June 26, 2017

India: Lynch mob republic (Ipsita Chakravarty)

scroll.in - 26 June 2017

Lynch mob republic

by Ipsita Chakravarty

Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi has opined that lynchings are not a new phenomenon; they are “feudal” in nature. They do “shake the conscience” today, but that must be because they are “over hyped and over reported”. This on a day when reports emerged of three Muslim men being lynched in North Bengal, and just days after a 16-year-old Muslim boy was beaten to death on a train in Haryana and a 57-year-old was killed outside a mosque in Kashmir on June 22. Mehrishi’s remark, which seems to suggest that such incidents should be shrugged off as normal, is frightening.

Certainly, a lynching is an atavistic form of violence, ritualised and spontaneous at the same time, drawing on crude notions of mob justice, enacting a society’s deepest fears and paranoias, its need to find a scapegoat. There are no official records to prove whether such incidents are on the rise or not; the fact that they are being reported and discussed now can only be a step in the right direction.

But a certain kind of lynching is undeniably a product of the current political climate and the majoritarian frenzy it has enabled. Almost all the victims have been individuals from the minority community. All the attackers have been members of an empowered majority – they just happened to be a different community in Kashmir. Many of these killings have been in the name of cow protection laws advocated by the Central and state governments with a new zeal. Mobs now kill with a sense of impunity, with many drawing out cell phones to film the act of violence. It is not enough to deal out death, it must be witnessed and commemorated, making the act of killing a symbolic one, reenacted again and again in the virtual world. In 19th and early 20th century America, grim memorabilia from the lynchings of black people could be bought for a small price. Modern technology has ensured that the event itself can be experienced repeatedly, for free.

Most chilling is the government’s own silence on this rash of violence. On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on his radio show, “Mann ki baat”, holding forth on yoga, the origins of the word “juggernaut”, toilets and the Emergency. But the lynchings that have occurred over the last few days passed without comment. So the home secretary’s breezy remarks should not come as a surprise. Lynchings may not be new, but this culture of political acquiescence certainly is.