The only way to understand human suffering is to practice empathy, to walk in someone else's shoes. I tried doing that watching the folded hands of a blood-soaked Mohammed Naeem in Jharkhand. Literally begging for his flagging life's remaining breaths. A chill ran down my spine—Naeem was staring in the face of his killers, a remorseless mob that suspected him to be a child kidnapper. No appeal to rationalism, no plea of innocence was going to work—this was a feral public court demonstrating its macabre might. I wonder what Naeem thought of in those last moments—did he think of the family he might never see again, did he fear that they too might thus be tortured to death, or did he hope that somewhere the world's fastest growing economy would have the government resources to save him? But Naeem died, like other unfortunate victims who were similarly concomitantly murdered. Their gory death was the result of a fabricated WhatsApp rumour. The Jharkhand lynching incidents are reminiscent of the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, which were also triggered by fake videos. In the organised communal conflagration that followed, 65 died, several thousand went homeless. The message: a susceptible society easily feeds into pandemic insecurities.
When even actual offenders get publicly lynched it manifests a dystopian democracy where the laws of the wild jungle reign; when innocents get butchered on mere suspicion, it reflects a civilisational crisis.
When even actual offenders get publicly lynched it manifests a dystopian democracy where the laws of the wild jungle reign; when innocents get butchered on mere suspicion, it reflects a civilisational crisis. It seems unreasonable to expect law enforcement to act according to their mandate; indeed, in many areas, people actually fear local police officers and baulk from seeking their intervention. Both these realities are symptomatic of a failed state. The rise of such nihilistic bestiality cannot happen without institutional collaboration. It is a deeply rooted malaise. The Jharkhand lynching cases tell us how we are transmogrifying into a perverse society. Naeem and the other victims had the same fundamental rights guaranteed under our Indian Constitution as Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan, Narendra Modi and Mukesh Ambani—the right to life! But those deaths on a hot summer afternoon became just another statistic in the morgues of municipal hospitals. Justice eluded them when they were alive. It is unlikely that they will receive dignity even in death. Will the perpetrators of the savage attack ever be punished? Will the killers of Pehlu Khan—who was lynched in Alwar by alleged "cow vigilantes"—be punished?
Of late, there is a sudden surge of mob violence targeting minority communities, ostensibly under the guise of cow vigilantism or a parochial definition of nationalism. Or any reason that is considered conveniently offensive. There is not a single day when atrocities against Dalits, the poor, Muslims, backward classes, opposing sections are not being reported. A case in point is Saharanpur, which is seeing the rise of aggressive Dalit activism fueled by rising aspirations following years of social ostracisation and political exploitation. There is also a religious twist to that burning episode. We are becoming a cuckoo land, where everything is kosher, particularly zealous religious bigotry. But when the erstwhile fringe, considered a distant third cousin ( at least for media/public consumption) to the principal party, becomes its mainstream patriarch, then trouble looms large. Lynching has become the new monstrous trial court of social justice; how is it different from the Maoists ordering public executions?
Mahatma Gandhi watching his beloved India from the heavens must be terribly confused; just how did the innocent Gau Mata unleash such insatiable bloodlust?
It is hardly surprising that BJP-ruled states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Jharkhand are experiencing gruesome escalations of mob fury. And not just there. An innocent man is savagely killed for telling some youth to not publicly urinate. A PhD scholar in IIT Madras is thrashed for participating in a beef festival as a form of protest against the amended laws introduced by the government to effectively change India's food paradigm. In short, these violent manifestations are becoming the new normal, a modus vivendi. Soon, we might just get acclimatised to this carnivorous carnival of group vigilantism. Let's remember that Talibanisation is essentially a ferociously passionate hardliner mindset that brooks zero tolerance for differing thoughts. To borrow from a famous Hollywood film, India is in fourth gear accelerating towards the "road to perdition".
Hindutva politics is making the soulful, serene Indian cow a core ingredient of its political strategy of religious polarisation. Mahatma Gandhi watching his beloved India from the heavens must be terribly confused; just how did the innocent Gau Mata unleash such insatiable bloodlust? To know the answer to that, perhaps he could start by first talking to Mohammed Akhlaq who is up in the clouds with him.