A culture of vigilantism

Last Updated: Tue, Jun 27, 2017 16:19 hrs
Muslim man assaulted by cow vigilantes dies in Rajasthan

"Lynching" has become a byword in India since the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri by a mob, on suspicion of his having bought beef.

A debate is now on about two "lynchings" during Eid celebrations – that of 57-year-old Jammu and Kashmir police officer DSP Mohammad Ayoub Pandith outside Jamia Masjid in Srinagar; and that of 16-year-old Hafiz Junaid on a train bound for Mathura in Faridabad.

One was carried out by a mob of Muslims; another by a mob of Hindus.

The Sanghis believe there is not enough focus on the first.

The politicians in power believe there is no need to draw attention to the second.

What we are forgetting is that India’s destructive mobs are not a product of a particular government. They have been around since the country’s inception, tearing in rage across the subcontinent, burning houses, mutilating people, killing children, raping women, and filling trains with corpses.

The problem is that no one has successfully handled the mob.

Back in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi all but justified the lynch mobs striding across the country killing Sikhs, saying, “When a big tree falls, the earth will shake.”

In 1992, hundreds of thousands of crazed karsevaks destroyed the Babri Masjid, which had survived centuries of religious strife, within hours using nothing but hand tools.

In 1999, a mob set a missionary and his children on fire as they were sleeping in their car. Graham Staines’ sons were 10 and 6 years old.

In 2002, rivers of blood flowed through Gujarat.

In 2008, Kandhamal district of Orissa witnessed mob violence for months.

And then, there are the timeless ones.

The stone-throwers of Kashmir.

The bigots scouring the streets for “lovers” on Valentine’s Day.

The goons attacking night clubs to smoke out people who are insulting their ideas of “culture”.

The cow vigilantes killing butchers, the beef vigilantes slaughtering calves, the sadists clubbing street dogs to death and poisoning puppies to tackle the “stray dog menace”, are all mobs.

And they have all been allowed to get away with it.

The mob has no name, no face, no logic, no patience, no regrets. The mob cannot be punished.

And the fact that there is not enough retaliation from the state is the reason people believe they have a right to do what they want, even if it is against the law.

We don’t know the names of the majority of the perpetrators of these attacks. The leader of a mob may be apprehended on a good day. But for every person who is arrested, there are tens of people walking free and boasting of the violence they wreaked before going back home for dinner.

That is the difference between a horrific crime like a lynching, and a horrific crime like the Delhi bus rape of 2012. We can recite the names of every one of the perpetrators, including the juvenile who was outed by the media. But we don’t know the faces in the mob.

In an era when everyone has a camera in his pocket, when the violence is captured on video and flashed on our screens almost as it is taking place, we don’t have the mechanisms in place to find and punish the constituents of the mob.

Instead, we have begun to use phrases like “mob justice”, oblivious to the oxymoron.

While the publicity and reactions received by each murder from this week are being debated, the majority of the perpetrators will walk among us, high from the satisfaction of having “taught a lesson” to someone who crossed them.

For every lynching that takes place under the watch of the BJP, its supporters will find another lynching that occurred under the watch of the Congress. It does not make them better. It makes them as ineffective.

It is a collective failure of ours as a nation, of our elected leaders, that in the seven decades since Independence, we have not been able to subdue the mob.

We can chalk all the plans we want for development, launch all the space missions we want, and host all the sporting spectacles we want – but for as long as bloodthirsty mobs roam our streets, killing men in uniform and defying authority, for as long as our politicians defer to them, for as long as they are allowed to get away with their “justice”, we will remain a nation of savages.


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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. 



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