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New danger of fascism in India: Public violence, often leading to lynching, is becoming random, spontaneous

Mohammad Naeem, lynched to death in a Jharkhand village in May 2017
on suspicion of child trafficking
By Battini Rao*
The seven-day period from June 13 to June 20, 2018 saw four Muslim men lynched at Hapur (Uttar Pradesh) and at Godda and Ramgarh in Jharkhand. The last four years of BJP rule at center have seen steep rise in the numbers communally motivated lynching, with cow protection being the most common excuse.
Lynching, which means killing of individuals by mobs, is a public crime. However, it is not listed as a separate crime under the IPC. Hence, information about it can be gained only from media and fact finding reports.
According to an analysis of media reports by web portal "India Spend", 25 Indians were killed in 60 cow related violent incidences between 2010 and 2017. Ninety seven percent of these incidences were reported after Modi govt came to power in 2014, and 84% percent of those killed were Muslim. A July 2017 report by the Observer Research Foundation found a sharp increase in cow-related violent incidences among total cases of mob violence. These incidences rose from less than 5% of cases of mob violence in 2012, to more than 20% by June 2017.
During 2018 so far, besides lynching of Muslims mentioned above, one person was killed by villagers near Satna (Madhay Pradesh) on May17, and another went into coma following serious injuries suffered during the attack. Both were accused of killing cows.
In this hideously dark scenario of threat to the life of Muslim citizens, perhaps the only bright spot was Sub Inspector Gagandeep Singh of Ramnagar, Uttarakhand,who at grave risk to his own life saved a young Muslim man on May 22 this year from a crowd baying for his blood and shouting slogans against love jihad.
Lynching has become an important tool of Hindutva popular politics. In many cases of lynching, locally-organized cow protection groups take the lead and incite mob violence against hapless victims. Hate filled messages fabricated with lies are spread on social media to gather crowds. Police is a passive accomplice, and in most cases criminal cases are filed against victims themselves under cow protection laws.
The increased lynching of minorities in the last four years is closely related to local level Hindutva bodies organizing these incidents, backed by a supportive state power. However, it needs to be underlined that, even without these two factors, individuals and communities in India face lot of violence which enjoys passive or active public approval.
Dalits have been facing caste violence for thousands of years. Even now, despite constitutional provisions many of them face every day public humiliation. Massacre of Dalits by gangs of caste Hindus at Kilevenmani, Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe, and Khairlanji are among the darkest spots in post-Independence Indian history. More recently, at Una in 2016 four Dalit youth skinning dead cattle were publicly beaten by a cow protection gang, and the video recording of the beating was widely shared as a proof of just punishment.
Brutal ethnic violence against outsiders is prevalent in many parts of the country. In March 2015, a large crowd broke open the central prison in Dimapur, Nagaland, dragged out a non-Naga man accused of raping a local woman, killed him and put his body in the town center. Indian youth face violence from their families due to choices they make in their personal life. Reply to a question in Parliament in the monsoon session of 2017 mentioned 288 cases of honour killing between 2014 and 2016.
While the lynching of minorities is largely political, and caste and ethnic violence and honour killings are social systemic, another kind of public violence, often leading to lynching, appears random and spontaneous. Since the beginning of the year incidences of such lynching have taken place in states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Asom, which otherwise show little evidence of communal lynching.
The most common excuse is suspicion of child abduction. Allegations of petty theft, witch craft, etc. are other reasons cited. Adivasis, mentally disturbed persons, migrant workers, single women and even tourists have been targeted. One media report (boomlive.in) lists 13 dead due lynching in such cases in the first half of 2018.Such violence is treated as a simple crime by state authorities. In reality, its prevalence all over India is a symptom of a deep social malaise. It indicates a very low level of opposition to violence per se in our society.
All decent human beings feel revulsion against lynching of a fellow being. However, an appropriate social corrective and a political response are also important. Democracy is not possible in a society which accepts mass violence as a norm. The first condition of democracy is respect for basic rights of all citizens, which involve no bodily harm to anyone, except in special circumstances, and after a due process.
On the other hand, a society which accepts different kinds of social systemic and random violence as routine, can become an easy prey to fascism. Fascism is anti-democratic precisely because it does not accept the first condition of democracy, and uses violence as a political tool against selected social and political groups. If fascism is made easy by mass acceptance of violence, its success legitimizes violence and further lowers the threshold level of acceptance of violence. Hence, societies under fascism can get sucked into a vicious cycle of increasing public violence.
Since the political successes of BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is witnessing not only a degradation of institutions of democratic governance, but also degradation of public morals. The more people show acceptance of Modi-style aggressive bravado and blatant use of lies and abuse in public discourse, more they become insensitive to others; and then they also become more likely to turn into brutes at any opportunity of lynching. People of India need to be vigilant against the deadly embrace of communal fascist politics and a lynching culture.
There is a need for all Indians to stand up against any attempt at lynching and mass violence. Political parties and social organisations should make special efforts to prevent incidences of public violence. Mass campaigns, especially involving youth and students should be started against culture of violence.
All ‘cow protection’ gangs involved in terrorizing and lynching citizens belonging to minority communities and Dalits should be banned. Cow protection laws which give a legal fig leaf to such gangs should be repealed all over India. Police and courts should take an unambiguous stand against lynching and perpetrators punished at the earliest.
State should recognize specific threat to public safety from lynching and mass violence against individuals. As in the case of sexual violence, a special law should be made against lynching and given wide publicity to make people aware of legal punishments.
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*Convenor, Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS). Contact: battini.rao@gmail.com

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