However much sniggers – or opinion pieces – may arise from the #notinmyname gatherings in various metros protesting against the lynch mob attacks on Indians in India, the fact that a very visible number of people are angry and upset is, well, heartening.
At a time when dissent and protest against the State was being seen, at least in some quarters, as an option whose door was being shut for being ‘anti-national’, the mass responses from the ‘usual suspects’ looked reassuringly democratic in a democracy, with the requisite amount of cynicism that they also invited.
The protest gatherings at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and elsewhere last Wednesday may or may not have a direct correlation with the prime minister’s office tweeting the stern message on Thursday from Sabarmati Ashram, “Killing people in the name of gau bhakti is not acceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve.” The murder of another person in the name of gau raksha near Ranchi a few hours before the PMO’s welcome tweet on Thursday was almost not certainly the trigger for the call for Gandhian restraint. But the #notinmyname gatherings earlier on were certainly as legit as any other protest gatherings, including those condemning, say, the outbreak of ‘western values’, or ‘cow slaughter’ itself.
But the question is whether there were enough people protesting against the vigilante attacks and lynch mobs who seem to suddenly roam about and do their wolf pack thing, one such ‘conflagration’ resulting in the murder of a teenager on a train.
Does it matter whether there needs to be a critical mass of outraged people appalled at the lack of any crackdown by the state authorities on thugs identifying and then targeting ‘gau shatrus’? Like it or not, it does. Otherwise, we will forever have the same people showcasing their anger to each other and comparing each other’s catchy placards as if in an agit prop gallery opening show.
Protest gatherings – whether at Jantar Mantar or on Change.org – are counted quantitatively for the effect they can have on powers-that-be, especially if the power-that-be has been accustomed, by tradition, to have a high threshold of reacting to civilian protest. Qualitatively such shows of collective resistance may make headlines and satisfy consciences. But they also have a tendency of leaving things at that – the protest itself becoming an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.
Which is where such protests, when limited to such an action however dramatic and radical and soul-satisfying they may be, resemble at best a loud minority. Which, like eight Shiv Sainiks ranting against Valentine’s Day outside a greeting cards shop every February 14 – with their presence and effect amplified by news camera angles and the media – is voluble, yet mostly ineffective, falling into that age-old category of being full of sound and fury, signifying if not nothing, then very little apart from the sound and fury itself. As one knows all too well, the ‘silent majority’, on the other hand, is more effective by dint of giving its silent consent.
Which brings us back to the protests against the violence against people perceived to be a danger to cows. The #notinmyname protests highlight the fact that many victims belong to certain communities who fall on the wrong side of how self-assigned cow protectors see them through the ‘The cow is the nation’ prism.
These protests, quite correctly, condemn the trending violence along the lines of community identities. But this very correctness in identifying what marks this brand of lynch mobs to conduct random acts of unkindness is also the very thing that drives perpetrators into taking more perverse pride in their crusade. A liberal being called a ‘sickular libtard’ by the other ‘usual suspects’ is worn as a badge of pride. So the same reasoning works when applied to thugs appropriating ‘Hindu ideology’.
Defending cow vigilante thugs, radicalised by what they perceive as a climate of majoritarian numerical heft, can be a parlour game for some homegrown Orientalists in the name of class disaffection – posh liberals looking down on the finally empowered dehati. Statistics will also be trotted out from such armchair anthropologists enamoured of the ‘proles’ to suggest that the lynch mob violence is not targeted at any particular groups.
A woman was beaten to death by a mob last Tuesday not for ‘peddling cow’ but for suspected child trafficking. This, in beef-agnostic Bengal. As was the rampaging mob exactly a week later demanding the police hand over a youngster arrested for posting an offensive Facebook post so that he could be stoned to death for blasphemy in Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal.
Ergo, much mischievous ‘Hindu-baiting’ ado is apparently being made of lynchophilic India. Instead, these communal – in the sense of ‘community’, as in communal kitchens – attacks are as random as they come. Like those on Indians in Australia or the US, where they are turned into racial ‘hate crimes’ by oversensitive Indians back home.
These are traps that the #notinmyname-ers should avoid falling into for tactical reasons. Because beyond the loud gatherings and placardings, a simple tactic can be tried out in addition to the rightful rhetoric. Brand those killing and beating up fellow Indians on Indian soil as criminals, and push the authorities to see them as so.
Murder and assault are still criminal acts in this country. With #notinmyname, there could be #FIRsinmyname. The law can be summoned, incessantly if need be, till both the law and the crimes start being taken seriously again. Serious to the point of being treated as sacred as a holy cow.