The Rise of Vigilantism....In India
NEW DELHI: It’s a story of sheer horror. And a repeat of exactly what happens when mobs are primed to attack on the basis of rumours that convince them that they are defending themselves. When actually they are under no threat whatsoever.
Jharkhand is a repeat of what has become the trajectory of India’s caste and communal violence history. Rumours are spread by political vested interests to mobilise mobs who then are encouraged to attack their ‘targets’ with increasing impunity.
This has been happening now with increasing frequency with mobs not just threatening and intimidating through violence, but actually lynching persons on the pretext of one issue or the other. The police in all cases, remains a mute bystander if present at the spot, and even if some arrests are made little is known by way of follow up action.
As a result vigilantism---be it in the name of the cow across states or as in Jharkhand more local in its impact---is rising, with impunity being built into the attacks. More so, as many such incidents---the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh being the first---being supported openly by BJP legislators and leaders, who visit the affected site and as in the Dadri village insist on the police opening cases against the family of the victim.
The vigilante mobs show a ruthlessness that is terrifying. And no signs of remorse, as was apparent also in the recent Jharkhand attack where they continued to kick lifeless bodies. They beat until there is no resistance left in the individual, as in the case of all the lynching till date.
The mobs do not even ask for proof but just kill on the basis of the rumours. In Dadri Akhlaq was dragged out of his house when some youths---of course never caught---declared from a temple over the loudspeaker that he was storing beef in his house. A mob went in, dragged him and his son out and killed them. Similarly, more recently the mob that killed Pehlu Khan was not interested in the documents he had certifying that the milch cows had been bought for his dairy and not a slaughter house, only in assaulting him and his sons.
Seven persons were lynched in two different incidents, four being Muslims, and three being Hindus in Jharkhand. In the last their 80 year old grandmother was also not spared, and badly beaten by the mob claiming that their targets were child lifters. When even preliminary enquiries show that this was not the case at all, but the rumour that spread like wildfire had thousands of tribals coming together to kill anyone who they did not recognise to be from the area.
The first incident occurred in Rajnagar block’s Sobhapur village where four Muslim youth, all cattle traders, were cornered and lynched by villagers. The police remained ineffective, and instead reports suggest that the mobs attacked the police van as well before fleeing. Three of the bodies recovered from the spot, and the fourth a day later from the woods nearby. The four men often came to Sobhapur as they had family there, and were not unknown to the villagers. As all the four were killed, details of this incident are still a little hazy with the police, as always, believing in obfuscation.
Uttam Kumar Verma, the eldest of three brothers is the only one to surve the second assault but here more details have been available.. His two younger brothersalong with their family friend, Gangesh Gupta were lynched by the mob, and completely devastated all he can speak of is the absence of the police. The local police did not even try to tackle the mob that continued to beat the men. By the time additional forces arrived, it was too late.
Uttam Verma, later regretting his decision to flee told reporters at the spot,“Around 8pm a police van came and for a moment the villagers ran helter-skelter. Finding no one near me, I ran for my life. Around midnight, when police took me to identify the deceased, I couldn’t believe my eyes. They disfigured the bodies of three men who had their entire life ahead.”
He said his brothers recently started a company that offered building toilets at reasonable rates. To promote their business, they visited villages distributing pamphlets and putting up banners. In Nagadih, just four kilometres from their home, they were putting up banners when they were accosted by a mob. And with the numbers increasing by the minute, beaten to death.
Right wing vigilante groups have become very visible since 2014, scouring the villages and districts of north Indian states to ‘search’ for young people in inter-faith relationships with a mob barging into the private residence of a Muslim youth in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh and terrorising him for befriending a Hindu girl a few weeks ago; attacking churches and pastors for alleged in the ghar wapsi campaign unleashed by the right wing groups; and now carrying on a sustained campaign for the cow, with the so called ‘gaurakshaks’ specifically targeting Muslims and to a lesser extent Dalits on this issue.
Jharkhand has been very active under the BJP government in protecting the cow, with any number of vigilante actions against Muslims reported from this state. Last month a 20 year Muslim boy was beaten to death for a relationship with a Hindu girl by a mob that tied him to a tree, and beat him until he died in a village in Gumla district. Last year two Muslims were beaten and hung from a tree by a mob of cow vigilantes. Several cases of similar assault have been reported, but as activists say many more of initimidation and assault are not even brought to the attention of the police by terrified families.
Vigilantism is fast becoming the order of the day, with mobs being used by the right wing to strike terror in the states. In Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has his own Hindu Yuva Vahini that has expanded enormously in the few months since he assumed power, and enjoys full impunity as per reports from the state. The organisation openly professes loyalty to the CM, and makes it clear that it will not allow anyone to insult their perception of Indian tradition and culture.