The spate of lynchings may not stop too soon

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The dangerous trend of lynching in the name of protecting cows has the potential to destabilise the unity and integrity of the country. The spate of lynchings may not stop soon – at least not till 2019 general elections considering their polarising impact – because till now there has not been any strong condemnation from the top leadership.

Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, lynching has become the new normal. The occurrences of mob lynchings have been on a steep rise across the country, especially in the states ruled by the BJP.

According to a latest reply to a question in Parliament, incidents of lynching were 644 when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. It went up 751 in 2015, 703 in 2016 and 822 in 2017.

According to media reports, 14 people have been killed since May 20 due to rumours of child lifting or cattle theft created through fake videos and messages. Five persons were lynched in Maharashtra as a mob suspected they were a gang of child lifters. For the same reason, a mob in Tripura killed a man, who had been engaged by the state’s information and culture department to spread awareness against rumour-mongering, while another mob lynched a woman in Gujarat. Two men were, on the other hand, lynched by a mob in Jharkhand for alleged lifting of cattle.

The dangerous trend of lynching of minorities, especially Muslims, by right wing groups in the name of protecting cows has the potential to destabilise the unity and integrity of the country. Since 2015, when Mohammed Akhlaq, father of an Air Force official, was killed by a mob on the suspicion that he stored beef in his house, around 70 people have lost their lives due to lynching across the country. And each successive cold blooded murder is becoming more daring than the previous one because of laxity on the part of law enforcers and encouragement from politicians in power.

Take the example of the murder of 28-year-old Rakbar Khan, who was killed in Alwar in Rajasthan last week. Rakbar and his friend Aslam were attacked by a mob on the allegations that they were smuggling cows. Rakbar was badly injured after being beaten with sticks and stone before the police rescued him. But instead of taking him to the hospital, the police men first went to a cow shelter to keep the cows there and had tea on their way as the injured man lay in the police vehicle writhing in pain. Finally, when the police men reached the hospital around three hours later, Rakbar had already succumbed to his injuries.

Probably, the police was callous because it was the second such incident in Alwar. In April last year, 55-year-old dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was killed by a group of cow vigilantes while he was going to Haryana after purchasing some cattle in Rajasthan. Before succumbing to his injuries, Pehlu named six persons who allegedly attacked him. They were arrested but granted bail after some time. In September last year, the police investigating the case gave a clean chit to the accused.

Apparently, such cow vigilante groups get emboldened by encouragements from their political masters. They think that they can get away with the crime of lynching innocent and defenceless people because the leaders of the ruling BJP are behind them. Some leaders have also amply demonstrated their solidarity by their utterances or action. Last month, Harvard educated Union minister Jayant Sinha created a stir by garlanding eight persons convicted of killing a Muslim in Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh in the name of cow protection. After Rakbar’s murder, motor-mouth BJP leaders of Rajasthan are attributing bizarre reasons like “increasing population of Muslims” as the cause of mob lynching! BJP MLA Gyandev Ahuja said the men accused of killing Rakbar are “innocent and should be released immediately” by the police. An RSS leader said that lynching would stop if Muslims stopped eating beef (as if only Muslims eat beef!)

The cow vigilante groups are festering in such an ecosystem. Encouraged by the BJP leaders, they are becoming more aggressive. They care a hoot about the wellbeing of the cows. Using cow as a political instrument, they just want to subjugate over 17 crore Muslim in India. This may have dangerous consequences if allowed to go on unchecked.

Facing criticism from all quarters, especially the Supreme Court that expressed grave concern over repeated incidents of lynchings, the central government set up two high level committees last week to look into the menace – one secretary level committee and the other minister level committee. Headed by the Union home secretary and comprising four other secretaries, the first committee is expected to submit its recommendations to the second committee – a group of ministers headed by home minister Rajnath Singh – in four weeks. After going through it, the group of ministers would submit its own recommendations to the prime minister.

But the spate of lynchings may not stop too soon – at least not till 2019 general elections considering their polarising impact – because till now there has not been any strong condemnation from the top leadership of India’s ruling party. Neither is there any visible exemplary action against the perpetrators of the crimes by the state governments ruled by the BJP. The formation of committees by the central government may be meant to avoid contempt of court’s judgment about unacceptability of mob lynching.

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