The murder of 44-year-old Zafar Khan in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan, allegedly beaten to death on Friday by Swachh Bharat Mission officials, shows multiple levels of brutality. Visiting the Kuttchi Basti slum where Khan resided, civic officials were reportedly photographing women who, lacking domestic or public toilets, were relieving themselves in the fields. The officials apparently took pictures, abusing and shoving the women. Khan, a CPI (ML) member and community activist — who, the local CPI (ML) unit states, had written to the Nagar Parishad earlier about such harassment of Basti women — intervened. Shockingly, the officials attacked Khan, beating him so severely, he died on the spot. Several questions present themselves — is Swachh Bharat’s mission to brutally shame those lacking access to sanitation? Are Swachh Bharat officials mandated to attack citizens objecting to such humiliation? And: Why is the state of Rajasthan becoming the site of so many incidents of vigilantism, by the state and by non-state actors?
These questions have received no answer. Instead, amid the public furore, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje issued a perfunctory statement, calling Khan’s “demise” “unfortunate”. Her statement adds insult to injury. Khan’s death was no peaceful demise but a lynching. Intolerance in Rajasthan has been hardening apace, evident in the attack on artists at the 2015 Jaipur Art Summit (with the police booking the artists for a cow installation), on a painter at the 2016 Summit over “objectionable” art, and on filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali this January, by far-right activists incensed at his portrayal of a Rajput queen. Such violence has grown unchecked. In April, dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was lynched by cow vigilantes in Alwar in a clearly communal attack. In all such outrages, the state has either looked away, or blamed the victim. Raje, who tried projecting a modern, pro-growth image, may be warring with the RSS wing of the state BJP. But her silence — and her platitudes that lay the shroud of inanity over crime — only compound the crisis. It’s time Raje got a grip on her state and clarified her own position: Does she stand with or against the lynch mobs running riot in Rajasthan?
The BJP’s Central leadership should speak up too. When an e-rickshaw puller in Delhi, objecting to men urinating in public, was beaten to death in May, PM Modi strongly condemned the incident. Now, the silence over the alleged involvement of Swachh Bharat officials in this brutal lynching is deafening.