The comments of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat on lynching in his RSS Foundation Day speech in Nagpur marking the occasion of Dussehra have drawn attention and a great deal of criticism. Bhagwat, speaking in Hindi to an audience of RSS members in their uniform of white shirts and khaki trousers, said, "There was a word which went around in the past year… lynching… did this ever happen in our place before? Has it happened? Where has the word come from? We find old stories about it in the religious texts that were prepared outside. It has no relation to the religion, but we find the incident. A mob gathered to stone a woman. Jesus Christ told them, let he who has not sinned cast the first stone. Everyone realised their mistake. Where is the incident from? Where these things used to happen, they have a word for it."
Here (in India), according to Bhagwat, there are only stray incidents. "There should be legal action against these incidents, that’s what everyone wants”, he said. “We have to work to create goodwill in the entire society”. According to him, the Sangh’s volunteers are already working on it and are increasing their efforts. “Our mind, words and work should be to join the entire country,” Bhagwat said. He advised everyone to live within the bounds of the law and the constitution. “Whatever the provocation, do not cross the limits of dignity. Do not become violent”, he said. “It’s our society, our country, our government, and our people, even if they do not agree with us, their way of worship is different, their language is different, all of Bharat belongs to all Bharatiyas. All Bharatiyas have to live together within the limits of behaviour imposed by law”. If such incidents happen, “the guilty should be punished according to law, without looking at who’s ours and who’s not”, Bhagwat added.
The RSS Sarsanghchalak's views reflect both his analysis of the problem, as well, as his prescription for a solution. What has rightly received criticism is his analysis. Bhagwat took offence to the use of a particular English word, 'lynching', which according to the Merriam Websters means "to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal approval or permission". It cannot be denied that this sort of thing, unfortunately, has been rather commonplace across India for far too long.
According to National Crime Records Bureau data, between 2001 and 2016, at least 523 women in Jharkhand were killed by mob action without legal approval but merely on the suspicion that these women were "witches". The word 'lynching' is just a shorter way of describing what happened in these cases.
This was two years ago.
There was a spate of cases of lynching last year of suspected child-lifters or kidnappers that were fuelled by rumours circulating on WhatsApp. It's diffucult to ascertain a proper tally of the toll from those rumours, but IndiaSpend had reported that 33 were killed between January 2017 and July 2018. The incidents have occurred across the country. Victims included Sukanta Chakraborty, 33, who was hired by the Government of Tripura to campaign against rumour-mongering. He fell victim to the very rumours he had been hired to campaign against. Other notable cases include the lynching of two young Assamese men from Guwahati — Abhijit Nath and Nilotpal Das, in the state’s tribal Karbi Anglong area, due to similar rumours.
It is impossible to argue, therefore, that lynching does not happen in India. Nor is it new. It cannot be said that the killing of women, and more rarely men, for suspected witchcraft, is a new development. Similarly, incidents of violence over beef and pork have had a long history in India. The religious taboos that fuel them are not new.
Cases in recent years have mainly been those of gaurakshaks or cow-protectors, lynching poor Muslim men transporting cattle. There is no doubt about the incidents themselves; several, including the case of Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan were reported in detail. The case of Tabrez Ansari, the young man lynched on suspicions of being a bike thief, in Jharkhand, was especially horrific as it was captured on camera. The shocking attempts by police to bury cases against the suspects, and the garlanding of some of them by the BJP’s young Harvard-educated minister Jayant Sinha, are not in line with the RSS chief’s statement that “the guilty should be punished according to law, without looking at who’s ours and who’s not”, and that is where the problem lies.
Bhagwat is wrong in saying that lynching never happened here before, but he is certainly right in saying that justice should be done swiftly and impartially through law to create goodwill in society. However, members of the BJP, the party in power at the centre and in most states, have shown themselves to be partial towards goons who sport saffron colours. In this they have been backed by sections of the media, which thrive on loud arguments and conflict rather than balanced news. It is not possible to achieve the goal of "samrasta", meaning harmony, in society, in the face of such blatant bias and injustice.
Updated Date: Oct 10, 2019 18:08:01 IST