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Mainstream, VOL LV No 50 New Delhi December 2, 2017

India surviving inside the Republic of Lynching

Saturday 2 December 2017

by Arun Srivastava

In eastern Indian States, especially in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, people have been witness to an old-fashioned rural politics, called the “Bhumihari policy”. Under the policy the head of the family usually chastises the younger members of the family for wrongdoings, particularly insulting and abusing the people from other castes and families. The reprimand makes the complainant satisfied. The matter is settled. The younger members in fact indulge in such activities under the tutelage and at the behest of the seniors. The senior family members often ask and instigate the junior members of the family to insult, even thrash and assault, other people irrespective of his age. This is a tactics to bully and insult others without inviting their wrath.

True enough, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has been resorting to this policy. It is a paradox that despite his warning the gau rakshaks, these mercenaries, have refused to listen to him. During the last one year Modi has warned the cow vigilantes at least on four occasions to refrain from such activities. On June 29 in Ahmedabad he came out with a strong warning: “Killing people in the name of ‘gau bhakti’ is not acceptable.” He strategically put the blame on anti-socials for this heinous crime.

But what has come as a matter of real intrigue is the defiance of his warning by these anti-socials. It is beyond comprehension how these criminals could muster courage to challenge the authority of the most powerful person of the country.

The latest incident of lynching took place on August 27 at a village in the Dhupguri block of West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district. Two persons were lynched to death on the allegation of stealing cows. Hafizul Sheikh of Dhubri district in Assam and Anwar Hussain of Patlakhawa village of Cooch Behar district were beaten to death by the locals. After questioning the two for a while, the locals had beaten them to death. It is a fact that the deceased did not have valid documents to transport cattle, but this is the way and norm of purchasing cattle. The investigators are not yet sure whether the deceased were stealing cows.

If the villagers were of the view that the cows were being transported illegally, in that case they should have informed the police instead of taking law in their own hands. Smuggling of cows has been a common profession in this region as it is hardly 25 kms from the Bangladesh border. While Jatishwar Bharati, the Jalpaiguri district secretary of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights [APDR], confirmed it, he also said the practice has been going on for decades. Before this in June 2017, three persons were lynched in the Chopra block of Bengal’s North Dinajpur district for alleged cattle theft.

The incident of lynching taking place in West Bengsl has indeed been a matter of concern. But the BJP, desperate to make an inroad in the politics of the State, has been frantically resorting to assault on the secular forces, particularly the Muslims. In recent times a number of violent communal clashes took place in the State. Each time the saffron guys were found to have been the agent provocateurs. Nevertheless as usual they blamed the Muslim for indulging in violent riots. Ever since the BJP has been contemplating to throw out Mamata Banerjee from power, the Sangh and BJP cadres have been trying to communalise the Bengali society. In recent times they have been engineering communal clashes and trying to split the homogenous Bengal. Earlier they tried to pit the non-Bengalis residing in Bengal against the Bengalis. Having failed in their mission, they have now embarked on the path of dividing the Bengali society on caste lines. They have also been trying to foment communal clashes.

Though the Sangh leadership and even Modi are aware of the identity of the gau rakshaks, to protect them from public ire and preventing the RSS from getting a bad name, they have been putting the blame on criminals and anti-socials. This is purely a tactical move to deflect the blame from the head of the RSS and Sangh Parivar. Modi does not intend to punish the cadres of the Hindiu brigade; that is why he passed on the buck to the State governments on the plea that law and order is a State issue.

Modi must not be under impression that the people of this country are so naive to understand the implication of his deflection tactics. He knows it well that the police administration in the 16 State governments where the BJP is in power will not touch the saffron mercenaries. Moreover his passing off the buck to the criminals for the gory incidents would also soothe the feelings of the middle class people. He had said: “Some anti-social elements have made cow protection an excuse to spread anarchy. This is also affecting the nation’s image. All political parties should strongly condemn this hooliganism in the name of cow protection.”

In a way his exhortation may appear to be an admission of failure, and an attempt to involve the common people in his action against criminals. But in reality this is purely an astute move to shield them. The most affected States have been Jharkhand, Haryana and Rajasthan. It is a matter of shame that in Jharkhand the police is not at all willing to accept complaints against these marauders. In some stray cases it acted, but those were exercises at eye-wash. If the local people are to be believed, at least 20 people have been brutally killed by the Hindu goons during the last one year on charges of carrying beef or eating beef.

Recently during a rally in Ranchi Kanhaiya Kumar, the All India Youth Federation (AIYF) leader, has called for protecting the Hindu dharma from the Sangh Parivar forces. “The RSS and the Sangh Parivar are raising the communal issues to divert attention from the main issues faced by the country. Hindu dharma does not seek to attack Muslims or kill human beings in the name of cows. The RSS and the Sangh Parivar forces are causing maximum damage to the Hindu dharma,” he said.

Kanhaiya alleged that Modi had been trying to finish the democratic system in the country. He aimed at the collapse of country’s economy through implementation of the GST. He promised two crore jobs for youths. Where are the jobs?—he asked. He called upon the youth to fight against the fascist forces. When recovery-managers are deployed to recover loan arrears of the common man, the banks are writing off the loans of big business people, CPI State Secretary Kanam Rajendran noted.

All lynching incidents are done by members of the ruling party and Sangh Parivar. These are done with a basic understanding, and hence, no arrests have been made in the incidents that happened so far. Lynching incidents are reported from all over. Such incidents are happening for the first time. This used to happen during the medieval ages, not even during British times.

The day Modi addressed the all-party meeting and called cow vigilante groups “anti-social elements”, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad President Praveen Togadia, addressing a meeting of VHP workers in the Braj region, declared: “Gau rakshaks should neither fear anyone nor come under pressure from anyone. They should continue their work of saving cows without being concerned of name-calling.” Strange enough, while Modi acknowledged that violence in the name of cow protection was tarnishing the image of the country and damaging the social fabric and asked the political leaders to lend their support in fighting the menace, shockingly even after this observation, he did not do what should have been done as a natural corollary: he should have directed the BJP’s State governments and party cadres to protect the Muslims from being killed. But this he did not do.

If the police had acted promptly as they claim, the situation might have been quite different. It is a known fact that the cow is only an excuse, the real targets are the ordinary poor Muslims going about with their daily lives. The Sangh and BJP leaders intend to terrorise them so that they should meekly surrender to the dictates of the Sangh.

The concern of the Sangh and Hindu outfits for cows has been simply a façade. Some recent reports suggest that the government-run shelters for cows have been death-beds for the poor souls. At least 65 cows have starved to death at a government-run shelter in Haryana, which boasts one of the country’s most stringent cattle-protection laws and where a 15-year-old boy was lynched on a train as a “cow-eater”. The cows died over the past two or three days, marooned on a part of the cattle shelter that the rain had turned into a quagmire.

State Gau Sewa Aayog chairman Bhani Ram Mangla, who visited the shelter at Mathana village in Kurukshetra district, blamed the deaths on “natural disaster”. But local villagers said that Haryana’s cow-protection drive, launched after the BJP came to power in the State in late 2014, had led to overcrowding at the cow shelters that lacked the resources to feed or tend to all the animals.

Modi’s intervention is simply “meaningless” because the government has not taken any action to curb such vigilantism in the three years since the BJP came to power. It is beyond comprehension why the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have refrained from taking action against the cow vigilantes. The key questions are: why has this violence started ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister? What are the factors responsible for the creation of this atmosphere? Are these outfits feeling empowered under this government? It would not be exaggeration to say that Modi is shedding crocodile tears. Had it not been true, they all would have been behind bars long ago. Modi had said yesterday that killing people in the name of protecting cows was not acceptable and that no one had the right to take law into their hands.

The lynching aims at enforcing a majoritarian ethnic/racial/religious political order. During 1880-1930, especially in the American South, white mobs lynched black Americans if they crossed a certain historically embedded hierarchical boundary. In her song, Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday immortalised the crushing pain of such violence. Its haunting opening verse was: “Southern trees bear a strange fruit/ Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/ Strange fruit hanging from the poplar tree.”Is India going the American way? Muslims are not the only the target of lynching. But they are its primary object.

There has been hostility in the attitude of people towards Muslims. They taunt their children wearing skullcaps as Pakistani. Drawing a parallel with the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaque in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh in September 2015, Jalaluddin had said the chilling murder of his son fits the pattern of growing hatred towards the community. It is irony that Modi had spoken after the Dadri incident but the lynching of Muslims has continued unabated even after that. How can they feel safe now even though he has condemned violence? On the day when Modi warned the gau rakshaks, Mohd Alimuddun was lynched by a mob in Jharkhand. Obviously, these people don’t fear the PM. In fact they enjoy the patronage of Modi that is a greater part of the mechanism to usher in the Hindu Rashtra.

Instead of making cosmetic statements, Modi should have taken the phone and resing up his Sanghi Chief Ministers and given them strong instruction to deal with the gau rakshaks. It is really sad that the Hindus are being portrayed as blood-thirsty people who kill innocents just in the name of beef eaten by seven billion people in the world. Little doubt the Sanghis have made India a laughing stock.

Lynching and mob violence have escalated dramatically. A new narrative of nationalism, rejection of dissent and no compassion for ‘offenders’ have created a dangerous new public order. Mob violence is not new to India. But at the heart of the current wave of lynching is a new political feeling promoted by a craftily nurtured project that targets those who dissent from the restrictions imposed by self-styled conscience keepers of “society”.

Lynching is a mechanism used to consolidate the power of the state. In a lynching ritual, the sequence is rumour, suspicion, scapegoat, orgy and then silence. It is worth mentioning that recently the American civil rights activist, Martin Luther King III, said he saw the 2019 general election as the answer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence over the recent lynchings in India. He also observed: “The bigger question to me is, ‘What has happened in the country that a leader could be elected who is silent on issues that should matter?’”.

The BJP leaders have been telling white lies. A couple of months back Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told the Rajya Sabha that incidents of lynchings and atrocities against minorities and Dalits are part of a conspiracy to take the discourse away from the government’s development agenda. If what Naqvi said was correct, then why was the government not taking action against the criminals. Who is preventing the BJP Government from doing so? In fact Naqvi was speaking the words of Modi.

Modi may have focused on “vikas” and “parivartan” during his election campaign but after assuming power he has given glimpses of his deep adherence to the RSS ideology. He has been assiduously pursuing the policy of the RSS to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra. The political economy of lynching would make explicit that lynching was a mechanism to terrorise the Muslims to force them to submit before the Sangh. The RSS leadership nurses the that if the Muslims stand up and resist its move, the Sangh cannot aspire to transform Indian into a Hindu Rashtra. Little doubt the Modi has been taking inspiration from RSS ideologue M.S. Golwalkar’s thoughts and writings. Golwalkar took over the reins of the RSS in 1940 and remained at the helm till 1973. He exercised an enormous influence over generations of young men who joined the RSS in the post-independence era, the most dedicated of whom became pracharaks (full timers), Modi being a star among them.

The RSS’ central thesis, extensively elaborated in Golwalkar’s writings, is that India is the sacred land of the Hindus and Hindus alone, it was a land of unparalleled glory in ancient times, it fell to ruin because of successive assaults by foreign invaders, and it can only regain its lost glory once it becomes wholly Hindu again. The RSS’ “cultural nationalism”, a euphemism for upper caste Hindu supremacy, is the stark opposite of civic nationalism enjoined by the Constitution of India.

India’s independence from colonial rule in 1947, Golwalkar argued, did not constitute real freedom because the new leaders held on to the “perverted concept of nationalism” that championed India’s composite heritage. For the RSS, the BJP’s victory in 2014 marks an important moment in the dream of forming a Hindu Rashtra. That Modi is aware of his own significance in this journey was made clear when he referred to the end of “1200 years of foreign rule” in his first major speech in the Lok Sabha after becoming the Prime Minister.

In the last three years, Modi has relentlessly run down the achievements of the first 70 years of independence. In a subtle manner he has been also trying to assert over the spirit of the Indian Constitution. He is not tired of claiming that India has changed in an amazing fashion only in the last three years of the BJP rule. It obviously implied that Modi held a strong belief that only a “Hindu” government and polity where all “non-Hindu” elements are made to surrender their identity can redeem India’s destiny.

Modi’s is not weary of using the word ‘New India’. This is simply indication of changing the political character and contour of India. Yogi Adityanath’s comment that the Taj Mahal does not reflect Indian culture, and Modi’s belief that India’s efflorescence has only begun with his victory in 2014 are all facets of the same Golwalkarian mindset.

We are dealing with a political party that actively encourages and justifies vigilantism in spite of the fact that it controls the machinery of the state. The BJP governments use the States that they run to advertise their commitment to the cause of cow protection and to signal their enthusiasm for vengeful punitive justice. The Sangh insists that the Indian republic ought to be a Hindu Rashtra. This Hindu nation is represented by a set of interlinked symbols, which represent Indians as children of an all-embracing mother.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]

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