A fifteen-year old boy was lynched to death in a train by a mob, when he was returning home with his relatives, on the evening of Thursday, June 22, after doing his Eid shopping in Delhi. The mob threw his body at Asaoti railway station near Faridabad. The boy's name was Junaid Khan. There have been more than a dozen cases of lynching of Muslim men across India since Narendra Modi came to power, particularly since September 28, 2015 when a mob lynched 50-year old Mohammad Akhlaq at Dadri, near NOIDA, over rumours that he had consumed beef.
In all such cases, like that of Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Riazuddin Ali, there was not only public outrage, witnesses were identified, FIRs lodged and the cases proceeded in the courts. But this case was different. As the Indian Express reported on the front page on Sunday, June 25, of the about 200 people who were there on the Asaoti platform while Junaid bled to death, not one of them had seen anything. The police could not muster a single witness to Junaid's killing. Even now, two weeks after the lynching, there have been some arrests but no great leads in to why and who killed Junaid. The footage only captured three men boarding a motorcycle and fleeing from the area soon after the train in which Junaid was killed came to a halt at the station. This indicates unmistakable intention, but nobody, wants to identify the killers.
Aarti Sethi writes searingly in Kafila Online, that the police cannot find a witness because something very peculiar and uniquely terrifying seems to have happened to those present at Junaid’s death :
"the totalising force of an unspoken, but collectively binding, agreement between Hindus to not see the dead body of a Muslim child" Aarti Sethi in the same piece draws a stark conclusion : " On June 22, 2017, the Republic effectively ended. India is no longer a secular constitutional republic but on the precipice of being transformed into a majoritarian state…"
However, here, I argues that there is still hope. If the civil society comes out loudly and unmistakably against such mob lynchings and if this is the beginnings of a united democratic movement.
I could not believe the descriptions of Junaid's lynching in full public view inside the train, no one coming to held, no one admitting to have seen anything as the child's body lay on a platform where it had been thrown.
I also suddenly remembered the video of the lynching of the sons of Balu Sarvaiya, a SC by caste who traditionally skins and disposes off dead cows , who were flogged with belts and sticks on suspicion of having slaughtered a cow. One of Balu's sons was dragged by a car on the road, till the video went viral (it was the assailants that used social emdia) and thousands of Dalits protested the next day. Fortunately, the sons of Balu Sarvaiya survived.
My next reaction was to take out my ruffled, yellow-paged copy of Lee Harper's " To Kill a Mocking Bird" to check what lynching meant in the racially charged southern States of America.
In this memorable best-seller, there was no description or scene of any actual lynching. Only two in which the mob had gathered . One in which the African-American gentleman drove his car fast past a mob inching to lynch him and his family. The other near-lynching scene was in which Atticus Flinch, the lawyer defending Tom Robinson, the man accused of having raped a white girl, guards the main door of the jail in which the accused is lodged. A seemingly drunk mob gathers outside the jail, it seems with the clear intention of breaking the prisoner Tom Robinson out of the jail and lynching him., the purpose being to send a message to the African-Ameican community and to prevent Tom from going to trial. The mob comes very close to Atticus and asks him to move away which the lawyer refuses. Atticus' children manage to reach the jail and talk the mob into dispersing.
When I consider these fictional accounts of lynch crowds in the United States in the racially charged 1920s and 30s, and compare them with what is happening in the cases of Muslims and Dalits in India at present, I am liable to agree with Walt Disney when he remarked " Truth is stranger than fiction" and even more grim and cruel..
The silence over Junaid's lynching on Thursday, June 22, was both eerie and frightening This silence was finally and firmly broken on the evening of June 28, when there were #NotInMyName protests in Delhi and 18 other cities of India, like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Pune, Faridabad, Chandigarh,Thiruvanthapuram, Lucknow, Patna, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Gaya, Allahabad and five cities abroad.(The Economic & Political Weekly gives a vivid and live account.)
I was present in a 2000+ strong gathering (Dr. PS Sahni of PIL Watch group puts the number at 3000 while another estimate says it was 3500) as activists from all walks of life gathered in drizzling rain, during the '# Not in My name' protest meeting full of songs, poetry, memoralia and mono-acting, at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, The protest was a great success as the rain as well as the support and enthusiasm of the gathering brought much relief both to the beseiged minority community as well as the educated middle classes all around. It was a most moving and powerful show of cultural resistance to emerging fascism.
I soaked in every moment of the cheerful solidarity expressed by the protest with the victims of the ongoing lynching tyranny. The meeting began with a strong and combative introduction by Saba Dewan, on how the # Not in My Name campaign originated and moved forward after 15-year old Junaid's lynching last week Thursday and the reign of silence and fear that followed.
Though the immediate families of Junaid and Pehlu Khan could not arrive despite every intention, they were represented by relatives and vocal members of their village. The audience were in tears when Mohd. Azharuddin from Junaid's neighbourhood, read out a 'fictional' letter from heaven from Junaid to his mother on earth.
The meeting was spruced up with Gandhiji's favourite Bhajan 'Vaishnava Jana' sung by Mohd. Haneef Khan and group, recitations of nazms by Dr. Padmawati 'Chhinna' Dua, Gauhar Raza, Sabita , Akhil Kumar and Vinod Dua, the song-with-guitar 'Bullah ki' by Rabbi Sher Gill and a powerful performance by danseuese-cum-actor Maya Rao.
The audience cheered and clapped throughout, undeterred by the drizzling rain. Soon news trickled in that similar 'NOT IN MY NAME' protest meetings were simultaneously going on in 19 Indian cities and were scheduled that day in 5 cities abroad. I could spot some of the faces I knew of well-known women activists, journalists, human rights activists, Professors, lawyers, student leaders.
Particularly noticeable were the skull caps and beards of people who were for once feeling at home. Also noticeable were. the emerging faces of resistance to tyranny and incoming facism. Must congratulate the visible faces of the organising team, particularly film-maker Saba Dewanand Rahul Roy.
I say visible faces because I do not think it was spontaneous. It was so well planned, organised, co-ordinated and executed beautifully. Plenty of resources – human, moral, material, temporal – seem to have gone behind it. It gives us hope. Congratulations to the emerging faces of #NotInMyName event in 19 cities in India and 5 cities abroad. I fully agree that#NotInMyName is a much-needed step forward from the prevailing fear and silent acquiscence to frequent lynchings of our Muslim brethren. It has unmistakably and firmly broken that silence. But it needs to be taken forward and broadened in scope.
Even now the public protests continue. There was a massive protest on July 3 at Dadar, Mumbai, led by filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and supported by various organizations, political parties and trade unions like AITUC. Kolkata witnessed a fiery torchlight procession on July 4, organised by the Young Bengal group. On July 8, despite non-cooperation by the police, Ahmedabad saw a massive demonstration organised by Gujarat Jan Andolan with people from all walks of life holding placards – 'Not In My Name', 'Shed Hate Not Blood' and 'Democracy Not Mobocracy'.
As I sit to complete and release this piece, news comes of 100+protest actions across Delhi on August 27 : Say NO to Hatred!#NotInMyName.
State and civil society were both quick to respond to these protests. Electronic and print media gave better coverage than usual. For days, these protests were the only talking point over social media, both Facebook and Twitter.
The very next Saturday after the Wednesday 28 June protests, the President of India who is the Constitutional Head of State used strong words when he remarked :“When mob lynching becomes so high and uncontrollable, we have to pause and reflect, are we vigilant enough? I am not talking of vigilantism, I am talking of are we vigilant enough, proactively to save the basic tenets of our country.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence the day after the nation-wide protests , making general remarks, expressing "sadness on some of the things going on…..killing people in the name of protecting cows is not acceptable….As a society there is no place for violence…. No person in this nation has the right to take the law in his or her own hands… " These words of the Chief Executive appear significant but the general public reaction was, it was too late, too little.
Facebook was aflutter with a retired English Professor Javed Mullick's Hindi poem :
" Dekho logo Modi boley
Dhol bajao, jashn manao,
Uchhlo, Koodo, khushi manao
Dekho, dekho Modi boley.
Modi boley, Modi boley
Jab duniya ne, phatkaar lagaee,
Janta cheekhee aur chillaee
Gussey mein sadkon par ayee
Tab kahin jaakar,
Bahut sambhal kar,
Ghuma phira kar,
Thoda sach jhoothon mein milakar
Zara -zara sa muh ko kholey.
Modi boley, Modi boley."
From the evening of the #NotInMyName protests on June 28, Facebook was full of cheerful photos and optimistic reports of how much relief these mass secular protests had brought to the minority community and common citizens.
Writing in the online journal, Countercurrents.org, Dr. P. S. Sahni of the PIL Watch group said " A thousand seeds of resistance got planted yesterday evening at Jantar Mantar, national protest site, Delhi on the blood shed by Junaid". Dr.Sahni thought this was the largest public gathering at Jantar Mantar for a long time. He observed, significantly, that it has brought much solace and confidence to the Muslim community , as did the public meeting in June 1984 at the Constitution Club against 'Operation Bluestar' at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, bring a sense of relief to the Sikhs at that time. Sohail Hashmi, cultural Historian, wrote on Facebook : "
What a great feeling of relief, lifting of the shroud of despondency and a rekindling of hope".
In sync with tough laws recently passed by the British and German Parliaments, and the US Congress against hate crime and hate speech, an online petition was launched last week in India too. Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani, Tehseen Poonawala, student leaders Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid and Bollywood actor Swara Bhaskar jointly launched a national campaign against mob lynching last week. They urged the Government to pass a law against mob lynching to be known , in short, as MASUKA or Manav Suraksha Kanoon.
There were some negative or critical comments too. I cannot agree at all with Shivam Vij of Huffington Post that #NotInMyName protests did more harm than good. Like the rain which accompanied the 3000+ strong protest at JANTAR Mantar , it reduced the political temperatures, tension and brought an immediate sense of relief to the Muslim community, that they are not alone in their suffering and that they belong to this nation as much as the others. Shivam Vij also seems to be completely oblivious of the amount of left-liberal support received by the Dalit movements of Una as well as Shaharanpur, the Adivasi struggles of Chhatishgarh and the farmers' struggles.
His seem like cynical comments. To say that these protests were basically the act of the Left Elite and that they did not touch upon the life of the common man – ignoring completely the daily legal/police lynching of the workers, peasants, Adivasis and Kashmiris. I cannot bring myself to agree. Lynching , whether by the State or the mob, cannot be tolerated at any cost and must be resolutely and strongly protested and opposed. Every such protest is valuable and cannot be minimalised.
Gautam Benegal, eminent graphic designer, painter, writer, documentary filmmaker from Kolkata, made an apt comment on Facebook, which went viral –
"The mob lynchers have a B Team. These are educated, English speaking Hindutva supporters who provide cover up fire to the backward mob killers. They keep silent at the violence of the mobs, but have a million critical things for people protesting the killings.
-"Oh but why didn't these people protest against Malda or WB killings?"
-"Oh but these siculars like NDTV will only speak of Junaid and never of police officer Pandit"
-"Oh, where were you when the Kashmiri pandits were being chucked out."
-"Oh if you speak out against the communal killings, you are the one polarising India."
Before you know it you will be defending your positions against their whataboutery and the targeted hate killings will become just another thing. These people are no less responsible than the brutal and crazy mob, for the hate-hole India finds itself in."
We also sought the reactions of people active on the Facebook and this is what they said.
Harbans Mukhia , retired Professor of History at JNU, was forthright :"a march here and some slogan shouting there touches merely the fringe of the vast problem. But Not in My Name gave voice to what was being felt by a mass of people. The fact that even the PM had to respond to it and some small steps are being taken puts the regime even more open to charge of misconduct the next time a lynching happens. Unfortunately political parties have lost their legitimacy. Thus such protests leading to a movement at the level of civil society need to be organized by different groups at different levels. But the protest did show that India is ready to resile from the extreme to which it is being driven. Some hope still lives on."
John Dayal, writer, human rights activist and former President of the All India Catholic Union asked on Facebook : " Is a #MillionMarch possible before 2019?" When asked pointedly on his view of the mob lynchings and the ensuing protest, he issued a common appeal to all religious leaders, particularly his own,which runs thus :
" We as a people have not shown, or voiced, our love and support for our brothers and sisters in distress. We have remained silent, or subdued, in the face of lynchings of Muslims and of Dalits by the cow vigilantes.
We have not spoken truth to power on many occasions in recent times.
We have not shown our oneness and solidarity with civil society which has shown courage to protest.
On the other hand, many in the leadership have made common cause with Ceasar, pleading that this capitulation will secure the community against persecution and targeting.
Can we be safe when our brother is targeted ?
This must weigh heavy on our conscience.
Our statement of preferential option for the poor, our policy on the Dalits, our new focus on the Tribals of central India, and our code on gender justice ring hollow, otherwise.
Our proven track record of service, in education and health, already dwarfed by the massive infusion of resources into these sectors by the government, corporate sectors nd other faith groups, will no longer be sufficient.
Religion is a moral and ethical watchdog.
It empowers the poor.
And makes us a pillar of civil society, which today plays an important role in safeguarding the constitutional values that underpin the Idea of India.
This Idea of India is based on Values of dharma.
In joining civil society and the common citizen in reclaiming citizenship and pristine constitutionality, we proclaim these values.
We call upon you to give the leadership India requires at this hour to strengthen its courage and resolve."
Krishnendu Sarkar, who is a senior management consultant presently in the Middle East, makes very definitive and clinching remarks : "Person who is lynched is Indian . The person who lynches is also Indian. The lynching must stop saving life of both. The Hindus who are misguided and participate in lynching must be educated and informed that they become criminal inviting legal punishment and community exclusion and shame for their family and children. They must stop becoming cold blooded murderer and play in hand of politicians. Also bystanders in group must intervene to stop such situation. Looking for some effort to save India. "
Khaja Jamaluddin, retired tea-planter from Kerala, now located at Hyderabad is very concerned when he says : " I definitely stand with all those who oppose this oppressive violently-bent regime.I wish we can dislodge this unholy ruling junta and replace them with what we as a United India were always used to."
Dr. Tripta Wahi, political scientist and former Professor at Delhi University takes up the issue of the extent of palpably false and unhistorical brain-washing that the mob is subjected to , when it engages in lynching an unsuspecting member of the minority or Dalit community : " Also one has to begin to address the question of historic facts. You go to any temple anywhere in India you find it being continuously stated that the temple was destroyed by the Muslim rulers. It is not denied that temples were demolished by some rulers,but majority of temples were not . It also needs to be remembered that shariat did not have provision for treating Hindus as zimmis,that is, people who were protected by the state on payment of a tax. Yet it happened. In response to the exigencies of the situation new developments took place in India despite opposition in the Islamic world. I personally think that short topical and relevant questions must be taken directly to the people . After all what is happening needs to be countered. Also Hindu rulers were doing the same kind of things in Java Sumatra etc which is regarded as greater India with pride by the self same persons/ideology . Hinduism also wiped out Buddhism and absorbed bhakti movement and made it caste ridden."
The important role of independent intellectuals and social groups to act as a 'safety valve' and mobilise strong public opinion against the break-down of law and order and the vanishing of the rule of law, cannot be minimized at all. I asked my respondents the pointed question : When there is such mob lynching of our Muslim and Dalit brethren and the State deliberately looks away, while appreciating the positive role of civil society, are some meetings and protests enough or do all secular and democratic forces need to come together in a strong, mass-based political movement to meet the challenge of the fascist, anti-democratic forces ?
Walter Fernandes, Jesuit, well known scholar, human rights activist and presently Senior Fellow at a Gauhati-basedResearch Institute, said : Yes Aurobindo I to believe that we should come together in a strong anti-fascist coalition though at my age I can give it mainly moral support. Please go ahead. The main objective is not winning the elections but providing ideological and moral support to the anti-fascist forces not based on any party."
Moolchand Sonkar, Dalit poet and writer responded : "a mass-based strong United anti-fascist democratic front is needed to meet the challenge but before going ahead a proper strategy be chalked out. "
Arun Maji, Advocate at Supreme Court and Convenor of India Against Fascism, said : " We urgently require to form a joint platform to resist the fascist Hindutwa forces."
Professor Ravinder Goel of Delhi University was conclusive, while limiting himself to the question of an united front to meet the fascist challenge : " In my view progressive forces ( left of all colours and socialists along with liberal individuals) should try to forge a unity and united front among themselves. Currently no need to join with various bourgeois parties. but support pro-people action of all. The question of all secular and democratic forces need to come together in a broad, mass-based strong United anti-fascist democratic front to meet the challenge of RSS and Hindutva forces should be taken up at a future date. In the absence of a united front of left forces it will essentially lead to tailing behind one or the other bourgeois parties and it will split when the chips are down. Remember the experience of PUCL days."
(The writer is a human rights activist, general secretary, Peoples' Rights Organisation, a human rights body)