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Modi & lynchings

April 06, 2019

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The writer is an author and a lawyer.
The writer is an author and a lawyer.

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi’s characterisation of the mobs that lynch Muslims as crazy is as belated as it is futile. People who commit such crimes are not ‘crazy’. They are maliciously violent criminals. His description belittles their crime almost to the point of defending it. People ask why lynchings have spread like the plague since he became prime minister five years ago. The reason is that, for the most part, they are his ideological supporters. In all these five years, not once did he denounce them — for fear of losing his rabidly communal followers’ support. In effect, he condoned them. His calculated silence was treated as approval.

Heads of the state and government are the nation’s teachers. Their praise and denunciation mould public opinion. Jawaharlal Nehru — whom the Hindutva-besotted RSS and its political department, the BJP, hate — never failed to denounce such crimes. Nor, for example do the prime ministers of the United Kingdom or the presidents of the United States; bar, of course, Donald Trump. Former president Barack Obama never hesitated to denounce outrages against African Americans. “It could have been me,” he said on one famous occasion.

Perpetrators of the crime were lionised; their victims ignored.

Southern states of the United States were once famous for lynchings of African Americans. In most cases it was the Ku Klux Klan that staged them. They are all but extinct now, though police excesses against African Americans continue off and on. There is more than one reason for their decline. Since 1964, African Americans began to register themselves as voters. In 1964, this writer saw groups of white students at Harvard going south to help poor, uneducated African Americans enrol as voters. Soon, white racist politicians changed their policies. They needed black votes to win. In India, Muslims have yet to appreciate the potency of their votes.

In the United States and Britain, those who espouse the claims of racial or religious minorities are not denounced. In India, they are branded as ‘communalists’ who draw on this ‘vote bank’. But the BJP assiduously seeks the RSS’s support in every election. It provides money as well as muscle. The RSS and the BJP openly direct their political aims and policies to seek the Hindu vote. India’s Ku Klux Klan is in the driving seat of power. Muslim politicians in ‘secular’ parties like the Congress run for cover whenever an issue affecting Muslims arises. Not one of the Muslim members of the cabinet of P.V. Narasimha Rao, himself a closet RSS man, resigned when Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. The police are indifferent, if not worse.

Over the years, since 1980, an atmosphere of ‘anti-minorityism’ has been created. One is grateful to NGOs and activists who speak up for Muslims. Modi’s ascent to power removed all checks on the lynchers. The United Nations Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, E. Tendayi Achiume, reported that “Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been linked to incidents of violence against members of Dalit, Muslim, tribal and Christian communities.”

The first years of Modi’s regime saw a virulent propaganda for cow protection. One case that was widely noticed and led to condemnation was that of Pehlu Khan of Haryana. He was lynched to death on April 1, 2017 in the presence of his son, who said, “We had two cows and two calves in the truck ... and papers to show that they were bought at the cattle fair in Jaipur. They tore the papers up and looked at my father’s beard and said you are Muslims. Then they started beating us with hockey sticks and belts. They said they were from the Bajrang Dal.”

This body was set up by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as a spear arm. It was in the forefront of L.K. Advani’s march preceding the demolition of Babri Masjid. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath prides himself on being a great protector of cows. Spread of the crime is ably documented by Zia Us Salam in his book Lynch Files. The targets are Muslims, Dalits and Christians. The areas affected fall in BJP-ruled states. Perpetrators of the crime were lionised; their victims ignored.

In an atmosphere charged with group hatred, violence against the targeted group follows naturally. The Jaganmohan Reddy Commission on the Ahmedabad riots of 1969 said, “What could be expected from law-enforcing and government agencies is a proper appreciation of the communal atmosphere prevailing in a state, in a town or in any particular place or locality, to anticipate trouble and to take steps to nip it in the bud or to deal with it firmly when such a situation does arise.”

This becomes impossible if the state itself supports those who spread group hatred and use violence to fulfil their aims. The law and order machinery becomes an arm of such forces. Prosecutors become defence counsel. The entire society gets affected.

The writer is an author and a lawyer.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2019