Why It Is Not Wrong To Focus On Identity Of Victims In Some Cases While Ignoring It In Others

28/03/2016 8:49 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - MARCH 25: Delhi Police arrest 5 accused after a 40-year-old dentist Pankaj Narang was allegedly beaten to death by a group of around 15 persons, including at least four juveniles, following a dispute in West Delhi's Vikaspuri area, on March 25, 2016 in New Delhi, India. According to the police, a little past midnight, Dr. Narang was playing cricket with his son and nephew at his home, celebrating India's victory over Bangladesh in the World Twenty20 tournament. The men dragged Narang out of his house on the road and beat him up with hockey sticks and bats till he died. (Photo by Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Sometime mid-Saturday last week, a section of social media chortled, "How does your own medicine taste?". It was a jibe aimed at a section of the mainstream media and other social media users who are broadly identified as 'liberals' critical of the right wing in India. On the face of it, it may have seemed like the said Twitter and Facebook users were basking in a moment of triumph, but we need to do a quick recap of the events that unfolded in the preceding couple of days to understand what really happened.

On 25 March, it was reported that Pankaj Narang, a dentist in Vikaspuri, West Delhi had been beaten to death with rods by a mob comprising young men. The preliminary reports could name just one accused, called Naseer, who was also the prime accused in the case. Apart from Naseer, the initial reports suggested that there may have been 9-10 people involved.

Just when Twitter was starting to turn into battleground, more vicious than usual, a senior police officer clarified that 5 of the accused persons were Hindus, 4 Muslims.

Soon, like this article points out, several Twitter users affiliated to the right wing and BJP started accusing the mainstream media of shielding the Muslim accused in the case. It was led by one Nupur Sharma, who goes by the handle NupurSharmaBJP on Twitter and a former journalist called Tufail Ahmed. Just when Twitter was starting to turn into a battleground, more vicious than usual, a senior police officer clarified that 5 of the accused persons were Hindus, 4 Muslims.

However, as the news of the Vikaspuri lynching first broke, it was being confidently suggested that Delhi had witnessed just a repetition of what happened in Dadri, only the religion of the victim and perpetrators seemed to have gotten swapped in this case. As details of the case were revealed, that claim seemed baseless and churlish, to some extent.

dadri

Kin of the Mohammad Akhlaq who was lynched in Dadri.

This demanded a quick face-saver for everyone who had drawn hasty, unsubstantiated parallels with the coverage of the Dadri lynching incident and had accused a majority of the media of deliberately mentioning the religion of the accused in that case and not of the ones in the Vikaspuri incident. And the fix they came up with was what this article referred to in the beginning. So they took to suggesting that they really don't care about the religion of criminals or victims, it's the liberals who do. And that, they were just trying to show the mirror to the critics of the Indian right wing.

If there was indeed any similarity in the two incidents, it was the bestiality that the perpetrators showed while ganging up and killing a helpless man.

Actually, it was a reminder of how rampant mob violence is in India and made us wonder what empowers gangs of men and women to assault and kill in broad daylight, especially in cities? Around the same time, two African nationals too had been beaten up in West Delhi by a mob of young men, for scolding a child who pelted a water balloon at them. Roughly a month back, a Tanzanian woman was stripped and beaten up in Bangalore.

delhi dentist

Policemen outside the house of the Pankaj Narang.

There was one more thing, and perhaps, this one was more frightening. It had been widely reported that among other things, the Dadri incident was sparked by a WhatsApp message that was doing the rounds among the residents of the area. The message, which carried a picture of meat and bones, was enough to convince some villagers that Mohammad Akhlaq and his family were in possession of beef. The message, in fact, was an instigation to act on biases that the accused may have harboured for a while now. It was a classic case of being misled and provoked by erroneous information. The result, like we saw in a delicate communal climate, was deadly.

It was a reminder of how rampant mob violence is in India and made us wonder what empowers gangs of men and women to assault and kill in broad daylight, especially in cities?

The social media 'outrage' that followed the Vikaspuri lynching, followed the same dangerous pattern. Anchoring the hate campaign on half baked information, social media users ranted against alleged Bangladeshi immigrants, then Muslims in general and finally people who sought to point out the basic differences between the two incidents. It was as if sections of the right wing had found the answer to debate on Dadri in the Vikaspuri lynching. It was shocking and vulgar. Firstly, because it belittled the horrifying deaths of the two men to wage one's petty political battles. Secondly, it sought to suggest that every crime is a crime of communal antagonism. Shallow whataboutery is a mainstay of social media across the world, but this one touched new lows.

Anchoring the hate campaign on half baked information, social media users ranted against alleged Bangladeshi immigrants, then Muslims in general and finally people who sought to point out the basic differences between the two incidents.

Which brings us to an important question. Is it important to emphasises the religion of a murder victim? The answer is rather simple. Yes and no.

The Dadri incident was not named 'beef killing' on a whim. It was 'beef killing'. Everything from police reports to victim's families statements made it clear that communal hatred spurred this murder. Mohammad Akhlaq died because someone suggested and others believed that he possessed beef in his house. Beef, or cow meat, which some Hindus deem as sacrilege and is a regular dietary provision for Muslims. Here the religion of the victim and perpetrators was not incidental, it was integral to the story. It was the story, one of blinding communal hatred, that the leading political party in the country maybe unwittingly encouraging. Or maybe even willingly? A recent report suggested that in a farmer's rally in Gujarat, BJP leaders showed videos of Umar Khalid and Afzal Guru to inform farmers how the country's 'pride' is at stake.

The Vikaspuri incident was an incident of road rage. The religion of the victim was unimportant. Mentioning the religion of just some of the accused and painting it as an act of communal aggression is dangerous.

Which brings us to an important question. Is it important to emphasises the religion of a murder victim? The answer is rather simple. Yes and no.

In a country with a morbid, bloody history of communal strife, it is slightly unrealistic to assume that there is no communal tension. It is not quite right to suggest that an incident of communal hatred be not reported like it is. And it is even more juvenile to suggest that, in that case, every incident of crime be given a communal colour. And on social media - with its capacity for unbridled, uncensored hatred - one especially shouldn't pass off biases as facts, like we saw during the Vikaspuri incident.

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