May 02, 2017

India: Two in Nagaon district in central Assam were lynched by a pursuing mob

The Telegraph
2 May 2017

Wrong story

Love is a confusing emotion. It blurs the edges of reality. The excess of love that gau rakshaks feel for the cow and the violence with which they make their benevolent feelings known have begun to confuse perceptions all over the country. When two men of the minority community in Nagaon district in central Assam were lynched by a pursuing mob for allegedly having led away a bull from its pasture, the story fell easily into the dominant narrative of cow vigilantes and their regular murders. The fact that Assam is not one of the states where beef is banned added edge to the episode. What emerged, however, was slightly different. The two men were killed by villagers who had earlier caught them trying to steal goats and had fined them as penalty. Cattle thieves who smuggle their booty into Bangladesh are regularly arrested in the area, and some have been caught and thrashed by villagers close by as well. Stealing and smuggling cattle are actual crimes that have long affected parts of Assam, and have little to do with the new love for cows in the country.
But the story in Nagaon, although not quite part of the larger narrative, still had two chilling features. When asked if gau rakshaks did the lynching, the Nagaon superintendent of police responded that there was nothing communal. That is a revealing answer, perhaps involuntarily so. The sectarian intent of the Bharatiya Janata Party's programme of protecting cows, and the deliberately aggressive tactics of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its cohorts are obviously no secret; what is chilling is the electorate's apparently calm acceptance of it. The consequences of that cannot be reassuring. More immediately frightening, however, is the way lynching has become a routine form of mob violence. Beating up thieves before the law arrives has always been common in India. But lynching seems to be far more commonplace now; is it because the activities of the gau rakshaks who, literally, get away with murder, have made it the most popular form of collective punishment? Political patronage or, rather, positive political encouragement - in spite of occasional promises to bring cow vigilantes to justice from the prime minister and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister - may have given lynching a special place among forms of extra-judicial killing.