Let’s talk about hate: Mobs are a weapon of violence, fake news a trigger | By Ravish Kumar
Lynchings are proliferating as lines between nationalism and communalism are blurred, writes Ravish Kumar in the sixth part of HT’s Let’s Talk About Hate series.Updated: Aug 01, 2017 13:12 IST
As I got into my car after voting in the UP assembly elections earlier this year, a few school teachers who recognised me came up to say hello. As we were chatting, a boy in his early 20s walked past me yelling “anti-Modi, anti-Modi!”
I did not react and continued talking to the teachers. Within minutes, however, their tone changed, and they told me to leave. They rapped on my car and insisted that I go. Unsure of what was wrong, I drove ahead and looked in the rear-view mirror.
The same boy had joined up with a few other young men and they were running in my direction, shouting expletives. Even though that boy was half my age, he was part of a mob now, and considered himself powerful.
With my eyes transfixed by the image on my mirror, I drove on. The group receded into the distance. Like a dried leaf that travels far in a gust of wind, the dread that a mob can evoke lingered even as the boys finally went out of sight.
The mob is the most reliable weapon in today’s political scene. Hate is the ammunition. Fake news is the trigger. This is a weapon that can be manufactured, loaded, and fired at any time. It is formed by not just the gau rakshaks, but also angry civilians or even public servants, as happened recently in Rajasthan. It can be wielded anywhere: at a UP polling booth, as I saw, but also in a local train or thickly populated suburb in the heart of the national capital region. It can be aimed at teenagers minding their own business or journalists reporting a story.
Officially, our government does not support the mob, but you can see clearly which party has tended to keep silent, who backs the accused, and who doesn’t visit the victims. The lynch mob has its own government and its own rulebook.
Our culture has changed as a result. For a large section of the majority, the lines between communalism and nationalism have blurred. They feel that hating Muslims means greater love for India. For their confused sense of motherland, brotherhood has no meaning. Gone are the days when patriotism was taught as unity in diversity and respect for each other. Today, nationalism means toeing the line and shutting up.
We shut up out of fear; and what we fear, more than anything, is the mob.
Its authority is rarely challenged. In the murder of 16-year-old Junaid, the police nabbed suspects with the help of CCTV footage. But initially they failed to find a single eyewitness from the crowded railway platform where Junaid lay dying. His brothers, who were on the train with him, said that nobody attempted to help them as they were attacked.
Even members of the majority have been targeted by mobs. In May, Bhup Singh and Jabar Singh of Greater Noida were returning home from a neighbouring village with a cow when a group surrounded and began thrashing them. Their pleas of being dairy farmers and Hindus fell on deaf ears. Since they were being beaten up in the name of the cow, nobody came to their rescue.
- MAY 18, 2017: Seven men in two separate instances were lynched by mobs after fake news about ‘child lifters’ armed with sedatives and injections spread through WhatsApp in Jharkhand.
- In one instance, four Muslim cattle traders were dragged out of their vehicle and lynched by villagers in Sobhapur. Not too far from the location, on the same day, three Hindu men --Gautam Verma, Vikas Verma and Gangesh Gupta, who had gone to the village for work related to the Swachch Bharat campaign, were beaten to death while a fourth member, Uttam Verma managed to escape.
- In both instances, the police were unable to save the victims from the mob fury.
- JULY 7, 2017: During the communal riots in Basirhat, West Bengal, a Facebook post of a Hindu woman being molested was widely circulated. The photograph was a still from a Bhojpuri film released in 2014.
- JULY 14, 2017: Alt News – a website which debunks fake news, reported a call for lynching when a bus with Mohd. Ali Jinnah’s photograph was spotted in Bengaluru. The call for lynching the bus driver came from a Facebook post by a rightwing website contributor. The bus turned out to be a prop from a Malayalam film set.
Reporting on the Ikhlaq case from the village of Bisada affected me deeply. The most disturbing encounter was with a young man who wanted to click a selfie with me. I got into an argument with him when he justified the murder in the name of ‘sentiment’ and ‘feelings’. I gave up after a while, but it left me deeply troubled how these young minds had been poisoned so completely.
Only once have the victims of this wave of fear stood in revolt. In Gujarat, Dalits protested the flogging of a family in Una by refusing to dispose of the carcasses of dead cows, their job by tradition. “Tumhari mata hai, tum sambhalo (It’s your mother, you take care of it)” chanted locals. This has been the sole act of resistance; every other section of society is busy swallowing their fear.