‘Operation Closure’

Who ‘loves’ Mob Violence?

Subhash Gatade

Jaipur—Rajasthan State Commission for Minorities has sought a factual report on a video that went viral showing four Sikh men purportedly beaten up by local residents of Chainpura in Ajmer district.The 51-second video shows four members of Sikh community being abused and thrashed by a mob as people witnessing the incident filmed the entire episode...
..three to four sewadars (Sikh members) of a gurdwara from Alwar district had visited the village to collect donation.The local residents had then beaten them up alleging that they molested their women...However, according to police, the Sikh men were not found involved in molestation and were asked to file a cross FIR against those who thrashed them but they did not lodge any complaint.

Hotel Hayat Rabbani in Jaipur still remains closed. Neither the forensic department’s clean chit that the meat served in the popular eatery was not beef nor the district sessions courts’ order to reopen the hotel has changed its predicament. In fact the courts have even directed the Municipal Corporation that it files compliance report at the earliest but it appears that this order has fallen on deaf ears.

The city corporation people claim that they do not have any knowledge of the order about this case which reached national headlines and which continued to get coverage during the two months period. The owner of the hotel has even submitted a copy of the order to them but the status quo remains.One is still not sure how many more days, weeks or perhaps months would be required for the corporation to come into action firstly to have a knowledge of the order and secondly, gather the courage and wherewithal to do the needful.

Looking at the state of affairs it would not be surprising if the wait remains endless. People are being told that one Kamal Didi - whose allegations that beef is being served in the hotel - had unfolded the set of events—and that also just by ‘seeing’ a hotel employee throwing hotel refuse on the garbage dump, is not satisfied with the report of the forensic deptt and is contemplating next course of action.

The forcible closure of a popular hotel—owned by  a person belonging to minority community—where the not-so holy alliance between the vigilante mob owning allegiance to Hindutva Supremacist ideology and the police and the administration is starkly visible, in the capital of a state itself, is a representative image of present times.

A less discussed aspect of this ‘operation closure’ of the hotel pertains to a whatsApp message which was allegedly circulated by one of the seniormost functionaries of the city. The message had exhorted people to join this ‘holy action’.
Someone who is supposed to be a custodian of the interests of the city and its residents provoking a section of the populace to join basically a criminal act! Now the element of surprise has gradually disappeared. One is reminded of Balzac’s writings where the sheriff of the city metamorphoses into criminal/mafia don at night.

It is rightly said that times are such that it is difficult to differentiate between a vigilante mob and the state.

While the mob attacks the victims under whatever pretext it can think of, the police—the most visible of the state’s arm—turns a mute spectator or at times even prods the attackers. One can have a cursory glance at the spate of such killing incidents which have been reported across India in recent times to understand the dynamic. Lynchings in Jharkhand have added a new ‘dimension’ to it.

May 18, 2017: Seven people were lynched in Jharkhand in tribal-dominated areas near Jamshedpur. The lynchings were done in two separate incidents following WhatsApp rumours, of gangs active in kidnapping children in the region. According to a report in The Indian Express, police stood by watching the mob lynch four people. The police personnel who saw the lynching included a Deputy Superintendent of Police, a Circle Inspector, two Assistant Sub-Insmpectors and at least 30 policemen including those  from the local police station in Rajnagar.

There are a number of such examples where people have come under attack because of some mischievous rumour and were themselves put behind bars on some flimsy pretext, or seminars attended by leading scholars held in educational institutions have come under attack, participants brutalised and the police letting the attackers go away scot free. And there is growing ‘normalisation of this brutality’...

Even if it is not possible immediately to comprehend the whole dynamic but future social scientist would have enough raw data available with them to know how a vigilante mob slowly merges into the state and vice versa and how the much cherished rule of law is put on its head or how the state ‘outsources’ work of silencing dissident voices to such mobsters.

The characteristic features of this unfolding violence are evident to even laypersons.

The violence is such that victims can be easily turned into ‘real perpetrators’ and the perpetrators are projected as ‘martyrs’. Remember killing of five dalits in Dulina Jhajjar supposedly for skinning a dead cow in the year 2003 when a thousand strong mob had thrashed the hapless group in front of police station and in the presence of senior officers of the administration and the police had ‘lodged’ a case against the dead persons for ‘provoking the people’.

A spate of lynching incidents have been reported across the country in the last few months. The attacks have raised grave concern both with the society and the government at large. Here is a look at the attacks in the past three months....

May 2, 2017: A mob of right wing activists lynched a man after he eloped with a woman from a different community. The man was beaten to death. A press statement by the UP police said that members of Hindu Yuva Vahini were involved in the lynching.

April 30, 2017: A mob lynched two men in Nagaon district of Central Assam on suspicion of them being cow thieves.. Abu Hanifa, 23, and Riazuddin Ali, 24, were chased down by a village mob and assaulted brutally. The two were rescued by the police but couldn’t be taken to a hospital.

April 22, 2017: Four men purportedly from animal rights group People for Animals stopped a truck in Delhi’s Kalkaji area and beat up the occupants badly for suspecting them of being cattle smugglers...

April 21, 2017: Cow vigilantes attacked a family of five indudihg a nine-year-old in Reasi district in Jammu and Kashmir. The attack happened in the evening when the nomad family was herding their livestock in Tatwara area...

April 1, 2017: A Muslim man named Pehlu Khan, 55, was lynched by a mob of hundreds of cow vigilantes in Alwar in Rajasthan,..Not long ago, the Rajasthan government had set the punishment for  cow killing to life imprisonment.

March 9, 2017: A Bangladeshi security guard was lynched to death in Tripur who was allegedly part of a group of 12 who had come with intentions of robbery in a village.

Another important thing to remember is that there is nothing spontaneous about it. Despite outward packaging of a sudden outrage, all such actions are well organised affairs, where the perpetrators know it very well that their public disply of violence or even its recording or sharing it with a larger audience via social media etc is not going to have any impact on them.
If anyone has any doubts about the planning which goes into it
one can have a look at the judgement of Punjab-Haryana highcourt regarding the self proclaimed ‘cow protector’ vigilante groups which it delivered last year or report of Director General of Police, Gujarat during Una movement wherein the officer had castigated network of such cow vigilante groups in no uncertain terms and called for action against them. Independent journalists have also written how the new cattle slaughter rules would further embolden vigilantes.

Normally religious minorities, dalits alongwith dissenting voice of various kinds happen to be the usual targets of such violence. It is a different matter that with the spiralling of such violence people from majority community are also coming under attack as witnessed in the recent killings in Jharkhand.

Of course, whatever might be the scale of violence one witnesses that there is broader acceptance to such acts if they are targetted against the ‘hated others’. Thus ‘sacredness’ of cow makes it possible that human flesh becomes less important than bovine flesh. The elopement of a girl from a majority community with a youth from a minority community—which is portrayed as ‘love jihad’—can even lead to forcible expulsion of the minority ( may be of the religious or the social type) families from the region with police becoming mute spectator. Or if one is found to be talking of human rights of Kashmiris, then apart from the mobsters the agencies of the State can also apprehend the man for being an 'anti-national’.

Thanks to the proliferation of interrnet this ‘violence’ has taken up another sinister dimension. Here vigilantes—who are called as ‘trolls’ engage in cacophonous clamour on social media to silence anyone with whom they do not seem to agree. The anonymity on virtual space further adds more power to their voices. And thus a handful of people through their twitter accounts can create illusion of a hugely amplified voice. The ‘successful’ manner in which it can be done can be learnt from the recent incident at Swedish Embassy in India which disinvited two leading women print and TV journalists—Swati Chaturvedi and Barkha Dutt. ‘Followng mass populist trolling and complaints from the Twitteratti’ to an event organised on the’World Press Freedom day. (Indian Express, 14th May 2017, Free Speech? You Must be Joking—Nishant Singh)

Media, which is called as ‘watchdog of democracy’ seems to have largely abandoned its critical role and barring exceptions it thus either maintains sitence over such incidents of organised violence or remains content in presenting a majoritarian viewpoint or even at times provokes people to join the ‘outrage’. Remember how a large section of media (especially the electronic one) ganged up last year when the government at the centre decided to target Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi under the false pretext that ‘anti-national’ slogans were raised. A few of them had no qualms in presenting fake videos to support their claims.

Judiciary, which is reported to be custodian of the constitution is also found to be wanting on this front. Reports galore in where people are told how it had earlier taken suo motto action while browsing through some newspaper report or when some judge found herself/himself caught in a traffic jam caused by striking workers. One is reminded of an article on ‘Judicial Activism’ by Justice Ahmadi, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wherein he had asked a pertinent question. Why does the much talked about judicial activism stops at the gate of communal violence/ hatespeeches/targetted violence against the marginalised. Forget strict measures there are occasions when it is also found to move because of ‘collective sentiment’ of people.

Look at the Nirbhaya case in which all the rapists have been sentenced to death. While it has rightly raised debate about death penalty, no less controversial has been the remarks of the highest judiciary which had mentioned how this particular case impacted collective sentiment of people. T M Krishna in his well argued piece on Scroll rights raises important questions in this connection:
Collective conscience makes its appearance through the individual conscience of the judge. So, when judges use this phrase, it is really to express what is essentially their own viewpoint, or they have taken it upon themselves to determine “collective consciousness”. Both these positions are entirely self-generated...

Indian Constitution is based on the principle of justice for the most marginalised, disfranchised, oppressed, unknown, unseen and ignored. This spirit demands that law cannot rely on or be influenced by any delusionary sense or mood of the people.

Situation is such that because of an enfeebled parliamentary opposition which has not been able to put up a strong fight for the defence of secularism or defending constitutional principles and weakness of social political movements of the transformatory kinds India has slowly started looking like a ‘mirror image’ of its ‘arch rival’ Pakistan.

Vol. 50, No.1, Jul 9 - 15, 2017