India can never discriminate against its citizens on the basis of caste, creed, religion or colour. This is what home minister Rajnath Singh said in Lok Sabha in response to Opposition members raising objections to the remarks made by former BJP Rajya Sabha member Tarun Vijay in relation to the colour of south Indians. “This country can never allow to differentiate on the basis of caste, creed and colour,” Singh said.
But there is a considerable disconnect between Mr Singh’s heartening words and reality on the ground. There have been violent assaults on individuals based on religion, colour and caste in recent times by vigilante groups who have taken it upon themselves to dispense justice for various perceived wrongs.
One of the most horrific was the lynching of a cattle trader who was running a legitimate business but was set upon by self-styled gau rakshaks in Alwar. The attack on Nigerians in Noida on suspicion of their involvement in the drug overdose death of an Indian student is another example of a race hate crime. These are just some of the incidents that have taken place recently but on which the law has not moved fast or decisively enough.
Mr Singh must understand and acknowledge that we are a very discriminatory society in many areas. Ideally, awareness and education should serve to erase some of these prejudices, but as seen from our matrimonial ads and the actions of the khaps panchayats, to cite just two examples, this does not always hold good.
As home minister and senior BJP leader, the message from him should be that such incidents will be dealt with severely and swiftly. We have seen that when it comes to mob violence of the sort we saw in Alwar and earlier in Dadri, apart from desultory arrests, the kingpins tend to get away with murder.
Politicians must share the blame for this sort of vigilantism as the recent example of a BJP MLA exhorting people to behead those who oppose the Ram mandir construction shows. Those indulging in inflammatory rhetoric which incites crowds should be booked and not let off with a mere rap on the knuckles.
As home minister Mr Singh can certainly take the lead in making sure that punishment for discriminatory offences is swift, certain and severe. At present, vigilante groups, who attack people who look, behave or dress differently, seem to have no fear of the law, often posting their ugly actions on social media. It is welcome that the minister has expressed these sentiments, he must now act to make sure that they are backed by action.