Violence has always been a tool of oppression, suppression and subordination. Though every form of violence is illegal according to the law of the land, dominant social forces (upper castes/classes) often justifies employing certain forms of violence as they believe that they are essential to keep the supposedly holy and sacred religious, social and cultural systems and customs alive without which foundations of not only customs and rituals which auxiliary to religion but also the very basic foundations of the religions itself would crumble. In India, most of the dominant religions have been employing lynching as tool of keeping followers and critiques in submission and in control respectively. However, caste and communal Hindus have been using it consistently than custodians of other religions. Caste Hindu society has the tradition of using lynching as a weapon of protecting the social hierarchy, religious, ritualistic and cultural purity. From Vedic times to today, lynching has been a tool of suppression for the lower castes in India. Despite the pressure from Buddhism in the early ancient India and Islam and Christianity in the early medieval and modern India, both the radical political communal/caste Hindus and uneducated but indoctrinated innocent/ignorant Hindus have been successful in employing violence. When social positions in the social hierarchy are sanctioned by religion, the social position alone cannot be protected as such protection does not hold the ground when it’s very roots are rooted in the religion. Therefore, in Hinduism, caste and religion are not two different entities. One cannot survive without the other. If caste as a social hierarchy was de-hinduised, chances are greater for the annihilation of caste system. It is impossible to de-hinudise caste. Every attempt to reform Hindu religion was met with clever strategies of not only to keep the religion safe but also it generated newer methods of expansion. The Hinduism’s response to reforms in medieval and modern times was aggressive Hinduisation of a culture that was hardly de-hinduised under the impact of the entry of new cultures and the hinduisation of a culture (mostly untouchable and adivasis) that is out of its ambit. For the appropriation of the non-Hindu culture into its fold and for keeping elements within its fold to be loyal its basic tenets, Hinduism has been using lynching. Every time, the social other within Hinduism fights for human dignity, decency and equality, they faced massacres, brutal deaths, public humiliation, physical violence, gang rapes, chopping of genitals and other body parts burning alive, beheading, inserting things into private parts and butchering. Physical violence is multifunctional. However, it is allocated with different functions according to the objectives of the perpetrators. In India, among the communities which continuously subjected to the lynching have been untouchables, adivasis and women. Lynching in India is not new. Its notoriety and unacceptability is only being recognised now. Uncountable episodes of physical violence (only reported) in the history of physical violence in India faced by dalits would inform that even after the independence the caste Hindus have refused to recognise dalits as humans with dignity and rights and continue to employ lynching as a tool of keeping them under control and reminding them of their social position. Employing lynching as a tool of control over dalits who questions the domination of the upper caste and becomes assertive to seek equality has not been seen as abnormal unusual as if it is not as crime. Lynching dalits was normalised because the casteless questioning the caste Hindus destabilises the social order. Therefore, lynching the rights conscious, aggressive and assertive dalits was seen essential to keep the social order intact. The story is the same with women across all castes and communities. Not until the communal other is subjected to the same violence, the abnormality of lynching is being recognised, debated and discussed. At least, now, lynching is being recognised as inhuman crime and the civil society is actively examining the political and social functions of lynching. Like Afro-Americans in United States of America, dalits have been at the disposal of the caste Hindus.
Since its emergence, the radical right in India with clear objectives and intentions, has been employing lynching to achieve temporary and long time objectives as well. From 1990s, India has witnessed many small and large communal riots and every episode has performed their allocated functions. However, there is a difference between the communal riots of pre and post 2015. Mahammad Aklaq’s in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh lynching is beginning of new era in the history of violence in India. While the Gujarat communal riots 2002 where more than thousand Muslims killed were to take revenge against Godhra train accident where hindu sadhus were burned to death for which Muslims in the Godhra railway station were allegedly involved, Mahammad Aklaq lynching was not revenge against crime. It was an incident that was used as a stage for announcing the arrival of the right-wing radicals to the nation. The way he was killed by mob and the way the law and order responded spelled out what is in store for India. From Aklaq’s in on 28th September 2015 to Subhod Kumar Singh murder on 3rd December 2018, India has witnessed 87 killings in the name of beef, cow theft, cattle trade, disrespecting sentiments and skin trade so on. Selecting cow as a symbol of Hindu religion to invent enemy provided justification and continuity to the lynching. Since, Hindus are majority India, no minority group, be it a caste minority or religious minority, even if they were troubled, discriminated and tortured would involve in physical violence against Hindus. They believed in democratic institutions and fought for justice.
Cow has helped to target four supposedly common enemies of hindutva: Muslims, Christians, dalits anti-hindus (Secularist, rationalists, atheists and humanists). Except the fourth, rest of the communities, either as eaters of beefs or as leather traders are connected with cattle if not cow alone are first stamped as cultural/religious enemies and then getting killed in broad daylight. For hindutvawadis, Muslims are historical enemies, Christians are convertors and dalits are ideological enemies. The fourth is a composite community which is drawn from all sections of society is also ideological enemies even if some of them are Hindus by identity if not in practice. All of these have to be brought into submission one or other way for realising the dream of Hindu Rastra. When for the first time, India has witnessed, lynching, a never before kind of violence where a person could be killed on rumour/s by mob and it is then be followed by the backing of the law and order to the perpetrators of crime instead of the victim and the relatives of the killed are continuously victimised with counter cases and torture, the nation began to see a pattern that is emerging that would encourage the mob to go on killing spree with guilt, fear of law, remorse and victims to face heat of law and order, humiliation, pain and suffering.
When Akhalq family was slapped with chargers of holding beef and when Pehlu Khan’s son was shot at while going to court, it became quite clear that BJP government at centre and its governments in twenty states which would draw certain amount of political capital from such communal mob attacks have been directly/indirectly granting licences to mobs to kill their ‘enemies’. If Hindutvawadis of post-2014 took it for granted that they can kill for any alleged violation of Hindu religion and culture, it is impunity they enjoy from the law and order maintaining agencies. In other words, script is written by the perpetrators of the crimes and the government acts according to the script. They both involve a reciprocal relationship. Freehand to the fringe elements generated required political capital for BJP governments, fringe elements grow at the support of the government into powerful social organisations which furthers their social position and power. When a social group which is majority in the nation places its religious and cultural identity as a national identity, it naturally acquires the rights of defining what is nation, who are nationalists, what is national culture? It is the case with white Europeans in USA, Israelis in occupied Palestine and Hindus in India. Here, democracy is subjected to severe suffocation. Majoritarian governments consciously transform democracies into authoritarian rule, use democracy as a tool of fulfilling its goals or eventually, if majority is in power for long, democracy might die a natural death. It is always be indifferent to democracy. When it acquires political power it’s declaration as an unchallengeable power symbolically comes through various actions of the government machinery and groups belong to its ideology. Lynching of the religious, caste and ideological enemies is just one of part of it. The majoritarian government in consultation with the ideological think tanks draws plans and strategies to reap maximum out of the given opportunity. In the process of doing so, all time-tested, accepted and appreciable traditions of democracy would either be diluted, criticised, dumped and demeaned. Democracy, unfortunately, allows these governments and the majority to enjoy more powers than the common citizens of the nation. Even laws would be amended to allow the majority to dance on the streets. In the post-2014, the emergence of Gau Rakshak, moral policing and Ghar Vapsi groups throughout the nation backed by the local and state governments went on rampage on roads, beating, injuring, insulting and humiliating citizens of the nation, especially in north and northeast India explains how governments were backing these grops. Gau Rakshas and anti-Romeo groups came into existence after Yogi became Chief Minister of Uttara Pradesh have been acting on behalf of police and assisting police. Except in very cases where police were attacked by the right-wing groups, police are working with the fringe groups from beginning to the end. They have been showing great intelligence in producing alternative facts to reduce the severity of crime and to criminalise the victim and finally dilute the case.
Chief Ministers, central and state ministers, people’s representatives, bureaucrats and leaders of right-wing organisations did not waste time in coming in support of the criminals. Akhlaq to Subhod Kumar Singh, a common pattern that is quite visible is that valorisation of the criminals and criminalisation of the victims. No matter how heinous the crime was, communal social solidarity and institutional help was quite quick. Individuals involved in lynching have been welcomed, honoured, glorified as heroes, offered jobs and loans, appointed as leaders of communal organisations and offered seats of assembly and parliamentary constituencies. This, many ways, normalises the abnormal criminality. And this will continue as long as the majority is in power.
Are we to prepare ourselves to get humiliated, beaten, and killed at the will and wish of the majority in this nation? Subhodh Kumar Singh’s son asked heart touching question i.e. whose father is going to be next (to be killed in the name of cow)? His question to the nation indicates how it became vulnerable and weak in protecting its foundational ideologies, composite culture and social fabric built in the course of seven decades with immense contribution of people belong all sections of society. Indian civil society’s collective response to Aklaq’s lynching was a response of a matured democratic society that respects and protects every citizen’s rights across caste, colour and community. This kind of response was not, of course, limited to Dadri murder alone. However, these responses, sometimes, found to be pragmatic according to the caste/communal priorities. Dalits, women, Christians, Muslims and adivasis suffering under the hands of common enemy, have to build network for a sustained social solidarity which could be activated to render assistance and moral support to the victims after the crime committed but it should also be able to prevent crime from happening by developing self protecting mechanisms and by carrying sustained movement to put pressure on the government. As long as we don’t equate upper caste killings of lower for the reason of caste with that of Hindu killing Muslims, Buddhists and Christians for cultural/religious reasons, a united response to lynching would not be possible and lynching will not be stopped.
Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao, teaches history, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli