POLITICS

With Each Lynching, The Pradhan Sevak's Silence Rings Out Louder

The new normal in India.

26/06/2017 1:54 PM IST | Updated 26/06/2017 1:56 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Members of the families of the Mob lynching victims during an Iftar get-together at Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO), on June 7, 2017 in New Delhi.

What a strange country we live in where it is newsworthy that the Prime Minister of a country with over 170 million Muslims has mentioned Eid al-Fitr in his radio address. Narendra Modi has said the M-word on his Mann ki Baat radio address. He extended Eid greetings. He talked about Muslims who returned the money to build toilets in their village, saying they would do it with their own money.

It's news because it comes on the heels of the entire cabinet, from the PM to the minister in charge of minority affairs, skipping the outgoing President's last Iftaar dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Apparently there were some scheduling conflicts. Thus, much was read into the Prime Minister mentioning Eid in his radio address finally.

But Modi still cannot say the L-word in a country where lynching seems to be in the news every other day. Sometimes more than once in a day.

But Modi still cannot say the L-word in a country where lynching seems to be in the news every other day. Sometimes more than once in a day.

"Despite the mourning in the family I listened to his Mann ki Baat programme with some villagers on radio but there was no mention of it. Not a word... we were hoping otherwise."

That's what Jalaluddin Khan told The Telegraph. Khan is the father of 15-year-old Junaid who was killed on the Delhi-Mathura train in a scuffle supposedly about seats but one that saw charges of being anti-national and carrying beef flung at them.

One of the accused, Ramesh has admitted to some television channels that his friends had told him that the four Muslim youths of the train were beef eaters. He has also admitted he was drunk.

It's one incident and a busy Prime Minister cannot be expected to comment on all incidents in such a vast country. But perhaps the government should also ponder what it means when the front page of the Sunday Times of India has one story headlined "Man held for train lynch confirms beef remark" and within that story is an inset for another story headlined "3 held for lynching of cattle thieves" which is continued on p13. And competing for news space is the follow up to the story of the lynching of police officer Mohammad Ayub Pandith in Kashmir.

We live in a country where the media has to choose which lynching story to cover in the front page.

We live in a country where the media has to choose which lynching story to cover in the front page. When Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri in 2015 on suspicion of storing beef in his refrigerator, it made for anguished headlines. Akhlaq's name became famous. It was such a grotesque aberration from the normal we were jolted to attention.

Now there is no one Akhlaq anymore to become a symbol of what should be national shame. Instead we have a parade of names – five in one day's newspaper alone.

Hafiz Junaid, 15. Mohammad Samirudding, 32. Mohammad Nasir, 33. Mohammad Nasirul Haque, 30. Mohammad Ayub Pandith, 57.

Is this an indicator of the new normal where one lynching is not one too many, where one lynching seems to pave the way for another and then another? Today a story about lynching is not news in the way it was in 2015 when it happened in Dadri. The horrific truth is it is becoming normalized.

The silence of the government is helping that process. The Prime Minister is in America touting GST as an example of an investor-friendly forward-looking modernizing India. At the same time some of his countrymen are dragging the country backwards, to a regressive society where the rule of the law can easily be replaced by rule of the mob. If nothing else, the government should ponder what these lynch mobs say about law-and-order in the country.

Of course, lynch mobs are not an invention of Modi's India. Their rise cannot be laid at his door. In 2006 a mob lynched a Dalit family in Kherlanji, Maharashtra and paraded their women naked in public. In 1984, the anti-Sikh riots that broke out after Indira Gandhi's assassination saw lynch mobs all over the country at their murderous worst, aided and abetted by the ruling party.

But that is hardly a standard we should keep judging ourselves against. Surely our trajectory should be in a different direction. A GST tax cannot be the only marker of development in 2017 India.

In April 2017, CatchNews published a grisly timeline of cow vigilante violence in just two years.

PTI
CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat consoling Zaira (C), mother of Junaid who was lynched by a mob while onboard a train, in Haryana on Saturday.

May 30, 2015: Abdul Ghaffar Qureshi killed in Birloka, Rajasthan

September 25, 2015: Mohammad Akhlaq lynched in Dadri

October 6, 2015: A cattle trader attacked with iron rods in Karnataka.

March 18, 2016: Majloom Ansari and Imtiyaz Khan found hanging from a tree in Jharkhand.

April 2, 2016: Mustain Abbas killed in Kurukshetra while transporting a buffalo.

And it goes on and on – dots of shame that we do not connect at our own peril. Actually that is incorrect. The dots are connected. They are connected by the silence of the government. The silence of Manmohan Singh was all-pervasive. The silence of Narendra Modi appears to be selective. And convenient.

Yet let us remember this as well. While it's easy for the Prime Minister's critics to question his silence, let us not let ourselves off the hook.

At the railway station where Junaid's body bled to death, no one, from the station master to the bhutta vendor to the kirana shop owner saw anything according to the Indian Express.

The mob is deaf to the sound of lynching. The government is silent to the scourge of lynching. How long before the media becomes blind to lynching (or banishes that news to page 13)?

Junaid's brothers say that while they were being beaten in the train nobody stepped up to help. "Instead of saving us the crowd was egging the attackers on. Our screams for help fell on deaf ears," says Hashim who was attacked that night.

The mob is deaf to the sound of lynching. The government is silent to the scourge of lynching. How long before the media becomes blind to lynching (or banishes that news to page 13)?

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