There is a rising darkness in India. Mobs are acting out visceral hatred everywhere — on highways, in train compartments, inside homes — targeting people only because of their faith and caste. India has witnessed hate attacks in the past. What is new is the frequency and the normalisation of this lynching, in a growing aggressively majoritarian political and social environment.
Most targets of such attacks are Muslims. IndiaSpend, in a rapid survey of reported cow-related attacks since 2010, found that over half of those attacked and 86 per cent of those killed were Muslims. Dalits constituted 8 per cent. Many of the remaining 6 per cent were of unknown identity and could have been from these communities. Other targets of hate attacks are Africans and citizens from India’s Northeast. And 97 per cent of these attacks since 2010 were after Narendra Modi assumed office in 2014.
The political response to these attacks follows an established pattern. The prime minister and most BJP chief ministers don’t usually condemn the attacks, very few express sympathy with the victims. The occasional belated condemnation by the PM lacks conviction for Muslim survivors and liberal opinion, who observe a looming political conspiracy to bludgeon minorities into submission. Senior ministers and elected representatives come out in defence of the attackers, charging the victims with crimes that provoke the attacks.
The innuendo is that the victim, or at least the community to which he belongs, is somehow guilty and the violence is understandable, even if regrettable. The man hand-picked by the BJP to run India’s largest state founded and operated a Hindu militia openly committed to violently opposing cow slaughter and Hindi-Muslim relationships. The main opposition parties, especially the Congress, are timid and equivocal in their opposition, when the victims are Muslim, as though they are afraid to be counted as standing with the targets of hate attacks; in abject and disgraceful fear of a majoritarian Hindu backlash. It is only the left parties that sometimes reach out in solidarity with the victims.
The police tend to be, in most such instances, absent or partisan. They come in too late to save lives, and very often register cases against the victims and drag their feet to charge and arrest the attackers. On occasion, they are present even as the slaughter of innocents unfolds but still don’t act, pleading later that they were outnumbered.
These assaults are also characterised almost without exception by bystanders who either actively support the killing or do nothing to to save the innocent victims. I worry about most of us who watch and do nothing. Cattle trader Pehlu Khan can be killed on a busy national highway, and his sons and nephews mugged almost to unconsciousness, but not one person comes forward to protect them. Videos show bystanders marauding the vehicles, joining the wanton killing.
People film videos of the lynching. Others can be seen walking past unconcerned, just checking messages on their phones. In Una, the attackers themselves video taped the lashing of the four Dalit youth, and circulated these, convinced of their valour and impunity. Akhlaq was lynched by his neighbours. When attackers inflict around 30 stab wounds during a train journey on teenager Junaid, none in the compartment intervene and many goad the hate killers.
There is much that we must do to fight this rising darkness. We must fight majoritarian political parties and social organisations like the RSS; parties for which secularism is a strategy rather than a conviction; governments and policepersons who betray their constitutional duties; and the hate attackers, ensuring that they are tried and punished under the law of the land. But I believe our greatest, hardest battle will have to be with the bystander. With ourselves and with our own. We need to interrogate the reasons for our silences, for our failures to speak out, and to intervene when murderous hate is unleashed on innocent lives. We need our conscience to ache. We need it to be burdened intolerably.
To speak in this way to our collective silences, I propose to embark with as many comrades who wish to join on a journey of shared suffering, of atonement and of love. I propose through the month of September to travel from Assam, through Bengal, Jharkhand, UP, MP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, to meet families who lost their loved ones to hate lynching violence. With pain and shame, to seek from them our collective forgiveness, an atonement, to try a little to share their suffering. And to speak to them of our love. Safar dard ka, safar mohabbat ka.
Darkness can never be fought with darkness, only light can dispel the enveloping shadows. And so also a politics of hate can only be fought with a new and radical politics of love and solidarity. In battling ideologies that harvest hate, we can win only equipped with this love. We need to garner across our land a plenitude of acts of love.
In the rising darkness this love that has been lynched by fear, indifference and hate. Our own offerings in this journey will be modest. But even with these, I hope my comrades and I will be able to locate at least within ourselves our collective capacities for radical love.
Mander is a human rights worker and writer