Heart of darkness

All this is going to have an effect on the polity and the way we will go about our democratic or undemocratic ways. If the state is slack on issues of social cohesion, the nation will pay for it. Nothing subverts law like lynch law.

Written by Keki N. Daruwalla | Updated: July 20, 2017 7:35 am
 mob lynching, lynching, mob killings, junaid khan lynching, lynch law, democracy, muslim, attack against minorities, human rights, indian express Illustration: C R Sasikumar

Are we, as a nation, inclined to reading the fine print? Can one say confidently of any people that they can read the fine print? Look at how Donald Trump swayed the Americans and how they wail about it now. Is our government reading it? And the ultimate question — is the fine print really fine?

We have been having a mournful feast of words recently. The president, who has spoken about mob frenzy and intolerance, talked about the forces of darkness to be kept at bay. The prime minister and other ministers have condemned mob killings. But all this is so broad brush. It seems the real cancer is being swept under the carpet (excuse the scrambled metaphor). The core is hidden, the mind indoctrinated with sectarian antipathy that is reflected in the senseless murder of Junaid. The real issue is being sidestepped.

Junaid Khan, a handsome fifteen-year-old boy going for his Eid shopping was killed because he wore a skull cap, looked like a Muslim and horrors, was a Muslim. Hence the lumpen mob must have thought momentarily that they could get away with murder. They also stabbed his brothers.

This was not a case of transporting cattle or storing meat, where you could, with the aid of a conniving police, falsely accuse victims of intended cow slaughter. It is noteworthy that mobs are killing on “intended crimes” now, the murderer speculates on your intention (mens rea) and kills. Junaid’s case does not fall in the same basket as those of Akhlaq Ahmed or of Pehlu Khan, both victims of mob murders. We are confronted with a paradigm shift in the case of Junaid Khan. He was killed merely because of the “crime” of being a Muslim. This boggles the mind.

Does the state realise that with all these killings and obstreperous statements by some fringe leaders, it may be moving towards a conflict with the largest minority in the country? The party in power thinks it can go it alone. Of course, it can. No wonder it did not bother to give a single ticket to a Muslim in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections. But does that smell of “sab ka saath”? Is that the way you take the nation with you, a nation blessed with a hundred languages and castes and faiths, ranging from animism to monotheism? We also have the burden of the vulnerable: The most visually challenged people in the world, the most leprosy-afflicted people in the world. The list is rather long.

One hears that lumpen elements roam around at night on village roads in cars, lights blazing, looking for elusive cattle slaughterers. It is almost turning into a sport. I thought of Gloucester in King Lear: “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.”

We need to look back at our history. When did the first bomb blasts rock the country? After what events did terrorism come to India?

The sad day that Mohammad Akhlaq was killed and his house vandalised, that was the time the state ought to have acted. The prime minister could have spoken then, not two years later. It was the Atwal moment which Punjab and the Centre let go, when the DIG was shot in front of Durbar Sahib. Eventually, we all know the story of Operation Blue Star. Hard and timely action was needed earlier.

Now take the case of Yogi Adityanath. The day he takes over, mutton shops are burnt in Meerut. A stern warning to the lumpen elements followed by a direction to the police to take firm action, and UP would have been quiet. Instead, his whole emphasis was on “illegal slaughter houses” and how he would close them. The police, instead of taking strict action sanctioned by law, looked towards the BJP.

All this is going to have an effect on the polity and the way we will go about our democratic or undemocratic ways. If the state is slack on issues of social cohesion, the nation will pay for it. Nothing subverts law like lynch law.

Lastly, remember Bhagalpur? About a thousand lives were lost in the 1989 riots. Recently, Kameshwar Yadav, “a key figure” in the riots, has been acquitted by the Patna High Court. He returns to the pavilion, bat in hand. Come to think of it, whether it is 1947 or 1984 or 2002, or Hashimpura or Bhagalpur, at a rough guess, 95 per cent of the killers get away with it, not a good testimonial for our justice system, or our secularism.

Daruwala, a poet and short story writer, was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1984
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