Lynching: A Toxic Mix of Crime, Lawlessness, and Identity Politics

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It shouldn’t take a social scientist to know that the cases of mob violence reported from different parts of India are manifestations of a crude combination of lawlessness, crime and assertion of group identities.

If you happen to be from Patna, you know if cattle belonging to a Yadav walking leisurely on the neighborhood street is hit by any motorcyclist, the rider could be thrashed even if it were not his fault.

Likewise, the main roads in Bihar running as arteries between the cities are encroached upon by hutments, vendor-dwellers, shopkeepers and pedestrians as if the motor vehicles had only the last right to the way. And if by misfortune or mistake a vehicle hits any one or a mishap occurs, the driver could be beaten up by the locals and the vehicle torched.

In rural areas of Bihar, incidents recur on a regular basis where a lady is lynched by a hostile group of villagers or family members on suspicion of being a witch, even if in reality she might be suffering from mental illness. The village mobs can quickly take laws into their own hands and instead of turning over the culprits of thefts or crimes to the law enforcing agencies, they deliver instant justice by beating them to death.

A few years ago, one owner-director of a private boarding school in Bihar was clubbed to death while others were watching and a few were making video on mobile phones. The reason for “the people’s verdict” was that two of the boarders had died in mysterious circumstances. The law-enforcing agencies representing the State were clearly absent.

Astonishingly, many cases have been reported from Bihar where small police stations were mobbed, vehicles burnt and the police personnel beaten up into submission.

Now, take this mentality of aggression and mob violence to the political level: It has been noticed consistently that whoever comes to power -- in identity-personality terms -- his or her caste people or supporters suddenly start showing more belligerence and violence.

For example, during the period of the first Chief Minister of Bihar Sri Krishna Singh, the Bhumihars admittedly turned bellicose; the Maithil Brahmans were aggressive during Jagannath Mishra’s time or the Yadavs felt they had license to do whatever they wanted when Lalu-Rabri were at the helm. Ironically, the dalits in the bureaucracy tried to solidify and rear their head during the regimes of Mayawati (UP) and Jeetan Ram Manjhi (Bihar) against their OBC or Forward Caste peers. The caste-consciousness is always stirred up.

This phenomenon, however, is not limited to Bihar only. The Thakurs during the regime of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in Rajasthan, the Jats and the Yadavs in UP when Charan Singh and Mulayam Yadav became Chief Ministers did the same. The sub-nationalism of the Marathas, the Reddys, the Tamils, the Telugus, the Patwaris or the Patidars and many others is well known.

Along the same lines, the Hindu nationalists in India are showing similar attitude following the election of Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath as the Indian Prime Minister and the U.P. Chief Minister respectively. The criminal elements among them feel encouraged to settle their old scores with whoever comes in their way, particularly those who have been consuming or trading in beef.

The reports of killings by the mobs (lynching) have always been coming in from different parts of India for different reasons. However, the beef-related violence has definitely increased in frequency since the BJP came to power in 2014. According to a report quoted in the New York Times, 61 out of 63 attacks were recorded since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. The jump in cow or beef-related attacks in 2017 where the majority killed were Muslims confirmed that antisocial or criminal elements were emboldened by the Yogi coming into the Chief Minister’s office in U.P. Such incidents have also been reported from another BJP-ruled state, Jharkhand.

The reason for the communalization of the political climate is also partly attributable to the administrations of the Samajwadi Party in U.P. wherein Mulayam Yadav or his son Akhilesh Yadav granted unfair freedom to the Muslims to run illegal slaughter houses or unlicensed beef trade. In the initial weeks, the Yogi administration banned many such activities.

Secondly, besides the RSS, an arm of the BJP, the Yogi is reported to have founded his own youth brigade, Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) that was pressed into fighting the Maoist attacks or infiltration of illegal aliens, mainly Bangladeshi Muslims, through the Nepalese borders. Protesting against religious conversions, watching against luring of Hindu girls by the Muslim boys or formation of cow vigilante groups were on the agenda of the HYV.

The Yogi’s brigade seems to be delivering on the pre-listed agenda. He has the instruments of the State in his hands and considers moral policing to be his divine-ordained duty. Like Nitish-Lalu in Bihar, he can also claim to have people’s mandate on his side.

It can hardly be contested that just as the Congress, Mulayam or Lalu played the Muslim card, the Yogi is now playing the Hindu card in reverse to promote his own brand of identity politics. For a real secular, democratic and fair-minded people, both sides of the spectrum are wrong. The State hasn’t played its role of a fair arbiter. Crime and violence are bound to rise.

The welcome sign is that the Prime Minister has denounced the cow or beef related violence. Most encouragingly, the Hindus have stood up asserting that such crimes must not be committed in their name.

Muslims must also send a message to politicians asserting that they shouldn’t be used for political-electoral purposes.

Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.



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