Vol. XLII No. 27 July 08, 2018

Lynch Mob Killings: Wages of Impunity

THE last two months have seen a spate of mob attacks and lynchings in different parts of the country. This wave of shocking violence has led to the killing of at least 30 innocent people in 10 states over the months of May and June.

The mob attacks were sparked off by rumors of ‘child lifting’ sent out through WhatsApp messaging service. In incident after incident “strangers” who appear in villages or small towns are suspected of being child snatchers, set upon by crowds and beaten to death or seriously injured.

Such incidents have occurred in the past too, but the scale and intensity of the current barbarous attacks are unprecedented. Serious incidents of lynching have occurred in the North-East in Assam and Tripura, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. But the most affected are Jharkhand and Maharashtra which have witnessed seven and nine deaths respectively.

Such a wave of violence is not to be seen in isolation. It comes in the backdrop of mob violence and lynchings which began with the targeting of Muslims in the name of cow slaughter or eating beef. The first such attack was the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq in 2015 and spread to different parts of the country. Cow vigilante groups, “gau rakshaks”, began to act with impunity, maiming and killing people.

The atmosphere of hate built up by targeting Muslims and Dalits is now erupting in the form of the scare of “child-lifting” and resultant mob violence.

The BJP run state governments and the RSS-BJP outfits sought to either justify or underplay the violence unleashed by the cow vigilantes. The constant hate campaign against `the other’ launched by the Hindutva forces have taken its toll.  It is this which has encouraged the general atmosphere of impunity and breakdown of societal values.

In Jharkhand, after the lynching of two Muslim traders, the BJP MP of Godda, Nishikant Dubey announced on June 13 that he will bear the legal expenses of the four men accused of the crime. This was an open endorsement of the heinous act.

In Tripura, after an eleven-year old child was found murdered, a minister, Ratan Lal Nath, after visiting the family of the boy announced that both the kidneys of the child had been removed. This false allegation fuelled the scare of child lifting that was already being spread and led to lynch mob attacks which claimed the lives of three persons.

Many of the attacks have taken place in remote areas with tribal population.  The social media messaging of the false news of child lifting is taken to be literally true and hysteria whipped up on seeing outsiders entering their areas.  In most cases, the victims have been the poor, migrant workers, mentally disturbed persons or easily identifiable Muslims.

There have been the usual weaknesses in the response of the administrative and police machinery.  But the real failing is at the political level.  In all the affected states, the political leadership in the state government has not come out effectively rebutting the false propaganda and declaring their resolve to put down strongly such irrational mob violence.  The prime minister, who is adept at using the social media, has been conspicuously silent.

The unconscionable and brutal violence emanating from the child lifting scare reveals deep social pathologies.  It is a grim warning of how the communal and sectarian fault lines which have opened up in our society lead to dehumanising and anarchic violence. 

(July 5, 2018)