If journalistic ethics and editor(s) of this paper would have permitted, I would have preferred not to write this piece under my name. There are times when there is need for expressions to transcend individuals and for personal assertions to evolve into — or yield to — collective sense and sensibility. This is one such occasion when joint action is the need, in action and in thought. This is one of those dark periods in history when clarifications and justifications cannot be accepted. It does not matter if Junaid Khan was stabbed or clubbed to death. It is of no consequence whether the mob concluded that he was carrying beef in his bag or if the tragedy was a result of an argument that went too far. None of this is of any relevance because the 16-year-old was targeted for what he looked — Muslim.
Communal profiling is the credo of the politically and socially dominant in contemporary India. Sadly, as deputy superintendent of police, Mohammed Ayub Pandith’s lynching in Srinagar demonstrated, once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no way of putting it back. The first signs of what lay ahead surfaced 25 years ago, a few days after Babri Masjid’s demolition when a Muslim journalist wrote a first person account in a major Indian magazine, a rarity then. He did not — and doesn’t still — had the stereotypical Muslim “look”, yet he confessed that in the afternoon of December 6, 1992, as the television screens showed dust settling over the rubble of what had been a decrepit 16th century mosque, he instantaneously understood what it meant being Muslim in India.
In the past quarter of a century, the sense of being the “other” has deepened as various groups — in the name of religion, caste, nation or even the party — have granted themselves the right to handout extra-judicial punishment merely on suspicion or supposition. It was assumption that led the mob to storm Mohammed Akhlaq’s house in Dadri merely on the basis of rumour. Since then the list has lengthened and names, which meant little previously, became milestones on the highway to hatred. All are part of the list because they were either locally known as Muslims or carried identifiable insignia of the religious community. Does this mean that for safety it is advisable to shed all “markers” of any religious group just as, post-1984, Sikhs shaved their hair off? Can one “look different” and yet not be communally profiled?
Scrutiny of data illustrates the horror. Data journalism initiative, IndiaSpend, painstakingly culled out stark figures: More than 50 per cent of victims or survivors, since 2010, “violence-centred on bovine issues” were Muslims. They also comprise 86 per cent — 24 persons of the 28 — of those who died in these attacks. More chillingly, 97 per cent of 63 incidents were reported after May 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office. If the ruling party still refuses to accept complicity, it must be stated that almost half of these violent incidents occurred in states where the BJP is in power. If anyone presumed that public outcry and widespread condemnation after the Dadri lynching would have toned down the fervour of vigilante groups, they were sadly mistaken. During the period for which data was put together, the highest number of gautankwadi (a Kafkaesque word made up to denote terrorism in the name of cows) activities was reported in 2016 — 25 incidents, or slight more than two attacks every month. This year may well be more gruesome: 20 attacks already and half the year still remains. To what level will public executions and attacks further rise in 2017? Will there be any attempt on part of the political leadership to send a message to the cadres and the executive that attacks must cease?
It is not that Muslims are the only ones being profiled and targeted. In several states and for several years — since Atal Behari Vajpayee’s tenure — dalits have been attacked by vigilante groups who assumed, without evidence, that the dead cow they were skinning was actually killed by them surreptitiously. Upper caste hostility towards dalits has been let loose with deathly earnest after two Thakurs became chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. On the day that people protested in several cities, reports surfaced of fresh vigilantism, this time in a Jharkhand village. Just the stage changed the narrative remained the same. Post-haste, a conclusion was reached without investigations and punishment meted without trial. Kangaroo courts go about their business without effort from the government to stop them. The theatre of macabre violence was staged all the way on the train on which Junaid was killed.
We are witness to a new form of mob violence that is passively assisted by the state. A lethal form of spontaneous mass violence is being justified in the name of nation and religion. Their persistence is wearing down sensibilities. The intensity of anger at Akhlaq’s lynching is now absent as the list gets longer. Targeted deaths are fait accompli. Last time people returned their state awards in protests. What do people have to surrender now besides their lives and sensibility?
None of this, however, has ever been done by active goading of the ruling regime. On Thursday, probably in his strongest criticism of fringe supporters, Mr Modi denounced those who kill in name of cow. His intervention at this critical stage must be welcomed, but action and self-introspection must follow his words. State governments must act, specially in BJP-governed states, against vigilantes who maim and kill. They cannot continue hiding behind collective memory lapse.
The guilty must be tracked down, detained under severest laws, speedy trials must be conducted and the state must leave no stone unturned to ensure their prosecution. Mr Modi must also weigh if past interventions, specially in August 2016, were too mild and take corrective steps. Unless he demonstrates his decisiveness, bigotry will run amuck and derail his vision of “new India”....