Immediately Ban Vigilante Organisations

Below we publish excerpts from the speech made by Sitaram Yechury, leader of the CPI(M) in Rajya Sabha on July 19, during a short duration discussion on situation arising out of increase in incidents of lynching and atrocities on minorities and dalits across the country.

I AM standing with my head hanging in shame. Where has our Republic come to? Seventy years earlier, we had the pride in the world to say -- while no other western democracy could have the courage to say -- that from day one, we shall give universal suffrage for everybody in our country. Irrespective of their religious affiliation, irrespective of their caste, gender, we gave universal suffrage, which was a revolutionary step at that point of time, and, its basis was recognition of equality. It is that equality today that is being questioned and is being severely trampled upon through these instances of lynching.

You have Akhlaq lynched at his dinner table because of the allegation that he was eating beef. It happened in 2015. Two youngsters in Latehar in Jharkhand were hanged because they were taking their cattle to a cattle fair. They were Muslim boys. You have Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, lynched in Alwar. In Una, there were dalits who were skinning the dead cows; that is the job, which, dalits, unfortunately are destined to do. You have them lynched. The boys were whipped and lynched. And that was filmed. We’re just talking about the social media. It was viral on the social media. You had the case of Junaid and his brothers. You had the case of Zafar who was killed by officials in Rajasthan because he asked them to stop filming a woman defecating in the open. Look at the level of intolerance and the gruesome tales that are taking place.

That is the degree of dehumanisation that we have arrived at. Why we have arrived here is something that needs to be understood and debated. And we have to reach a conclusion on that in this august house.

During the Spanish Inquisition what they had to identify Muslims and Jews by, “Who eats pork?” and you have “Who eats beef?” to identify who is a Hindu and who is a non-Hindu in India in 2017. Is this what my country is coming to?

And what about the private armies which are now roaming around? The prime minister has said that it is a state subject and that it is a law and order problem. These private armies who are taking law into their own hands have to be banned by a central order. That is the only way by which you can stop the private armies forcing to implement the law of the land for which they have no authority and that is why we immediately ask for a ban on these vigilante groups of all nature whether it be moral policing or whether it be cow vigilantism who are resorting to such actions.

But why is all this happening? This is not happening because we suddenly have a rise in the crime in the country. This is happening because of a certain ideological project that is at work and that is something we have to understand, you and I, and all of us have inherited our independent India and the constitution. This was a product of a battle between three visions. The mainstream vision during the freedom struggle was that of the Congress. They talked of future independent India being a secular democratic republic. We, the Left, had a difference with them. We said that we could not stop at that. We told them that they had to move forward to convert our political independence into economic independence and that could happen only under socialism, otherwise, the social democratic republic could itself become vulnerable. There was a third vision which had a twin expression. You had the Muslim League talking of an Islamic India and you had the RSS talking of a Hindu Rashtra.

Both of them wanted the country, independent India, to be a theocracy guided by the religious affiliations of its people. Unfortunately, the Muslim League succeeded ably aided by the British and the country was partitioned. Religious affiliations being the basis for statehood, is at variance with the other two visions that were there of – a secular democratic republic.

After independence, India became a secular democratic country. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated out of that anger of not facilitating the 'hindu rashtra'. After that, there was a ban on the RSS that was initiated by Sardar Patel – of all the people, Sardar Patel! What did the ban order say, which he drafted himself on February 4, 1948? The Sardar says, “The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have however continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims, the latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself.” It is the cult of violence that is spread. I am not saying what some say that all these gau rakshaks are RSS people. Some are saying they are anti-socials, they are criminals. The prime minister has said so. They are criminals by the night and they may be something else by the day.

But why and how are they getting this courage to act? It is because of the spread of this cult of violence. That is what has to be contained. But the battle of the visions did not stop there after Gandhiji's assassination.

Unfortunately, many were lulled into submission thinking that that was stopped then. But, no, subsequently, what have we seen? It is the brand of nationalism that was purveyed even after Mahatma’s assassination, even after adopting our constitution. I quote to you what the RSS chief at that point of time said. I quote, “What is the attitude of those who have been converted to Islam or Christianity? They are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to its salt? Are they grateful towards this land which has brought them up? Do they feel that they are the children of this land and its tradition and to serve it is their great good fortune? Do they feel it a duty to serve her? No! Together with the change in the faith, gone are the spirit of love and devotion for the nation.”

If these are the values that you are spreading ideologically after independence and after the constitution, what does this mean? It directly contradicts the right to equality irrespective of caste, creed or sex.

This is the ideological position that has risen to these levels whereby nationalism is only equated as Hindu nationalism or Hindutva nationalism. A patriot is a patriot. It’s an Indian patriot. That is why, that Indian patriotism is what we are standing for, not for Hindutva patriotism or Hindutva nationalism.

It is that Indian nationalism which has to be nurtured and that is our duty, and because of not nurturing it you have these lynch mobs here today. You have these lynch mobs which come out of that hatred.

This vigilantism, that we are seeing today, is a part of this larger effort so it is no longer just a fringe doing it, but what the Sardar(Patel) himself said that the cult of violence spread by these,  is generating all these elements into action, into attacking the very foundations of our Constitutional Republican order where that basic Right to Equality is being denied. That basic right to faith and propagate each one’s faith is being denied. That is why the fight against this lynching and vigilante groups is essential to maintain our constitutional order.

Let me tell you -- this is something not only me saying it -- the government’s favourites, that is, the foreign media, it is the foreign media, I quote to you The New York Times which is kept in very high esteem by this government. The New York Times writes in its editorial two-three days ago: “This might seem – (this means these lynch attacks) -- like merely a farcical move by Hindu fanatics, if it were not so in line with much else that is happening in Mr. Modi’s India, and if implications for India’s democracy weren’t so chilling! But this is where Mr. Modi has brought the nation to as it prepares to celebrate 70 years of independence on Aug. 15.” It is The New York Times editorial.

What does this week-end’s Financial Times say? The prime minister of this government “must stop pandering to the Hindu right. This policy comes against the backdrop of an increase in attacks by Hindu vigilantes on those suspected of trading or consuming beef; an estimated 28 or more people have been killed in such attacks so far...."

This is your international standing today. And, they are recognising what is happening in our country is something that is completely antithetical to the entire constitutional values and orders that we have given ourselves.

The prime minister concentrates on reforms, economic policies and not on this Hindutva agenda. So, stop the country from moving towards a Hindu right. So, these lynchings, are not isolated incidents of law and order. These lynchings are part of an ideological construct that wants to undermine the secular democratic character of modern India and replace it by whatever they call by their concept of what is called the 'Hindutva Rashtra'. That is why, this is a serious matter. These groups must be legally banned and let us together build our country in the direction we want to take.

Let us discuss; let us see what is there, discuss our differences.

We all have our rights. Let us all together stop this degeneration in our country. That is my message to the house and my appeal to the government to immediately ban these vigilante organisations. 

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