UNION Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said after Rakbar Khan’s lynching in Alwar in July 2018, “As Modiji becomes more popular, such incidents will take place. When Bihar elections happened, we had award wapsi... When UP elections came, mob lynching happened. Now 2019 elections are about to take place and again, something will happen. Incidents of intolerance will take place.” Meghwal’s statement underlines that the “mob” and Modi-Raj are linked to each other, and mob-lynching is not ‘anarchy’ so much as lynching planned and sponsored by the Sangh and the BJP Governments. The “mob” is not spontaneous – it is mobilised by the Sangh.
Meghwal, of course, suggests that Muslims get themselves lynched to embarrass the Modi Government, but he does indicate a fact – that lynchings intensify as elections approach, since the Sangh hopes to polarise the electorate and use anti-Muslim hate to consolidate Hindu votes for Modi and BJP.
Today, with the Modi Government in power, lynch mob killings have become a terrifying new “normal.” Every other day, there is news of people – mostly Muslims, sometimes Dalits, sometimes women or the mentally ill, sometimes a tourist or traveler who looks ‘different’, always innocents – being lynched by mobs. The pretext is ‘cow protection’, ‘love jehad’ or ‘child-lifting’. Always, the mobs have been instigated (by social media messages and hate-mongers in real life).
There is deathly silence from the Prime Minister on this spate of lynch mob murders. Not once does he use his voice or his Mann Ki Baat platform to appeal to citizens not to believe rumours instigating panic and hate, not to be part of lynch mobs; or to instruct the police to act against instigators of lynch mobs and peddlers of hateful fake news. Instead, he and his Ministers follow hate-mongers on Twitter, repeat Islamophobic lies, and garland members of lynch mobs.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, replying to questions on lynch mobs in Parliament, said that the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 by Congress-instigated mobs was the biggest instance of mob lynching. CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar responded to this by spelling out the subtext of Singh’s statement: “1984 was the biggest instance of #MobLynching, but it didn’t last long and not many could participate in it. So we’ve made it a permanent pan-India tournament where every local team can display its strength without any fear.”
In July 2018, the Supreme Court gave a landmark judgement ordering Governments to act to prevent incidents of mob lynching. The judgement observes that “Rising intolerance and growing polarisation expressed through spate of incidents of mob violence cannot be permitted to become the normal way of life or the normal state of law and order in the country.” When intellectuals and artists returned state awards in 2015 to protest intolerance in the wake of the Dadri lynching, Modi’s Minister Arun Jaitley had accused them of “manufactured rebellion” and “ideological intolerance against Narendra Modi” and had declared that there was no growing intolerance in India. The Government’s “pet” media channels coined #AwardWapsiGang as a term of abuse. Pro-Sangh intellectuals like Aupam Kher led marches branding the “award wapsi” intellectuals who “coined the term ‘growing intolerance’” of wanting to “defame India.” Now the Supreme Court of India by noting that “rising intolerance” is responsible for lynch mob violence, has given a moral boost to the movement against mob lynching.
The SC verdict, noting that “the State has a sacrosanct duty to protect its citizens from unruly elements and perpetrators of orchestrated lynching”, and that “inertia of the law enforcing machinery to prevent such crimes and nip them in the bud and grandstanding of the incident by the perpetrators of the crimes including in the social media aggravates the entire problem,” asked Parliament to consider enacting a law against mob lynching. While the SC is right in stating that the State squarely bears responsibility for incidents of mob violence, it is doubtful if a new law is the answer when the problem is that ruling politicians from the PM downwards patronize lynch mobs and encourage them by assuring them of total impunity from all laws.
Neither does the answer lie in a crackdown on social media, as threatened by Rajnath Singh. The BJP Government may use the spate of mob lynching incidents as an excuse to crackdown on citizens’ use of social media, which is the only antidote to the “Godi Media” cheerleaders of the Government. But the fact is that the Government chooses not only not to act against serial purveyors of hateful fake news calling for genocide of minorities, the Prime Minister himself actually patronizes these by inviting them to tea parties and following them on Twitter.
Harsh Mander has, rightly, described the phenomenon of lynch mobs as “command hate crime”, stressing “first, that these are hate crimes, not ordinary mob violence, as these mostly target identified minority communities and disadvantaged castes. And second, that these crimes are tacitly or openly encouraged by senior leaders of the political establishment.” The Supreme Court verdict also notes that “Hate crimes as a product of intolerance, ideological dominance and prejudice result in “a reign of terror.”
Rajnath Singh told Parliament that he had no data on lynch mob violence. Shame on his office, because the data is available and tells a disturbing story. IndiaSpend analysis of data on mob hate crimes in the name of ‘cow protection’ shows that in 2018, 93% of the victims were Muslim; in such incidents between 2010-2018, 56% victims were Muslim and 11% were Dalit, while the social profile of 20% was unknown. The data also shows that between 2010-2014 there were only stray incidents, few and far between. 97% of the incidents have taken place since the Modi Government took power. The number of such incidents are increasing at a frightening pace: there were 3 incidents, 11 victims and no deaths in 2014, 12 incidents, 48 victims and 10 deaths in 2015; 24 incidents, 58 victims and 8 deaths in 2016, 37 incidents, 152 victims and 11 deaths in 2017. Half the incidents have taken place in BJP-ruled states. This data breakup makes it clear that lynchings in the name of the cow are hate crimes targeted against Muslim minorities, as lynchings in the Jim Crow era in the US were targeted hate crimes against African American people. It also makes it clear that the Modi Government and BJP rule is the key factor in catalyzing the exponential rise in lynch mob violence.
The Supreme Court said it would not refer to any specific case since lynching “has become a sweeping phenomenon with a far-reaching impact.” It issued detailed guidelines to prevent incidents of lynchings, directing State Governments to appoint a Nodal Officer in each district “to procure intelligence reports about the people who are likely to commit such crimes or who are involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news” and to “make efforts to eradicate hostile environment against any community or caste which is targeted in such incidents.” It also directs Central and the State Governments to “broadcast on radio and television and other media platforms” against lynching and mob violence. It also puts the onus on the Central Government to “issue appropriate directions/advisories to the State Governments which would reflect the gravity and seriousness of the situation and the measures to be taken.”
The verdict also outlines remedial measures in case incidents of mob violence have taken place. While the police must file an FIR and prepare a chargesheet without delay, it must also inform the Nodal Officer who must “ensure that there is no further harassment of the family members of the victim(s)” and personally monitor the investigations. The verdict also directs State Governments to “prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme in the light of the provisions of Section 357A of CrPC within one month” from the date of the judgment. The verdict makes it clear that “In the said scheme for computation of compensation, the State Governments shall give due regard to the nature of bodily injury, psychological injury and loss of earnings including loss of opportunities of employment and education and expenses incurred on account of legal and medical expenses,” and that the scheme must have a “provision for interim relief to be paid to the victim(s) or to the next of kin of the deceased within a period of thirty days of the incident of mob violence/lynching.”
The verdict also sets down the punitive measures for authorities who fail to act against lynch mobs. If a police officer or officer of the district administration fails to comply with the verdict’s directions “to prevent and/or investigate and/or facilitate expeditious trial of any crime of mob violence and lynching,” the failure should be treated as an act of negligence and/or misconduct and punished accordingly.
On the very day the Supreme Court has come down strongly on the Government of India and State Governments for allowing a veritable mob lynching epidemic in India, a mob of BJP Yuva Morcha thugs attacked the 80-year-old anti-communal and human rights campaigner Swami Agnivesh in Pakur in Jharkhand.
CP Singh, a senior Minister in the BJP’s Jharkhand Government, justified the attack on Agnivesh, saying, “As far as I know, Swami Agnivesh is a person who survives on foreign donations. The saffron dress that he wears is to deceive the simple Indians. He is a fraud and not a Swami. He had himself planned this attack to gain popularity.” For BJP, saffron robes must be reserved for fascist hate-mongers and thugs, not for Swamis who speak up for peace, justice and equality! It enrages the BJP that Agnivesh wears saffron robes while being a vocal defender of human rights and secular, anti-caste values.
Meanwhile the Modi Government is proposing to prepare a cadre of 10 lakh youth in the name of having a “disciplined” and nationalist “force of youth”. Such a proposal, seen in the light of mob violence by Sangh-BJP “youth” organisations like BJP Yuva Morcha, Hindu Yuva Vahini, Bajrang Dal and the various Gau Raksha Dals, sounds ominously like the notorious fascist militias of Hitler and Mussolini.
In all the lynchings since 2014, a conviction was achieved only in a single case: the Ramgarh case in which Alimuddin Ansari was killed. The rare conviction was achieved when a Fast Track court convicted 11 men of the murder including a local BJP leader Nityanand Mahto. Ansari was lynched on the very day that Modi had made his only statement on lynchings, making a distinction between real and fake Gau Rakshaks.
Almost immediately after the conviction, BJP leaders swung into action to try and undo this aberrant smidgen of justice. Union Minister in the Modi Cabinet Jayant Sinha did what his J&K counterparts did to defend the rape-murder accused in the Kathua case: demand a CBI enquiry, and extend legal support. He told the media in April 2018, a couple of weeks after the men were convicted, “I firmly believe that complete justice has not been done. I am not a police officer, and I have not done a detailed inquiry, but as per my understanding, complete justice has not been done. I consulted senior lawyers and also took advice from the party (BJP) on the matter. I have decided to write to the (Jharkhand) chief minister (Raghubar Das), requesting him to recommend a CBI probe.” Jayant Sinha had competition: three former BJP MLAs and local saffron groups, seeking to win favour with party high-ups, started a dharna and ‘Tricolour Yatra’ (again, Kathua style) demanding a CBI or NIA inquiry into the Alimuddin Ansari lynching case. These men gave statements suggesting that they and not Sinha were really working to free the accused.
On July 30, a Bench of the Jharkhand High Court shockingly not only granted bail to 8 of the convicts but also suspended their sentence during the pendency of their appeal. When the 8 came out of jail, Jayant Sinha’s men made sure that none but Sinha could claim ‘credit’ for the ‘victory’: they greeted the 8 and took them straight to Sinha’s house where he posed with them, garlanding them and feeding them sweets.
When outrage broke out against this act, Sinha claimed he had just been working for ‘justice’ and ‘due process of law.’ He has, however, never met Mariam Khatoon, wife of the victim Alimuddin Ansari, even once nor expressed legal or moral support for her cause.
The convicts got bail in the HC on the grounds that they were just part of the mob. Columnist Tavleen Singh, who had sharply criticized Sinha’s move initially, tweeted “After tweeting against Jayant Sinha for garlanding a lynch mob I have come upon new information. The court order releasing the men on bail says they were in the mob but not involved in the lynching. In my view he should have stayed away in any case.” What to make of this defence of the men Sinha garlanded?
For killers, there is safety in numbers: if a mob killed a man, it is difficult to pin specific responsibility for murder on individual men, since each can claim someone else was the killer. In a court of law, they may thus escape on a technicality. But the thing about mobs is that it is those who are ‘merely present in the mob’ who actually enable the killers to kill. The mob’s menacing violence provides the “chakravyuh” (defensive formation) that traps the victim and prevents rescue. What exactly was BJP leader Nityanand Mahto doing in the mob? Sure, maybe it was not him who was up front dealing the fatal blow: as a leader he would be directing the operation and getting his minions to do the deed. Did he call the police or use his influence to try to rescue the victim? Clearly not. Morally therefore, he (and the other members of the mob) have Alimuddin Ansari’s blood on their hands. Jayant Sinha and the BJP have been saying that Ansari was killed by the police in their custody, not by the mob. In a state ruled by their own party, why then has no action been taken to identify the allegedly guilty policemen and act against them!
Sinha is no exception. A series of BJP leaders have taken pains to show that they stand by the lynch mobs not the victims.
Modi’s Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma paid tribute to one of the accused in the Dadri lynching (who died of kidney failure in jail) by wrapping his body in the national tricolor flag – a gesture usually reserved for soldiers or heads of state.
Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria accused Pehlu Khan, the 2017 Alwar lynching victim of cow smuggling and later hailed it when the six accused named by the victim were given a clean chit.
Soon after Pehlu Khan was lynched in Alwar, BJP’s three-time MLA from Ramgarh in Alwar Gyandev Ahuja (infamous for claiming to have counted 3000 condoms in JNU) declared that anyone who killed a cow would be killed. He defended the killers saying “They, like me, see the cow as their mother and they are now attacking the cow-slaughterers and cow-smugglers saying it is an order from their mother, the cow.
Gau Mata Ka Aadesh Hai, they feel.” No surprise then that in July 2018, yet another man Rakbar Khan has been killed by a lynch mob on the pretext of cow protection in Alwar.
Days after Jayant Sinha garlanded the Ramgarh lynchers, another Modi Cabinet Minister Giriraj Singh met riot-accused Bajrang Dal and VHP activists in Bihar’s Nawada jail, shedding tears for them in front of media cameras saying “It is very saddening to see that the government feels that communal harmony will be there only if they suppress Hindus.”
Jharkhand Minister CP Singh claimed Swami Agnivesh orchestrated the mob attack on himself because he is “a fraud and not a Swami." In a speech during the 2014 Parliamentary election campaign in the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli area BJP President Amit Shah rationalised anti-Muslim riots that had taken place the previous year: “Why do riots happen? No one is fond of rioting. But when a community violates the honour of our daughters and sisters, and the administration does nothing, people are forced to riot.”
Modi himself as Gujarat CM infamously rationalised the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 in Newtonian terms as a ‘reaction’ (pratikriya) to ‘action’ (kriya).
The Ramgarh conviction by a fast track court was a rare instance where a glimmer of justice flickered through the dark night of injustice. Now that verdict is on the fast track to being reversed.
In other lynching cases justice is a far cry.
Narendra Modi was sworn in as PM on 26 May 2014. Exactly a week later, on 2 June, 2014, 24-year old employee in a software firm, Mohsin Shaikh, was lynched to death in Pune while on his way back from Namaaz, by a mob of ‘Hindu Rashtra Sena’ men, who targeted him solely because he had a beard and appeared recognizably Muslim. Mohsin was the first Muslim to fall prey to the Sanghi lynch-mobs who felt emboldened and vindicated by Modi’s win.
22 men were arrested and jailed for Mohsin’s murder, but now, all but two have got bail and are free. Granting bail to three of the accused in January 2017, the Bombay High Court, admitting that a speech by Hindu Rashtra Sena leader Dhananjay Desai had instigated the mob with communal sentiments, had said: “The applicants/accused otherwise had no other motive such as any personal enmity against the innocent deceased Mohsin. The fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion. I consider this factor in favour of the applicants/accused. Moreover, the applicants/accused do not have a criminal record and it appears that in the name of the religion, they were provoked and have committed the murder.” This bail order suggested that killing someone simply because of their religious identity; because he is a Muslim; because of communal hatred instigated by someone, is a lesser offence than committing murder because of some other motive! It construed a Muslim’s very identity as a provocation.
Mohsin’s parents and brother still await justice in vain.
On 18 March 2016 32-year old Mazloom Ansari and 12-year old Imtiaz Khan were lynched by a mob led by local BJP man Vinod Prajapati, and hanged from a tree. Imtiaz’s father Azad Khan witnessed the killing and identified Prajapati as the prime accused, along with 12 of his associates. But Prajapati was never arrested, and managed to get anticipatory bail from the Jharkhand High Court! Mazloom’s brother Manauwar has told a reporter that Prajapati had hosted Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das at his residence, just a few days before leading the lynch mob. The case drags on, and two years on, the court has yet to manage to record all witness statements.
Since Balumath, 11 more men have been killed by lynch mobs in Jharkhand.
What about the Hapur lynching of June 18, 2018, in which Qasim was killed and Samayuddin was badly injured? The police did not record Samayuddin’s statement though he was an eyewitness, and they are trying to cover up the fact that the pretext of the lynching was “cow protection.” Instead the police and the saffron thugs are threatening Samayuddin to coerce him to support the police version. Dinesh Tomar, a friend of Samayuddin from a neighbouring village, says a police officer threatened him, Samayuddin’s brother Yasin, and Madapur village Pradhan Kamil, to write a “false” report, saying “otherwise you and your family along with Samayuddin will also be put behind bars for cow slaughter…remember whose government this is. It’s better if you stay quiet.” Samayuddin, Yasin and Tomar, with the help of Delhi advocate Vrinda Grover, recorded their statements themselves and e-mailed them to the IG (Meerut).
Meanwhile local VHP and Bajrang Dal groups held rallies demanding release of the accused. Two of the four men arrested for this crime, including the main accused, got bail in less than a month. This, in spite of Samayuddin being an eyewitness, and videos of the incident being available!
Between January 1 and July 6 2018 there have been 61 mob attacks (killing 24 people) sparked by rumours of child-lifting circulated on social media. In 2017, 11 persons were killed in eight separate such attacks.
According to IndiaSpend: “Between January 1, 2017, and July 5, 2018, 33 persons have been killed and at least 99 injured in 69 reported cases. In the first six days of July alone, there have been nine cases of mob violence over child lifting rumours and five deaths, which amounts to more than one attack recorded every day.”
Is WhatsApp the problem? Swaraj Barooah, director at the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bengaluru-based not-for-profit, told IndiaSpend that we should beware of the Government using mob lynchings and fake news to quell dissent on social media while allowing lynchings and instigation to go on unchecked: “Everyone is focusing on these being rumours – and of course the platform’s ability to exponentially magnify the speed and reach of a message being sent is very relevant – but when and why did we normalise vigilante justice in the first place? For instance, would this type of action be okay if these were not rumours, but had actually been true?”
criminologist Vijay Raghavan, dean of the social protection office at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences told IndiaSpend that the lynchings and rumours are “clearly being orchestrated by vested interests,” adding, “We need to properly investigate on a national-level who are the instigators and what are they after–merely arresting people after an incident is not enough.”
AltNews, a fact-checking platform dedicated to combating fake news, recently exposed fake news messages falsely purporting to be from police in the area, claiming armed “gangs of Rohingya Muslims” prowl at night and warning people not to open the door if they hear a child wailing. AltNews found that unlike other viral hoaxes, these messages and the “child-lifting” ruumours changed names of places and police stations depending on the area the messages were being circulated in: “If the rumour is aimed at Rajasthan, it is claimed that the message is circulated by the Rajasthan police to alert citizen of attackers on a prowl. Similarly, if the rumour is aimed at Gujarat, the message suggests Gujarat police has made the announcement.” AltNews observed that this “suggests that there’s constant human intervention in this process as the messages keep altering based on the state/locality it is being circulated in.”
Who has a vested interest in spreading rumours that fuel fear, panic, xenophobia, communal prejudice and violence? Surely the first place to begin investigating should be those who are already fuelling such sentiments with inflammatory fake news online fairly openly, using a vast and effective network – i.e the Sangh and BJP network?
The Rajasthan, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has found that Rakbar Khan was a victim of the growing pattern of extortion in the name of cow protection. The PUCL has stated, ““After having studied collectively with others activists, the lynchings in Mewat area of Rajasthan, it has become clear to the PUCL that Rakbar Khan who had bought two cows from village Ladpur, Ramgarh tehsil, Alwar district and was taking back the cows in the night to his own village Kol near Firozpur Jhirka, Mewat, Haryana, was killed due to extortion. He was killed in Jungle Lalawandi, Ramgarh. It is well known that extortionists under the garb of Gaurakshaks are roaming the streets looking for a prey. If those carrying cows are able to pay the sum demanded, then they are allowed to go or else fired at and killed. This time too this has been the case, as reported by activists from the ground level.”
What will stop this epidemic of lynching?
The Modi Government and BJP Government are not even interested in curbing the phenomenon of lynching – they thrive in the lynch-mob climate. Will they abide by the Supreme Court directives and take steps to combat lynching? Will they run ads on TV warning against fake news and hate-mongering that could lead to lynching? It is doubtful.
Last year, on Independence Day – August 15 – BJP leader Ram Madhav wrote an op-ed piece in the Indian Express in which he gleefully referenced lynch mob killings, asserting that “The mob, humble people of the country, are behind Modi. They are finally at ease with a government that looks and sounds familiar. They are enjoying it.” Only a liberal minority was unhappy or concerned about mob lynchings, he wrote.
It is for us, the people of India to prove Madhav and Modi wrong, to reject the attempts to turn us all into hate-crazed mobs, to fight the fascist and divisive forces that are cynically trying to ‘divide and rule’.
The Rajasthan police’s treatment of Rakbar Khan, the latest victim of mob lynching in Rajasthan’s Alwar displays a chilling, casual cruelty that is perhaps the surest sign of how close India is to fascism. An NDTV reporter Harsha found that the police picked up the badly injured Rakbar but did not rush him to hospital. Instead, they kept him in their custody for 3 hours and 45 minutes as they took their time, washing mud off Rakbar, going to the house of the so-called ‘cow-protector’ who made the call to the cops, to arrange vehicles to take the seized cows to a shelter, dropping in at the police station next to the hospital, and even stopping to have a leisurely cup of tea! By the time they got him to hospital, he was dead. An eyewitness also told NDTV that she saw the police beating the injured Rakbar.
The Alwar police’s conduct clearly shows that the Hapur police’s conduct, in which cops calmly surfed their phones as they led a mob dragging the victim on the ground behind them, was no accident or aberration – it is ‘normal’, desired conduct for police in BJP-ruled states.
In her Written Submissions filed before the Supreme Court for the petitioner Tushar Gandhi, Senior Advocate Indira Jaising along with advocates Warisha and Sadan Farasat drew a comparison between racial lynching in the Jim Crow era in the US, and targeted lynchings of Muslims and Dalits in India today. Excerpts from that submission are below:
Between the American Civil War and the World War II, the US witnessed an era of racial subordination and segregation where thousands of African Americans were lynched on the basis of their race and color. Lynching in the US was a tool to reinforce the Jim Crow laws that enforced the principles of racial subordination and segregation by restricting civil liberties and civil rights of the African Americans which paved way for white supremacy or, in simple terms, imposed a post-slavery system of racial dominance. The lynchings in the United States can be categorized as having one or more of the following features:
a) Lynchings that resulted from a wildly distorted fear of inter-racial sex
b) Lynchings in response to casual social transgressions
c) Lynchings based on allegations of serious violence/crime
d) Public spectacle lynchings
e) Lynchings that escalated into large-scale violence targeting the entire African American community
f) Lynchings of sharecroppers, ministers, and community leaders who resisted mistreatment.
Similarly in India, the suspicious circumstances of murders/killings of the numerous citizens in Indian belonging to the minority community (Muslims/Dalits) involve one or more of the following features:
a) False pretext of carrying/possessing cow for slaughter/ eating beef
b) On the basis of the apparel, which may include either a kurta or a prayer cap ‘taqiyah’
c) On the basis of their appearance, including keeping a beard.
The two incidents (lynchings of Qasim at Hapur and Afrazul at Rajsamand) are gruesome and prove that lynching of Muslim in India have become a badge of honour for the perpetrators.
Similarly, in the United States, between the 1880s and the 1960s, the lynchings of African Americans was legitimized by the society. Burnt, mutilated, injured bodies of lynched African Americans were photographed and converted into postcards which were sent to family and friends along with cheerful messages. Some of these postcards also contained the confident poses struck by the lynchers as a mark of victory and of the bystanders. The fact that these lynchers and bystanders took pride after lynching an African American only showed that lynchings were perceived to a legitimate action and not a crime as the perpetrators did not feel the need to hide their identities. (Submissions of this paragraph are heavily drawn from: Equal Justice Initiative, ‘Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, Second Edition, 2015)