Where is the Love?
With lynching and mob attacks on the rise, our society is moving towards a new form of primitivism; as usual the poor fall into the trap facing the backlash of this new ideological drive, explores Radhika Dutt.
In the garb of sanctity, India is witnessing a fresh boot of barbarism, where the new rule of law is ruthless lawlessness. Surprisingly, or not, the communal hatred that individuals have been fuelling within themselves has been brought to the forefront in the form of public massacre. The policy of protecting the holy cow, while a holy act, has taken on a most nasty and unholy colour. It has resulted in 63 cases of mob violence over the last seven years, 97 per cent of these events occurring since 2014, as has been reported by an India Spend data analysis. The most painful aspect amid all the data is possibly this – of the 28 people killed in cow related violence, 24 have been Muslims, which is a whopping 86 per cent.
The victims and perpetrators both belong to the lowest rungs of society - an ironical tragedy we must battle. While hatred is rampantly spread it may be time to pause and reflect – what makes the average Indian so angry; can it just be the cow?
The most recent incident which saw nationwide outrage and protests was the killing of young Junaid on a train, as he was returning to his home in Ballabgarh, prior to Eid celebrations. What is alleged to have been an argument over seats, was indeed an argument over eating beef – which ultimately took the life of an innocent teenager in the most brutal manner possible, as he was repeatedly stabbed by fellow passengers. There were no men in saffron flags here to be blamed for the killing of Junaid. These were ordinary citizens in a compartment of 200 plus people, and not one person flinched to protect the young boy. This speaks volumes of the humanitarianism that is running in the blood of the common Indian man today. There is tension, there is violence, and above all, there is immense hatred for anyone who doesn't abide by 'my ideology'. What gave birth to this politics of hatred? Have we intrinsically been hateful individuals masked in the ironed shirt and suit of respectful civilisation?
"The attacks are increasingly in the name of religion. Junaid gave his seat up for an old man when he was asked to. Despite that, people in the compartment started shoving him and calling him hateful communal names. They said he has eaten gosht, he is a mullah - that was reason enough for them to kill him," said a validly angry Mohd Asruddin, cousin of 16-year-old Junaid, who fell victim to harsh communal strife. "The Indian Constitution gives us the right to practice our religion. We will not let some mindless men dictate their terms to us and change our way of life," he added. There is a palpable fear within the Muslim community residing in the country, who despite being large in numbers, are being pushed into the bracket of helpless minorities.
Junaid's case has been the most recent of several cases occurring across the last few years. And it isn't only the Muslims. Dalits in Una had been repeatedly flogged, allegedly for killing and skinning a cow, which was later testified to have been killed by a lion in the Gir forest. In a restricted space, the enemies of any majority sect are yet again finding their ground slipping in discomfort. From the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, in September 2015, for allegedly carrying beef, to the lynching of a couple in Madhya Pradesh in 2016 over similar allegations, to the attack on a Dalit family in Karnataka in June 2016, to the Pehlu Khan murder in Alwar in April 2017, to the death of two men in Assam in April this year, to the killing of Ayub Pandith in Srinagar in June – lynching of fellow men over baseless allegations has spread across the length and breadth of the country. There is a chain reaction of hatefulness which if unabated carries the potential to tear apart the Indian sub-continent.
Poverty has been an irrevocable aspect of Indian society. It is disturbing how acceptable it has become for us to know that over half of our population still lives in dingy outlets, where a single room accommodates an entire living family. With the growth of social media, there has been a dangerous proximity of the underprivileged to the virtual lives of the rich – which in turn, gives birth to an undeniable sense of anger and hatred. Alongside this there is rampant discrimination – on caste, class, religion, creed, and gender – you name it, we have it. An accumulation of steeped anger towards a rigid system, multiplied by proximity to 'what could have been,' further amplified by validation of fundamental actions has given us this – a population that is raring to have a go at one other at the drop of a hat.
There is a dangerous trend on the rise that shows no immediate signs of containment. "The Prime Minister says that nobody should take law into their own hands, but was the law being implemented when a dairy farmer is attacked, or when the food in somebody's fridge is checked? It is the duty of the government to maintain law and order. If you fail to maintain law and order then you do not deserve to be in the government," echoed a vocal Karuna Nundy, lawyer, who spoke out on a recent news debate. She argued for what many within the nation feel; an inadequacy of the government to ensure the protection of its very own citizens – where the government as a guardian is not doing enough – neither in terms of protection nor punishment.
"This is a consequence of a larger malice. Policemen are becoming mute spectators of crime, such men are not worthy of their uniform," echoed a forthright Vikram Singh, former DGP of Uttar Pradesh. Further adding, "Nothing deserves precedence over the law of the land. A policeman has to observe law first. The state must come down heavily on the police forces and check on this kind of complacency. Adequate punishment has to be meted out."
But, who are we going to punish? While a crime, stands a crime irrespective of who commits it – the larger problem is a prevalent narrative that is trickled down from the top. The real criminals are rarely the ones who are physically committing the crimes; like most smart offenders – they stay behind curtains, comfortable in the luxury of their homes. The poor are distraught; they are the weapons of destruction, while also being the very subjects that are destroyed.
"While we may deny the case of identity politics, this really is a strong case of identity politics with respective players trying to trump with their own cards," says Vikramjit Banerjee, senior advocate and member of the BJP legal cell. Adding, "The state is undeniably responsible for ensuring law and order, but we must understand this is also a consequence of ascertaining a kind of regulation. The underground cattle trade is deeply fraught with irregularities and illegalities. Any attempt to contain this nuisance seems to be an attack on life choices. It is not."
Yet, in the process of regulation, one can never warrant irregularities which surface in the form of extreme violence leading to the death of innocent individuals. Day by day we are witnessing a return to primitive society where citizens take law into their own hands, and the institution of justice is diminished in its paradigmatic scope.
The Prime Minister made a clear statement a week after Junaid's killing, calling out to the self-emboldened cow vigilantes – condemning their acts of violence, picking up the example of Mahatma Gandhi. "It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister or the President has to intervene in these matters. It is a clear failure of the state governments. They should put five cases into the Fast Track Courts, take out a judgment and imprison the culprits. Make an example of the effect of wrongdoing in society. Words mean nothing unless you can follow it up with strict action," says Vikram Singh.
"The Prime Minister is a respected man in society. He has come out very clearly against the hate mongers, and investigations on all cases are underway. The Prime Minister's message has been very clear – reverence of the cow must be limited," said Banerjee, who also spoke strongly for strict prosecution against all culprits irrespective of caste, creed or community. "Vigilantism must be prosecuted. But the larger challenge is to prosecute the cause that gives birth to vigilantism," he rightly added. The cause, a narrative to propagate any majoritarian ideology, negating India's diversity, is a challenge that is at the hands of the Centre.
While the battle of ideologies continue to wreck the houses of parliament, the common man on the street falls victim to misguided philosophy. To protect the cow is holy – but to kill a human in the name of protection of the cow is far stretched from any kind of sanctimony. The problem with any fundamental discourse is this- the common man never knows where to draw the line. He not only falls victim to this fallacy, but he also becomes the vehicle with which this fallacy is carried on.
"I adorn my religion on my physical identity with pride. And I will continue to do so," says Asruddin. "I had a friend who was Hindu, and we spent a lot of time together, we even ate out of the same plates. Now, he doesn't even turn to look at me. Instead, he calls me hateful names. I stop to think, when did this happen to our country?" he adds with great lament. Further saying, "Before 1947, Hindus and Muslims ate and lived together. There was no idea of us being different, then why now? Why can't we go back to that time, when we lived as one? Our India needs us to live as one."
As our Prime Minister repeatedly invokes Mahatma Gandhi, it is imperative to recall the emphasis Gandhi laid on creating a community that is divorced from differences of caste, creed, class, and community. While Ambedkarites may argue otherwise, he took it upon himself to diminish the difference that existed between the Hindu castes, where the Harijan was akin to vermin. Perhaps, it is time to go back to those days of our history books and reflect on the relevance of an equal community, where independence begins with the practice of Swarajya – self-governance. Without Gandhi, it is probably difficult to move ahead in our very diverse society. What Nehru said lamenting on the fateful night of January 30, 1948, has never been truer than today, "The light has gone out of our lives... We must hold together."
As law takes it course to punish the criminals, citizens of our country must wake up to the call of humanitarianism. Greed, anger, lust, violence are gradually becoming precursors of individual action; but, where is the love?