Vinod Mubayi and Raza Mir


Of all the fanciful descriptors, such as “world’s fastest growing economy,” that Modi and the BJP have bestowed on India in the three years of their rule, the one history is most likely to record during their tenure is “Lynch Mob Nation.”


With the murder of 16-year old Junaid in a crowded commuter train last week on the outskirts of the national capital by an enraged mob of Hindutva followers, for no other ostensible reason than that the victim was a Muslim, India’s position as the leader in lynch mobs is getting cemented. Given the obsessive interest in India in getting into the Guinness Book of World Records, perhaps BJP-ruled India could gain primacy in a new category: “Largest Number of Lynch Mobs” or “Largest Number of Lynch Mob Victims.”


Before Junaid, there was Zafar Hussain, a conscientious communist activist in a small village in Rajasthan, lynched by a gang of municipal workers, led by a municipal official. His crime? Trying to prevent the municipal workers from “shaming” village women; these workers were taking pictures of the women relieving themselves in the open in a poor village where the government has not provided any funds for construction of toilets. Shaming women is a cultural intervention to prevent open defecation, a priority goal of Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, although what women or anyone else is supposed to do in the absence of toilets is not specified. Ironically, Zafar had been running after government authorities for months to obtain funds for toilet construction in his remote village.


Before Zafar there was the dairy farmer Pehlu Khan lynched by a gang of self-styled cow protectors, who are rapidly proliferating over the country, on the highway between Rajasthan and Haryana after legally purchasing dairy cattle at a cattle fair near Jaipur and attempting to transport them to his farm in Haryana. Cow protector gangs who are basically lynch mobs killing Muslims and Dalits with the tacit acceptance of society and the state, the police who fail to arrest them and the witnesses who are too frightened or intimidated to give evidence against them, closely resemble groups like the Ku Klux Klan in the American south over half a century ago, protecting white women from the lustful gaze of black men and lynching black people galore for any made-up transgression that threatened white supremacy.


Before Pehlu, there was a group of Dalits, practitioners of the trade in animal hides, who were thrashed within an inch of their life for skinning a dead cow in Una, Gujarat by another cow protection gang. Reportedly, the cow had been found dead on the edge of Gir forest, probably killed by a lion (Gir forest in Saurashtra is one of few areas in India that harbor lions), where the Dalits chanced on it and began to recover its valuable hide. For the cow goondas, whose animus is focused on Muslims and Dalits, the cow’s prior status made no difference.


Before the Dalits, there was Mohammad Akhlaq, lynched in his own home in a small town in western UP, for allegedly storing and eating “beef” in his own house. The use of social media, in particular the messaging system WhatsApp, apparently played a major role in Akhlaq’s murder as the crowd that barged into his home was incited by messages spread on WhatsApp that Akhlaq was storing beef in his refrigerator. This ultimately turned out to be false when the meat seized from his home was tested in a government laboratory, but the mob is never concerned about “minor” details like evidence.


Lynch mob mentality has the distressing feature of imitation and spread. This was shown very recently in Srinagar, Kashmir by the lynching of a Kashmiri policeman, Mohammad Ayub Pandith, by an irate Muslim Kashmiri mob, in the vicinity of a mosque, who suspected the policeman of secretly surveilling them.


Lynch mob behavior was exhibited earlier by the group of lawyers who assaulted JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar inside the court in the presence of police where he had been brought to be arraigned on a spurious sedition charge. The lawyers who engaged in this egregious behavior were let off without even a proverbial slap on the wrist.


From Akhlaq in 2015 to Junaid in 2017, via Pehlu, Zafar, and Ayub, there have been several other instances of mob lynching but the ones recounted above exemplify the situation.


Ayub’s murder is the only example of a public lynching by a Muslim mob. No doubt, it is a highly reprehensible act that deserves to be duly punished and it probably will be as authority is in the hands of the Indian state, that most Kashmiris have now come to regard as an occupying power. The incendiary political situation in Kashmir, where any symbol of government, which the unfortunate Ayub was, contributed undoubtedly to the dastardly event.


All other lynching has been carried out by Hindutva mobs, with minorities, Muslims and Dalits, and, in some cases like Kanhaiya Kumar, leftist students, as targets. It is revealing that the tweeter-in-chief in India, Prime Minister Modi, has studiously avoided chastising his bhakts who have committed and continue to commit the vast majority of the lynchings. He uttered a very mild admonition after the Una incident but promptly dropped the issue thereafter. The horrific killing of the teenager Junaid by a mob in a crowded commuter train initially elicited no comment from him. Modi was in the US busy tweeting to or about his main tweet competitor, Donald Trump.


Finally, after the spirited “Not in My Name” demonstrations against lynching broke out in the capital and many other Indian cities, and also began to attract unfavorable publicity abroad, Modi was moved to tweet another mild admonition, this time invoking the name of Mahatma Gandhi against violence. Appropriating the apostle of non-violence to its political ends is a cheap stunt on the part of BJP. Everyone knows that Mahatma was assassinated by a votary of Hindutva, a former member of the RSS, which is itself Modi’s parent organization, and the guiding body of the BJP. Modi has never apologized for the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 where well over a thousand Muslims were mercilessly butchered at the hands of Hindutva mobs during Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister. In fact, he compared the murdered Muslims to a puppy trapped under the wheels of a speeding car. So it is a bit of “too little, too late,” for him to invoke Gandhi’s name to decry the lynchings being committed by his bhakts.

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