Democracy has no place for mobs

Last Updated: Mon, Mar 05, 2018 11:50 hrs
A young boy holds a placard at a rally in New Delhi in July 2017, in protest over a spate of assaults against Muslims and low-caste Dalits by Hindu vigilantes

Every time an economic or development or global power survey shows India rising a few notches on the wall, we celebrate and pat ourselves on the back.

We believe we are all set to regain the purported days of glory before we were conquered by various colonisers.

We forget that even in those days of assumed glory, prosperity was the privilege of those who were on the right side of popular belief. We forget that those grand palaces were built by colonisers of another ilk – warlords and despots who snatched land from the dwellers of forests and inhabitants of plains – and that they would be broken by those who took over from them.

Today, in the same newspapers that celebrate those indices, and sometimes on the same pages, are news items about Dalits and Adivasis and Muslims and Hindus and Christians killed by mobs.

Behind every mob is the notion that its members’ sentiments were somehow hurt or offended by the person whom it has cornered, and so great is the hurt or offence that this person must be lynched for it. So great is the triumph of the mob that some of its members are happy to post selfies while an Adivasi man is standing in the background, his hands bound using the lungi he had worn around his waist, being interrogated by another member of the mob.

On February 22, this man – 30-year-old Madhu – would be beaten to death in the Kerala village where the selfie was taken, within moments of its creation. He had been accused of theft by a mob which, according to quotes in the media by the police, had spotted CCTV visuals of him stealing rice from a shop, and which then proceeded to the forests where he lived, sought him out, brought him to town, stripped him, and beat him so severely that he died from his wounds.

Madhu was bound and searched on camera before he was attacked with sticks. The mob had then called the police, which had been on the lookout for him. While the police took custody of Madhu, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of them to also take custody of the men who had beaten him up before the authorities arrived.

The only thing worse than an impulsive mob lynching is an organised mob lynching. It is chilling to think that these men had actively formed a group, with the sole intention of bringing Madhu to their version of “justice”; to think they had taken an afternoon off just to search the forest until they found him, and march him to town, on suspicion of his having stolen a small bag of rice.

Ten days later, a 16-year-old Dalit boy was beaten to death during Holi celebrations in Alwar district of Rajasthan. Some reports said Neeraj Jatav was lynched because he had been trying to put colour on people from another community; others said he was lynched because he was trying to put colour on people against their wishes; others said his killers were minors. The police have not confirmed any details.

Every year, Holi is marred by incidents of people assaulting others with colour and violating women by groping them; ideally, such violations should be punished by law. The police should be called. Most of the time, they get away with it. But when they belong to a disadvantaged community, they get beaten to death by mobs.

Sometimes, they get beaten to death even when they have not violated anyone by law.

Only a few months ago, 21-year-old Dalit Jayesh Solanki was killed in Ahmedabad, allegedly for watching a garba event organised by “an upper caste”. His cousin, who had accompanied him and survived the attack, told the police that eight men had come up to them as they stood by a temple, watching the dance, demanded to know why they were standing there, and banged Jayesh’s head against a wall before setting upon him with sticks.

The fact that sticks were readily available in all of these instances indicates that these are not just mobs driven to anger; they are mobs with the intention to avenge a perceived slight which they have predicted might occur.

Mobs march the streets on Valentine’s Day, looking for people to assault.

Mobs get into compartments on trains and kill teenage boys.

Both the Congress and the BJP have been in power when mobs started riots. Both are associated with the bringing down of monuments which are of great sentimental importance to a large number of people.

There are more similarities between the despots who build monuments and the hooligans who bring them down than either would like to acknowledge – the despots use unpaid, involuntary labour; the hooligans use unpaid, voluntary labour.

The voluntary labour only seeks acknowledgement for reward. When they go unpunished, it is acknowledgement of service.

1984 and 1992 served as acknowledgement.

Mobs have ruled history. But they have no place in a democracy. When we make place for them, we have chosen anarchy.

No state ruled by anarchy ever made it to the top of a global power index.


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