In India, the lynchings, which have become the new normal and have replaced communal riots as a scourge of society and polity, did not start with Mohammad Akhlaque in Dadri in 2015; they started with the killing of Mohsin Sheikh in Pune. Alimuddin Anasari and Rakhabar are only the latest names in the list.
For the first time, the culprits did not run away, but instead displayed their victims’ bloodied faces and battered and mutilated bodies as trophies”, said veteran journalist and social commentator Ziya Us Salam at the launch programme of his latest book Lynch Files: The Forgotten Saga of Victims of Hate Crime in Delhi on February 8. “I hope I do not have to write a sequel to this book, and the catastrophic period of 2014- 19 does not return”, Salam continued. The trigger for writing the book was the burial of the news of Rakhbar’s lynching in July 2018, which the media largely tended to ignore or consigned to miniscule columns in print, he said.
Jignesh Mevani, Independent MLA from Gujarat who has also penned the foreword to the book said that the spate of lynchings are reflective of “vomiting the filth” which the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have accumulated since they came into being in 1925. The “barbaric bravado of the lynchers come from the fact that they are not only protected, but also encouraged by the ruling regime. After 2019, when the BJP is voted out of power, we need a massive cultural revolution to cleanse the filth of hate and bigotry which has accumulated in society and polity”, he said.
“Lynching is a one-sided kind of rioting where one sees a complete collaboration of the police machinery with the perpetrators. This normalizing of heinous crimes among substantial sections of society is facilitated by certain sections of the media and social media”, said activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan. Referring to journalist Swati Chaturvedi’s book I Am a Troll, in which she exposed how Narendra Modi encourages bigotry on Twitter courtesy the BJP’s IT Cell, Bhushan said that it is disgraceful to see the prime minister participate in this grotesque vulgarity.” He lamented.
“In three months from now, we will be rid of this government, but the cleansing of the public psyche would be a daunting task. It would require a massive civil society effort to remove this poison and desensitization of humanity”, he said, echoing Mevani.
Speaker after speaker reiterated the need to cleanse out the filth of hatred from society
Professor Apoorvanand Jha of Delhi University, a prolific commentator on society and human rights activist, said that Muslims are not in a position to protest against lynchings as Dalits do, even if they have to bear the brunt of the heinous and gruesome hate crimes. This leads one to suspect if Hindus can think with sympathy and humanity.
Ghazala Jamil, professor at JNU’s Centre for Law and Governance, echoed Apoorvanand and said that “Because Muslims cannot protest lynchings on a pan-India scale, others also feel emboldened, and this leads to a social death.” The narratives in the book are therapeutic, because they give one agency to see what is happening to us, and gather resources to counter it, she said.
She then went on to question the constitution as a secular document, because it disguises the ban on cow slaughter as scientific management and protection of cattle, though some of the founders were vehemently against such an approach.
Veteran journalist and peace activist John Dayal said that Salam’s book is not a “book for Muslims, who have been the major victims of lynchings, but a mirror to India.” Recalling his journeys with Karwaan-e- Mohabbat’s visits to all the victims of lynching, he said that there was a sinister pattern to the incidents- counter cases of illegal cow slaughter have been filed against the surviving family members, especially the male youth. “So instead of fighting for justice, they have been forced to fight to save and protect the living”, he said. “This incandescent Islamophobia has spread so deep, that it would require a new kind of soap to be cleansed out for good”, he asserted.