Protests in India and abroad against ‘lynching’ 

New forces, not dependent on passive political or religious platforms, are being unleashed. They are independent, secular, progressive and they believe in Indian democracy and its historical ethos

A van with a display board in London, outside the Lord’s cricket ground, calls upon Indians to put an end to the unending spate of mob lynchings
A van with a display board in London, outside the Lord’s cricket ground, calls upon Indians to put an end to the unending spate of mob lynchings

Amit Sengupta

Outside the Lord’s cricket ground in London, as the world watched the tense World Cup cricket final between the Kiwis and England, a van with a huge electronic board moved slowly but purposefully outside the stadium. People could not help but notice it, even as international reporters looked on quizzically. The board had a message written in big letters

Across the clear blue sky over the stadium in Headingley, Leeds, in one of the key climatic matches between India and Sri Lanka, a helicopter suddenly emerged in the blue sky with a huge fluttering banner:

Help end mob-lynching in India. It flew in the sky and the message spread across TV screens and social media all over the world. Similar banners, flown by small aircrafts, had also appeared on Kashmir when India played.

The BCCI was outraged – apparently because the Indian government in Delhi too was outraged. But the word had spread, across land and sky, that mob-lynching goes on unabated in India under the current BJP-led regime, with tacit and overt support of the Sangh Parivar and the ruling dispensation at the Centre and in the states ruled by the BJP.

The relentless, grotesque and brutal lynching of young Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand, tied to a tree, on cooked up charges as it was proved even by committees set up by the BJP government in the state, as a public spectacle, became viral on social media, if not in the mainstream media. But the killing could not be entirely overlooked by the MSM either.

It outraged the nation. The five-minute video went viral but no one had the guts to watch it for more than one minute, so graphic and grotesque was the physical assault. Predictably, the killers went scot free initially, the police kept the severely injured Tabrez in the police station for 48 hours without food, water or medical treatment. By the time he was taken to the hospital, he had succumbed to his injuries. A terrible and violent death for the young man who was on vacation from Pune, where he worked, and who was planning to return in a few days with his bride.

This seems to be the ‘new normal’ in a state where a Union Minister had openly distributed sweets and garlanded the accused who had earlier murdered Alimuddin in another public spectacle at Ramgarh. Earlier, a young boy and a cattle trader were hanged from a tree because they were taking their own buffalos to a cattle fair in Palamu.

Two professionals who had just returned from the Middle East as a second hand car seller and plumber, were lynched in public by a 3,000-strong crowd near Godda. Another Muslim man on a cycle was lynched to death in Godda again on false charges of being a cow thief. While Jharkhand has regularly reported mob lynching, several other states including Rajasthan and Haryana have not been far behind.

These public murders followed a familiar pattern. The district administration and police would disappear for long hours while the public assault and lynching continue for hours, watched with evident glee by large crowds of onlookers in a public place or square, even while holding up traffic. In almost all cases, onlookers did not dare interfere, raise their voice or stop the lynching.

After the killings, almost always recorded on their mobile by the perpetrators themselves, the killers would often go around with tilak on their forehead and saffron scarves round their neck, proudly strutting as heroes and, in a sickening exhibition, accepting public adulation and hero-worship.

On Ram Navami and several other Hindu festivals, huge processions would wind their way through the bylanes, right outside the homes of those killed, their family members, wives, mothers and children still mourning and in a trauma, with aggressive slogans taunting the minority community to “Go to Pakistan”. Almost always uniformed police would escort the processions, some would describe them as mob, while the law enforcing agencies and the district administration turn a blind eye to the incendiary, provocative conduct. With this pattern having become almost a Standard Operating Procedure in at least the Hindi heartland, Muslims for all practical purposes have been turned into cowering, second class citizens resigned to their fate.

But following the lynching of Tabrez, there are early signs of resistance. For once the deceased had not been accused of being a cattle thief, eating beef or being a cow-trader. He was instead asked to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’, a new and fast-catching phenomenon after the slogan was shouted by newly-elected BJP MPs in Parliament.

Beaten and kicked, scared for his life, Tabrez did chant that, in semi-consciousness. But that did not save him from the mob. The ruthless and relentless beating by the mob, claiming allegiance to the Sangh Parivar, continued for hours.

After May 23, across India, including in ‘secular’ West Bengal, several cases of Muslims being beaten up and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ were reported. In Bengal, one person was thrown out of the train after he refused to raise the slogan.

But this time protests, big and small, have erupted all over India. There were protests held in 75 big and small towns in India, from Kandhla in western UP to Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. Kerala erupted in protest. There were massive angry protests in Deoband, Surat and Meerut. There were clashes with the police in many places. Hundreds of women and girls, many of them not Muslims, joined the angry protests. No more lynching, they said.

In Delhi, hundreds of youngsters, and not all of them Muslims, shouted slogans while barricades and a huge police presence blocked them. They were angry, they lit candles, they shouted slogans against Narendra Modi, and they said that enough is enough, we won’t tolerate mob-lynching anymore. There were protests in the US too, in Boston, New York, Dallas, and it is continuing.

Said Nadeem Khan, convener of United Against Hate, which organised some of the protests in India: “There was no political or religious organisation which organised the protests or gave any call, they were largely spontaneous and organised by local citizens groups. There were no banners of any organisation that we could see or that has been reported.

No political party joined the protests or if they participated, they did so anonymously. Most of the slogans said, ‘Justice for Tabrez’. It was a message to Modi and the BJP that people will not take the lawlessness lying down if the atrocities continue. They will come out on the streets and fight against injustice.

“And, finally, the new generation of educated Muslim youth do not carry any baggage – they are part of the civil society, they are secular, they have aspirations, and they believe in Indian democracy. They saw the vicious video, and there was sorrow and rage. It reflected in the intense protests all across India, and sent a message to the government – don’t take us for granted.”

Said an organiser of a rally in Boston: “Lynching starts at the highest political level and has been used by fascists and supremacists to strike terror into the collective consciousness of a community. There is no end to the mass atrocities that will follow.”

Indeed, even police and other sources in the government have noticed the paradigm shift in the mood post May 23. New forces are being unleashed which are not dependent on passive and opportunist political parties or religious organisations. They are independent, secular, modern and progressive – and they believe in Indian democracy and its historical ethos. They will therefore not tolerate the brutality unleashed in the name of religion by Hindutva forces anymore.

A new chapter in a new form of protest has already been reopened.

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