Killing of Hafiz Junaid: Reading into the psyche of a lynch mob and banality of evil

"Not only is democracy a system," began Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his impassioned address, "but also a sanskaar – a part of our ethos. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. One needs to be constantly alert about our democracy, that is why we must also keep remembering the events that inflicted harm upon our democracy; at the same time, (we must) move ahead, carrying forward the virtues of democracy. 1975, 25 June – it was a dark night that no devotee of democracy can ever forget. No Indian can ever forget."

 Killing of Hafiz Junaid: Reading into the psyche of a lynch mob and banality of evil

Representational image. Reuters

Shortly thereafter, Tom Vadakkan, spokesperson of the Indian National Congress, remarked, "We have not forgotten the Emergency, but there is an undeclared emergency in the country. The fact that there is a muzzling of the media and the raids on media can only be listed as an undeclared emergency."

The aforesaid dialogue, impaled into insignificance by the tragic event of the lynching of Hafiz Junaid, a 16-year-old Muslim travelling to Mathura, may indeed be the literary entrée in reading Junaid’s death. The exchange is instructive in the inexorable narrowness of our discursive binaries, and in that, our collective political vision. To read all unfreedom as political emergency does historical injustice to the performative of Junaid’s dying image – soaked in blood, lying helpless and helplessly in the lap of his brother, Hashim.

While one remembers the political emergency of 25 June 1975 in perfervid condemnation, one would not wish on 1975 the tragedy of our present dispensation and its syndicated dilemmas. Imagining Junaid’s death – nay, murder, in the narrative of political emergency, undeclared or otherwise, is an exercise in the comfort of locating the evil adversary as extraneous, even entirely unrelated to ourselves. If evil were so localised, would it be as widespread? It is in this question that I mourn Hafiz Junaid.

If the hollowness of the binary could be dismissed to the realpolitik, political readings of the so-called lynching betrayed a similar semiological sense of politics. In an admirable performance of solidarity and resistance, the protest ‘Not In My Name’ was conceived as ‘a citizens’ protest against the targeted lynching of Muslims countrywide.’ ‘As citizens,’ it declares its modality, ‘let’s get together, and through music and poetry, assert that the killings and hatred being unleashed are Not In Our Name.’ In whose name, then, one wonders? Distancing ourselves from the macabre of horrors committed in our name is both an abdication of political responsibility, despite the commendable show of protest, and praxis of psychic comfort – in doing to evil what evil does to us, perhaps there is a redeeming forgiveness, a resistance that was never ours but now can be.

Consider this: the brothers of which Hafiz Junaid was one boarded their train to Mathura at Sadar Bazar, Delhi, ending inopportunely at Asota with Junaid’s corpse and two brothers gravely injured. What was only an altercation about their respective arrangements in the train metamorphosed into the murderous lynching of Junaid, stabbed several times as his brothers were called ‘anti-nationals’ (now our national phrase) and ‘beef-eaters.’ Hashim, who tells us he knows nothing about nationalism in his heart-rending account, remembers the inexplicable vitriol of his fellow passengers – he does not understand how an issue of space and seating arrangements became of life and death. The murder creates death. As Aatish Taseer wrote in a wonderful editorial, however, a lynching is beyond murder, for while a murder may be private, the act of lynching is a public spectacle – it demands an audience. Hashim also recalls the apathy of other, presumably uninvolved passengers, some even urging Junaid’s murderers to ‘finish them off.’ "There were so many people on the train, but not a single person stood up to help us. The men instead kept saying that we were beef-eaters and deserved to die. (…) Instead of saving us, the crowd was egging the attackers on. They held us by our arms, while the men pierced our bodies with their knives. Our screams for help fell on deaf ears."

The disquieting memories of the brothers invoke what Hannah Arendt spoke of the politics of Nazism as the banality of evil. In Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Arendt records the trial of Adolf Eichmann, an acclaimed Nazi colonel. She writes that Eichmann felt no remorse for his unpalatable actions, presented no sense of lived or political agency, let alone responsibility, preferring instead to define his evil as obedience. This unthinkingness and its ideological normalisation, argued Arendt, is the nature of evil that renders it banal. Although this is not her case, one could conclude in furtherance that the banality of evil is the deliverance of its localisation in the minds of infamous men – when evil becomes as natural as order in the minds of the masses, it is only doing its work of banality. The murderous actions of ‘normal’ passengers, notwithstanding the narrative of lynching that would have us believe they were men of exceptional rancour – that is, gau rakshaks, and the perspicuous complicity of ‘other’ passengers are a testimony to the banality of evil. Whether its acknowledgment is comfortable or difficult, this evil is the template of our name and must, therefore, be the insignia of our shame. In framing Junaid’s lynching as the culpability of certain individuals or the government, we neglect ideological force and surrender our own complicity to the commiseration of detachment.

When I march in protest at Jantar Mantar today, I will not remember Junaid as the casualty of an evil that I am not and cannot be. I will not rage, for rage is the easiest form of resistance. Today, I will mourn Junaid in the colour of grief, and remember my own complicity in the murders of personhoods deprived of my wretched subjectivities. I will also remember the murders of the Bhotmange family in Khairlanji, Vaibhav and Divya from Sunped, the three persons from Sahranpur whose names have not mattered to us – murders that never became discursive spaces of lynching. And I will remember, most importantly, that I owe this to my name.

Updated Date: Jun 27, 2017 18:06:18 IST