June 16, 2017

India: If vigilante violence is spreading in India, it’s because it has state approval

scroll.in (16 June 2017)

In Rajasthan’s Nagaur district on Thursday, two persons were arrested for thrashing a mentally-ill woman. The incident came to light after a video of the incident was uploaded on social media. In it, the two young men beat the woman as she pleads on the ground. In the end, they force her to say, “Jai Shree Ram” and “Jai Shree Hanuman”, as the crowd around breaks into laughter.
This video comes in a long line of incidents of vigilante violence captured on mobile video – often by the perpetrators themselves. Much of this violence occurs under the cover of religion, most notably cow protection. To dismiss this as a routine law and order problem would be a mistake. With the large social sanction these acts enjoy, they present a grave danger to Indian society. In many cases, vigilante groups enjoy the support of state governments headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Moreover, the Union government itself has said or done nothing to prevent this sort of violence. Instead, it has supported rules to curb cattle slaughter that only seem to encourage this sort of violence.
In the BJP-ruled state of Maharashtra, Haryana and Gujarat, there are plans to hand out gau rakshak IDs. The Union government is playing its part too. All the new Animal Welfare Board members picked by the Modi government had one thing in common: they worked on cows.
On Wednesday, an All India Hindu Convention organised in Goa featured a preacher openly calling for people who eat beef to he hanged. The organisers, the Hindu Janajagriti Samiti, is allied to the Sanathan Sanstha, a far right group accused in the murder of anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in 2013. So far, there has been no action against the preacher nor has the Goa government been questioned about why it gave permission for such an event, given the background of the Sanathan Sanstha.
In Pakistan, where violence by Islamist militants is not only common but enjoys some measure of public legitimacy, the state is struggling to ensure that its writ runs though the country. India is some way off from Pakistan’s situation. But with the hysteria around cow protection and the backing it receives from the state itself, gau rakshak violence enjoys startling legitimacy. By normalising violence from non-state actors, the Indian state will in the end only end up reducing its capacity for action.