When Protest against Lynching Invites Charges of Sedition

REMEMBER Tabrez Ansari, the young worker from Jharkhand who used to earn his livelihood in Pune and had returned home and got married even as Narendra Modi was returning to power with an emphatic majority? His marriage was of course not meant to be a newsworthy event, but a few weeks after his wedding he became a household name. Just like Mohammad Akhlaque of Dadri, Pehlu Khan of Mewat and Alimuddin Ansari of Ramgarh. Tabrez had been tied to an electricity pole, and beaten up by a mob for hours together and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’. All this was brazenly captured on video and uploaded for the whole world to watch. A dying Tabrez was not taken to a hospital but to the local police station on charges of having stolen a bike. The transfer to the hospital came quite a few hours later only for the doctors to pronounce him dead.

Tabrez was killed again when the Jharkhand police dropped murder charges against the accused who could be seen in the video enacting the lynching spectacle. According to the police, the medical report attributed his death to cardiac arrest and not injury caused by beating and hence the accused should be charged not with murder but culpable homicide. It took widespread protests and an announcement by Shaista Parveen, the wife of Tabrez Ansari that she would go on a fast unto death for the police to bring back the murder charges. The battle for justice for Tabrez has however only begun, especially given the spate of acquittals and felicitation of the accused we have seen in several other lynching cases.

The real challenge in the battle for justice for lynching victims lies in the prevalent political environment where lynch mobs are incited and mobilised to target various groups of people on a range of pretexts furnished by the Sangh-BJP (from allegations of love jihad and cow slaughter to mention the two most widely invoked excuses, to charges of sedition and illegal immigration), and the accused are blessed with systematic assurances of protection and impunity. Now we have an added element – brazen attempts to persecute, intimidate and malign the voices of protest against mob lynching.

We saw this recently when 49 eminent cultural personalities were targeted after they wrote an open letter to Narendra Modi against the growing incidence of mob lynching and Professor Amartya Sen was advised to restrict himself to economics when he spoke out against the use of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ as a war cry. The targeting has only intensified as illustrated in the directive issued by the CJM of Muzaffarpur to file a sedition case against the signatories of the open letter. And now RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has joined the mischievous campaign with a brazen and devious argument in his RSS foundation day address.

According to Mohan Bhagwat, lynching is a ‘Western construct’, promoted and practised by religions born outside of India. Any talk of lynching in India is an anti-India anti-Hindu defamatory discourse. This is Bhagwat rendering Modi more profound – remember how Modi portrayed every opposition to the 2002 genocide under his watch as an attack on the ‘glory of Gujarat’, and more recently how he branded the growing public criticism against the spate of lynchings in Jharkhand as an insult to the Jharkhandi identity. By attributing the concept and practice of lynching to Christianity and Islam (the two major religions that came to india from outside, and according to Bhagwat Islam ‘invaded’ India), Bhagwat has further fuelled the Hindu supremacist approach of considering other religions as lesser or inferior in terms of their socio-cultural history and philosophical tradition.

Aware of the growing international criticism of the Modi government’s ongoing war on democracy, especially in the context of Kashmir, Bhagwat described democracy itself as an ancient Indian system! He also inverted the well known formulation ‘unity in diversity’ which highlights India’s composite culture, and acknowledges diversity and pluralism as foundational features of India, to coin his new phrase ‘diversity in unity’, which reduces ‘diversity’ to some superficial variation in unity even as the latter is configured in terms of homogenisation and uniformity! Concern about the economy was dismissed as pessimism, and the slowdown was attributed to trends in the global economy.

For the first time the RSS foundation day programme had a chief guest from the corporate world – billionaire business baron Mr Shiv Nadar of Hindustan Computers Limited was there to praise the Modi government and peddle the Modi goverment’s line of ‘minimum government’ which in real life has become a euphemism for ‘maximum privatisation’. Visiting the RSS headquarters in Nagpur is fast emerging a favourite pilgrimage for India’s well known corporate faces – if Adani and Ambani are garnering maximum favours from the Modi government, traditional corporate tycoons like Ratan Tata and Rahul Bajaj are cozying up to the power centre in Nagpur.

From Modi’s ‘all is well’ Houston theatrics to Bhagwat’s Nagpur address trivialising the growing worries among more and more Indians about the social, political and economic climate in the country under the Modi-Shah duo, the Sangh-BJP establishment is busy painting a rosy picture of India even as millions of Indians battle for minimum livelihood and basic human dignity and rights. Be it the critical condition of the Indian economy, the complete denial of democracy and suppression of the people in the Kashmir valley or the near-flood situation caused by a few hours of incessant downpour in a city like Patna, the reality of India is however too grim and explosive to be explained away by the deceptive and devious Modi-Shah-Bhagwat rhetoric.

With every passing day, the Sangh-BJP establishment is pushing India deeper into an unmitigated and comprehensive disaster. India must fight back and overcome this disaster by all means.