June 01, 2016

India: Tough laws must deter street justice (Edit, The Tribune)

The Tribune - May 31, 2016


Killing for dissimilarity
Tough laws must deter street justice

DELHI has witnessed the blood of a guest of the country spilt on its streets. Because he looked different, the mob that pounded him to death was confident no one would intervene. The pattern of mob violence was the same in Jalandhar four years ago and elsewhere in the country — a belligerent crowd amps up a disagreement and then collectively waylays the person dissimilar in looks, accent or religious persuasion. African missions are naturally worked up over what they see is a pattern — civilians raiding the homes of Africans, public thrashing for boisterousness and plain brutal street lynching.

The ugly Indian who is taking to the streets is in his element. He is out to thrash any baddie who he thinks needs to be taught a lesson in a “language he understands”. A more sinister pattern emerged after the Hindutva proponents regrouped following the 2004 Lok Sabha election defeat. Exhibitions were ransacked, books burnt, mobs harangued youngsters in love and sword-wielding men roughed up truck occupants on the assumption that they were worthy of a thrashing because the cargo might be beef. And now after the 2014 Lok Sabha victory, this ugly Indian feels emboldened. There is an alarming itchiness, always ready to take offence at anyone who does not conform to the “Bharatiya” code of behaviour. India’s image stands besmirched with allegations of racism.

The Modi government can hardly hope to attract foreigners for business, leisure or study if its lumpen allies are allowed to turn the country’s streets into an unpredictably dangerous zone for anyone not looking like a typical “Indian”, whatever that is supposed to mean. India, more now than at any other time, requires a crash course on bigotry and narrow-mindedness. More than improving the ease of doing business, the government should tweak the laws to ensure Hindutva thugs and those taking inspiration from their actions do not turn the streets into an arena for their deadly craft.