Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Friday, June 30, 2017

Opinion: Lynching The Diversity Out Of India

The new jungle justice system has obviously been given political imprimatur.

Junaid Khan, 15 years young, had gone for Eid shopping with his brothers to Delhi. He was never to return. On his way home to Ballabgarh, a hate-fuelled group of men pounced on him. He was stabbed during the attack and literally bled to death in excruciating pain. His brothers were assaulted too, but escaped with their lives. Beef eaters, yelled the rancorous chorus. No one in the train compartment helped. Junaid is the latest victim of the rising violent culture of cow-related mob lynching in India. It is a Frankenstein's monster on the loose taking giant strides. The ominous predator is out there as you read this.

The term "cow vigilantes" is misleading. These are actually gangs of organised murderers—the innocent cow is just a convenient platform. Meet India's new non-state actors, who are terrifying people with their majority might and threats of physical pulverisation. They need no provocation whatsoever. Merely wearing a skull cap or having a beard is inviting trouble. Religious polarisation in India is now no longer just a political shibboleth. It is real. It is killing innocents. What is extremely disturbing is the unalloyed brutality, the calculated savagery behind the bloodbath. It is appalling to believe that humanity can possess such an inexhaustible supply of anger. And hate.

Minority-hunting is becoming the favourite obsession of these right-wing fanatics as mobocracy reign spreads. What started with Mohammad Akhlaq's lynching in September 2015 in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh has now metastasized into a ghastly killing machine in Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand, J&K, Madhya Pradesh and Assam. By a not-so-strange coincidence, these are all BJP-ruled states. Lynching is the current leitmotif in the land of Gandhian non-violence. (BJP leaders in the Northeast states, Kerala, West Bengal and Goa, of course, sing a different tune on cow slaughter or beef consumption on account of electoral compulsions.) Modi triggered the cow controversy with his "pink revolution" remark during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign. His storm-troopers are now extracting their pound of flesh.

The new jungle justice system has obviously been given political imprimatur. It is reprehensible that PM Modi maintains a stoic stubbornness to not acknowledge the morbid goings-on, even as his fellow colleagues appear disdainfully dismissive of the ugly killings. Police inaction is apparent. The key intention is to obviously spread fear; psychological isolation is the first step towards physical ghettoisation.

Social harmony is a pre-requisite for economic growth; that's an elementary principle of not just societal progress but human evolution itself. The only alternative to communal peace is dystopian anarchy. It's strange how modern-day political administrators who are supposed to know the public pulse almost instinctively, appear to be oblivious of this truism. Or choose to willfully ignore it for short-term political windfalls.

Urban India seems barely outraged at the exponential anarchy, as if the deaths of Pehlu Khan and others is just an unfortunate happenstance. Several TV channels are propagating hate; lopsided panel discussions are held and provocative abuse is encouraged. There are no pretensions to either neutrality or rationality. The media is adding both to their TRP's and the mayhem in good measure. India Inc is predictably silent, their frangible moral backbone suffering from a slip-disc. Every day is punctuated by the grisly news of mob fury; it is a relentless deluge. The idea is to change the headline news gradually into an obscure page 11 item. At some point, the fatigue-factor in news reporting would set in and lynching deaths would then become de rigueur.

With rising unemployment particularly in small towns and the rural interiors, cow vigilantism could become the default fall- back option for India's struggling demographic dividend seeking their own social relevance under wily political chieftains. Fact is those who are at the periphery of economic marginalisation are easily susceptible to systematic subjugation; they have neither occupational mobility nor physical peregrination as an option. Marginal farmers and cattle traders are one such; that's why they are being deliberately targeted. They can do nothing else and there is nowhere to go.

Politicians have contributed magnanimously to the madness; beating up airline officers, threatening police officials, and generally dismissing lesser mortals with contemptuous disregard. It has grabbed headlines. Such aggressive manifestations percolate downwards at rapid-speed; if public figures can behave so irresponsibly and get away with it, then why not me? Urban India could also soon get infected by this thuggery affliction. An inadvertent car accident, road rage, a public misunderstanding with unknown strangers, disagreement over service standards with suppliers et al can suddenly explode. The #NotInMyName protest across India against mob lynchings is a good start, but more will be required in the days ahead.

Instead of building a syncretic society, under the current dispensation we are encouraging mutual antagonism, suspicion and hate. A toxic society suits those who take extreme ideological positions. India is in a claustrophobic gas-chamber as lumpen elements have become the core mainstream. They are like a nihilistic tribe scrounging for blood, where barbarism is given a free hand. Since state elections happen 29 times between two general elections, keeping communal tensions at a combustible level through sporadic incidents suits the right-wing political strategists. The data (compiled by IndiaSpend) is distressing: 86% dead in cow-related violence since 2010 are Muslim, and 97% attacks have happened since 2014.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Modi has consistently skipped the Iftaar party hosted by the President of India at Rashtrapati Bhavan, breaking a time-honored tradition with insouciant ease. Hidden in that official boycott of a religious occasion is political messaging. This year, Modi's entire cabinet avoided the Ramzan invitation from the outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee. To their credit, they are not pretending anymore that they have a little respect for secular conventions. We can't pretend either anymore; the "Othering" of India Project is on in deadly earnest. It must be stopped.

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