Is this the road to Lyncherdom? 

James Baldwin, noted Black American writer, explained in Dark Days that “A mob is not autonomous: it executes the real will of the people who rule the State.”

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Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal

In Harper Lee’s fabulous novel To Kill A Mocking Bird, set in the early 19th century America when Blacks were being oppressed and lynchings by mobs were commonplace, it takes a little girl scout to convince the leader of the mob out to lynch a black man to see things differently through her polite conversation.

So mad with rage is the mob when it comes that it is ready to even kill the white lawyer Atticus (Scout’s father) coming between the mob and the Black man, Robinson. Atticus then explains to his children that a mob is made of people and the leader of the mob (who is known to the family) is “still a man”.

The author brought out the human element in incidents of hatred - the human nature that perpetuates hatred, gets inspired to kill and torture and the one that remains silent or decides to intervene. The mobs involved in lynching incidents across India comprise human beings, all differently inspired to perpetuate hatred or respond in other ways. If there are those fed on propagation of myths and stereo-types invoked through systemic Islamophobia, there are others whose anxieties and daily fears get transformed into intensified sense of insecurity invoked through fake news like that on child-lifter gangs.

There are also those like Shambu Lal inspired by the conviction of their ideology of hate. They are men all right, whether they annihilate unsuspecting individuals in a mad frenzy against child-lifters or in the name of protecting cow slaughter or as is the recent case of an assistant professor from Bihar’s Central University purely for exercising his right to express his dissenting views.

These lynchers are humans who subscribe to a certain idea or are mesmerised by its propagation and submit themselves to a herd mentality, ready to metamorphose themselves into butchers at the slightest of beckoning call. James Baldwin, noted Black American writer, explained in Dark Days that “A mob is not autonomous: it executes the real will of the people who rule the State.”

Giving an example of the slaughter in Birmingham, Alabama, where seven black people were lynched near Screamer, Alabama, in 1888, for drinking from a white man’s well, Baldwin averred that it was not merely the action of a mob. He wrote, “The blood is on the hands of the state of Alabama which sent those mobs into the street to execute the will of the State.”

In India, lynchings are a new fad. Two dozen people have been hacked to death and some others have survived the lynch mobs and this has happened only in a span of last three years - a statistic that probably pales the horrifying memory of America from over a century ago.

The attempt to lynch an assistant professor betrays the manner in which the design to turn the country into Lynchistan, or as Mark Twain said of American case ‘Lyncherdom’, is moving at too fast a pace and headed towards a perilous journey.

Neither in those American dark days of persecution and slavery of Blacks during which time over 4,000, people were lynched between 1877 and 1950, nor in present day India, the State has explicitly sanctioned lynchings. But the state’s functionaries perpetuate the herd mentality through hate speeches, through open felicitations of the mobs accused of murders, through tacit police protection and their abject silence. In the face of much criticism, the government has now announced a new law to tackle the cases of lynchings.

According to recent news reports, a home ministry panel tasked to come out with a draft report on lynching and mob violence has “suggested amendments to the IPC and CrPC to strengthen police hands in taking action against those involved in mob violence, making the crime non-bailable, fast-tracking trial in such cases through special courts, and providing compensation to the victims from a central fund.

The draft report will be submitted to a committee headed by Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba that had been set up by the Home Ministry on July 23 to deliberate and make recommendations for separate penal provisions on incidents of mob violence.” The committee was set up as per the directions of the Supreme Court. Where political will is lacking, there is little that laws can do.

Where political will is fully involved in a systemic way to alter the very social space in India, making the country strikingly contradictory to the secular idea of India which freedom struggle stalwarts like Nehru and Gandhi had pushed for, laws will eventually only become dysfunctional or even used against the victims and the whistle-blowers.

There are already existing laws to deal with mob killings under the Indian Penal Code (RPC in Jammu and Kashmir) sections related to murder. There are also provisions of rioting, though there is as yet no law to specifically deal with hate crimes. However, when the actual problem is lack of political will and poor law enforcement, with obvious signs of this being deliberate coupled with a discourse of normalisation of the lynchings as mundane and insignificant; and shockingly also of celebrating them with great pride, there is precious little that new laws would do. The trend is becoming more and more dangerous. They first attacked the powerless people from among the socio-economic poor among the Muslims and Dalits - labourers, tanners.

The attempt to lynch an assistant professor betrays the manner in which the design to turn the country into Lynchistan, or as Mark Twain said of American case ‘Lyncherdom’, is moving at too fast a pace and headed towards a perilous journey.

In US, it required political will, not new laws, to end the shameful lynchings. The Indian government is not just not taking the need for political will into account, it is also not taking into account the global communication revolution of today. Whipping up frenzy, hatred and intolerance in an age of social media, quicker circulation of rumours and fake news is unleashing a Genie that will come to haunt its own creators eventually. The case of the troll army patronised at the highest echelons of BJP hounding one of their own, Sushma Swaraj, last month offers a little peep into how this pattern of lynching will eventually pan out.

(The author is the Executive Editor at The Kashmir Times)

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