a few Muslim men wear skull caps and grow beards, they are stigmatised as fanatics whereas Hindus applying tilaks on their foreheads, women wearing mangalsutra or Sikhs wearing their headgear and carrying kirpan are not perceived as religious fanatics.

Such perceptions do not emerge from nowhere. Differences of the way of life are politicised. PM Modi, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, had demonised Muslims to be breeding like rabbits in relief camps and denied any material support to the hapless displaced due to the riots in 2002. The then PM Vajpayee had to remind the CM of Gujarat of his raj dharma. Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Welfare, without any evidence said that the profits from cow slaughter were funding terrorism in the country. The Jains and Hindus are owners of the largest slaughter houses and have substantial stake in the beef export market earning huge profits. Why would they fund terrorism? Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP MP, said madrasas are the training-grounds of terrorists. Amit Shah, the BJP President, during the campaign in the Bihar State elections, said that Pakistan would celebrate the defeat of the BJP! He had earlier, during the general election campaign, called upon his Hindu audience to take revenge for the Muzaffarnagar communal violence. These are just a few examples of demonisation of Muslim and Christian minorities by Hindu supremacists for many years and now these have become the conventional wisdom.

State functionaries ignore these hate crimes and remain silent. They shirk their constitutional mandate and duty to bring those committing hate crimes to justice. This strengthens the assumption within the people that the averments may be true. People then come to believe that the law of the land and criminal justice system are not effective to tackle these criminal, unpatriotic and anti-national traitors that the minorities are.

Lynching receives silent approval of the majority in this backdrop. Mere allegation is enough to believe that a Muslim driver transporting cattle or meat in spite of all necessary permits is a “cow smuggler” or a co-conspirator in cow slaughter. Similarly, in Pakistan, mere allegation that a Hindu or a Christian has insulted Islam or the Prophet is sufficient to be convinced of their guilt. This assumption of guilt gives rise to the silence of the majority. A large majority of the populace of the country is converted into believing the allegations of the animator of the lynch mobs without any question. Mashal was lynched in Pakistan; the other students were silent spectators as no one even asked what did Mashal Khan do or say! Sixteen year-old Junaid Khan could be stabbed to death and thrown out of the train as all the passengers were silent spectators. Media reports suggest that even on the railway platform on which Junaid bled to death, no one came forward to speak to the police. The credentials of the animators and members of the lynch mobs do not matter. They may be bullies or extortionists or even criminals often having political ambition.

The lynch squads pretending to be gau- rakshaks have been functioning in Gujarat since at least over a decade. There are over three scores of them in Ahmedabad alone and many more in other towns of Gujarat. The lynch squads are well networked under the patronage of a politician and they cultivate informers all over the place. The squad receives information of vehicles transporting animals from one place to another and whose driver or owner is a Muslim. On receiving such information, their animator/leader assembles the members, sets up unauthorised blockades on the road. After the vehicle is stopped, the first thing they do is snatch all the permits that the driver of the vehicle may show. (Engineer 2014) At times they extort money and allow the vehicle to carry on and at times they start lynching; they may videograph the whole lynching, summon the police and hand them over. The video is uploaded on the social media to exhibit the prowess of the lynch squad. The police would then charge the victims of the lynch squad under anti-cow slaughter legislations and other laws. If a lynch squad is able to mount several such operations, their leader establishes himself as a local bully and has an accelerated political career in the party wherein the Hindu supremacists seek opportunities. Hate crimes create silent spectators that enable lynching and which in turn is used as an instrument to deepen the demonisation of the minorities.

Objectives of Lynch Mobs

The lynch mobs have a political objective rather than the religious one they pretend to have. If the Pakistani lynch mobs wanted to serve or “save” Islam, they should be saying their prayers, observing fast, serving the orphans and the needy through charity and treading the straight path in accordance with Qur’anic guidance, as many pious Muslims do. The lynch mobs masquerading as gaurakshaks would not ignore the stray cows and hungry suffering cows in the gaushalas across the country receiving grants from taxpayers’ funds. The lynch mobs and their patronisers desire an accelerated political career. Having legally and politically survived the lynching operations, their participants have a sense of empowerment and consider themselves above the law. The lynch mobs establish their hegemony not only over the state machinery, but also over the politically and socio-economically marginalised sections of the society, including minorities, Dalits and other backward classes.

They enforce through coercion the will and way of life of the socially hegemonic and privileged upper castes. The Pakistani lynch mobs establish their hegemony not only over the Hindu and Christian minorities but also over the Ahmediyas, Shias and rationalists. Lynching is leading to Wahabisation of Islam in Pakistan and reinforcing caste-based hierarchies, and traditional upper-caste and Khap panchayat morality in India. The lynchers trigger off political processes that strengthen patriarchy and control over the women’s body, mind and movements. They politically push for more authoritarian state-enforcing cultural norms and the will of the upper castes. They undermine the concept of citizenship and push the society towards mental ghettoisation and acceptance of the hegemony of the community over the individual.

Resisting lynch mobs and speaking against them is not only in the interest of minorities who are directly threatened but also in the interest of society in general and democracy in particular. The majority will have to break their silence and be vocal against all forms of violence.

The author is the Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.

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