A Documantary

Lynch Nation


Who remembers the first person that was lynched by a mob in India in the recent past? Does anyone know who or what started the trend of murdering innocents, mostly belonging to the minority communities? A documentary film titled Lynch Nation might be the only film on the subject, filled with testimonies of people who were left to pick up the pieces after their loved one was killed by a frenzied mob.

Directed by Ashfaque EJ and Shaheen Ahmed, the film tells the stories of mob lynchings in rural north India over the past few years along with witness and family accounts of those who were killed.

"Narrating his ordeal in the film, Junaid Khan's brother Hashim, who was also attacked, relates how the attackers called him and his brothers 'Mullah, Pakistani, traitor and beefeater" because of their attire. They pulled off the young men's caps and that's how it began".

16-year-old Junaid was coming back home from Delhi in June 2017, with his friends and brothers including Hashim, on a Mathura-bound train. He was killed while his mother waited to celebrate Eid with him.

All the accused in the case have been granted bail by the courts and have been set free.

"As the legal process continues to test their patience, Hashim and his family members have found new hopes in a documentary film. "I appreciate the hard work of the filmmakers who compiled this film, maybe after watching the film some goons might have a change of heart," Hashim remarks after watching "Lynch Nation" at its first press screening in the Press Club in Delhi.

"In almost every case, lynching convicts have walked out on bail. Earlier this year, the men who lynched Maryam's husband were garlanded and feted by Union minister and BJP MPJayant Sinha, who was credited with helping them get bail. A man accused of lynching Jan Mohammad's brother is going to contest India's general election to become a Member of Parliament. The six men who Irshad's father had accused of murder in his dying declaration were given a clean chit by Rajasthan's Crime Branch and CID".

"Having resolved to make what is arguably one of the first films on lynchings in India, Ashafaque and Shaheen, both residents of Kerala, reached out to other people for help. Having roped in journalist Amit Sengupta (Ashafaque's former teacher from Indian Institute of Mass Communications as a mentor) they were joined by their friends Furqan Faridi and Vishu Sejwal as they travelled across North India covering Dadri, Alwar, Latehar, Ramgarh, Bhaivratpur. Ballabgarh and Una. As they travelled with their crew across several North Indian states, they received help from members of 'Not In My Name Campaign', 'United Against Hate Campaigns', local activists and people for their crowd-funded project".

The crew was always worried about their safety and the hostility that they could face from fringe groups.

"We were extremely precautious throughout our entire journey".

For example, we steered away from Jharkhand during Ramnavami when local activists warned us that the environment could be communally charged", Shaheen told this reporter. "We were scared throughout the one point we thought that we were being followed and all our movements were under watch. But thankfully, nothing big happened", the report added.

As a filmmaker and member of the 'Not In My Name Campaign', Rahul Roy termed the film "quiet and largely observational" in its approach. He was certain the film could not be screened at many public spaces like Delhi University without coming under attack from right-wing groups.

To be on the safe side and be able to take the film to as many people as possible the filmmakers said they would apply for certification from the Censor Board.

'The filmmakers believe that lynchings have become a routine affair in the country and see their film as a fight against the increasing normalisation of such events in the media and the mainstreaming of the ideology which promotes it. Talking about what the film sets out to achieve, Ashfaque said, "We might not be able to counter the growing hate with this film but we hope that somewhere we are able to prick people's conscience. We want people to connect to the families who lost their loved ones and feel their pain. Everytime a Pehlu Khan is killed or a Ummar Khan is killed or a Junaid is killed, we want people to feel that their own brother died".

Vol. 51, No.29, Jan 20 - 26, 2019