Mob lynching and its defenders

In his annual Dussehra address on October 8, 2019, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of RSS – a Hindu supremacist organization – stated that lynching was a concept alien to India. He objected to using a foreign word “lynching” for “isolated incidents of social violence”. “Such things have never happened in our country… This is a word for events that have occurred in foreign countries.” (Banerjee, 2019). It is unfortunate that Bhagwat problematizes the word “lynching”, used to describe a phenomena or events that are most reprehensible and abominable. What deserves strongest condemnation is the incident of violence and the brutalities involved which, most agree, is inhuman.Bhagwat condemns the violence (rather perfunctorily), however attempts to cover up the brutalities involved in the lynchings by problematizing the word. Bhagwat tries to pass such incidents as ordinary phenomenon of violence that occurs in everyday life, which can be attributed as a natural reaction to a provocation. Bhagwat attributes the usage of the word “mob lynching” to a conspiracy to defame Hindus.

mohna bhagwat

Most Indian language media do not use the word “lynching” to describe such incidents. Urdu media uses the word “bheedtashadud” (mob violence). Other Indian language media use translation of words ‘mob violence’ that captures the phenomenon of a mob beating up a few individuals. Does use of any word to describe the phenomena reduce the pain of the victims and their families? Bhagwat and, in fact, the organizations subscribing to Hindu supremacist political ideology, which are commonly referred to as the SanghParivar in the Indian media, attempt to kill the sensibilities of Indian people in general, and especially of the consumers of media, towards the suffering of victims by problematizing the word and passing off these incidents as isolated, unconnected, ordinary occurrences in society, although undesirable. Calling the incidents ‘undesirable’ is more for public consumption, political correctness and niceties, in order to qualify as a responsible mainstream organization. However, important SanghParivar leaders unapologetically justify, and even encourage, incidents of mob lynching. They are not even condemned by others from the Sangh Parivar.

On July 7, 2018,Jayant Sinha, Union minister in the BJP led government garlanded 8 persons convicted in the lynching case of Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh. Alimuddin Ansari was lynched to death by a mob of nearly 100 people on June 29, 2017. The message that lynch mobs get from the garlanding of those convicted for the crime by the Union minister is that the governmentis with them and supports their ‘heroic’ act. There are other leaders of the SanghParivar, who have approved and encouraged such heinous act.

The BJP led Union government was over enthusiastic and in a tearing hurry to criminalise the practice of triple talaq, or instantaneous divorce of Muslim women by their husbands, and made several attempts were made to get the legislation passed in the Parliament, merely on the grounds that the Supreme Court had recommended it, even though such incidents of triple talaq were very few. The same enthusiasm is not seen in enacting a law against mob lynching, even though the Supreme Court directed that such a legislation be passed(, 2019). The hurried enactment of a law criminalizing triple talaq and the denial of the necessity of a law to deal with lynching – both are politically motivated, even though the former was sought to be passed off as a legitimate response to the Supreme Court judgment.

What is lynching?
Let us try to understand why the incidents that are described as lynching by the English language media are different from ordinary violence leading to physical injuries, or even deaths, of the hapless victims. We will primarily try to understand this through two fact finding missions of such incidents in Jharkhand, in which this author was involved. The first incident happened onApril 10, 2019,in Dumri block of Gumla district, in which Prakash Lakda was lynched to death and two others were injured. The fact finding mission was appointed by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) (CSSS Team, 2019). The second incident of mob lynching took place on September 22, 2019, which again led to the death of ClemitiusBarla and injury to two others in Karra block of Khuntidistrict. This incident was investigated by SAFFORB-India, of which CSSS is a constituent, and this author was a member of the fact finding team. The report was published on October 5, 2019 and distributed to the media in Ranchi.

The lynch mob, in both the cases, accused their victims of slaughtering a cow and distributing its meat among the participants. In the Gumladistrict incident, the victims were skinning a dead ox. Traditionally, the caste Hindus hand over their dead animals to the Oraonadivasis for disposal. The Oraons extract the skin, distribute the meat of the dead cow and dispose of the carcass of the dead animal. Oraons eat meat of dead animals at the risk of their health, as they are poor. On the said day (April 10), a mob of 40-50 attacked those skinning the dead ox and brutally beat them up for close to 4 hours, till midnight, when they called up the police to take the injured away and charge them for illegally slaughtering a cow. The police responded by telling the members of the lynch mob to bring the three injured to the police station, even though the hospital was on their way to police station. The lynchers obliged, organized a vehicle and dropped them on the premises of the police station, where they continued to lynch them for some more time. Then the police took to lynching the injured, and then, carried two of the three injured to the hospital at 4.00 am in the morning. By then Prakash Lakda was dead. It is not a mere co-incidence that the targets of the lynching belonged to the Christian community.

In Khuntidistrict, Christian adivasis, belonging to the Munda community, were celebrating their festival Badpahari – an ancient adivasi festival. They were cleaning an ox on September22, near the river, and doing dangri (distribution of meat of the cleaned animal). Badpahadi / dangri is a tradition practiced by all adivasis, and despite the conversion to Christianity, the tradition continued. At around 8.00 AM, 15-20 people, armed with sticks and other weapons, from 3 to 4 villages, 3 to 10 kms away from Suari village, where the lynching took place, started attacking them. The attack could not have been but planned, if so many people from different and far away villages assembled early in the morning, travelling by foot, as the river bed where the attack took place is not motorable. Those, who were cleaning the animal, escaped while others, who were in the neighbouring field, were targeted. ClemitiusBarla, who died in the incident, was handicapped and, having his bath in the river, was caught and severely beaten. So was PhaguKachhap, a Hindu from a neighbouring village, who was watering his field, was wantonly caught by the mob. KushalHoro’s testimony to the SAFFORB team is important. He said, “Without asking anything, they straightaway started beating us. We all ran away to save our lives.” Both the teams concluded that the incidents, they were investigating, appeared to be planned. The targets were carefully chosen – poor, Christians and adivasis making them vulnerable three-times over.

Victims of mob lynching
Christians, and that too poor adivasis, are unable to fight, raise their voices in media before those who matter or come to their help. They are deserted not only by the media, institutions of the state and civil society, but also by the Church itself, which is as scared of the political consequences and accusations of conversions. Clemitius’ sister, KarunaBarla, who is an eye witness to the lynching of Clemitius, told us that after the incident, some unknown people visited them and told them not to file any case against those involved in the lynching. The case would be time consuming, the result of the case would be uncertain and it would cost a lot of money. The villagers got convinced on the last issue. They decided not to file any case, as it would cost them a lot of money. They were so naive as to believe the strangers, and the fear of financial cost involved deterred them from taking recourse to legal remedies. They did not know that they would not have to spend any money, as the state would prosecute the accused on their behalf.

The triply vulnerable poor Christian adivasis are further victimized by the state, by filing cases against them under the Jharkhand Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter) Act 2005. Instead of getting FIRs registered against those lynching them, their instinct is to run away to protect themselves from being maliciously prosecuted on false accusation of slaughtering a cow. An FIR against the lynched victims is registered first, before registering an FIR against the members of the lynch mobs. Tabrez Ansari and his friends were charged for theft in another instance of mob lynching in Jharkhand. Pehlu Khan and his son were charged under Section 5 of Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995, in the case of mob lynching in Alwar in Rajasthan. In the Khuntidistrict case, the police had not charged the victims, till the date of our visit. That seemed to be a rare exception. The police took the injured to the hospital immediately, though Clemitius died after his hospitalization.

The main reason why only Christian adivasis are planned targets of lynch mobs is to accomplish their objective of triggering a communally polarizing discourse of Christians slaughtering gaumata. That is the plank for the Sangh to divide the Christian and non-Christian adivasis, and create its influence among the non-Christian adivasis. Communally polarising the adivasis blunts their ‘adivasi’ consciousness as having different way of life and weltanschauung, and weakens their struggle to protect their right to land, natural resources, forest produce, both minor and major – in short, their right to jal, jungle and jameen– against the mining mafia and against displacement in the name of development. In Khuntidistrict, the adivasis – Christians and non-Christians together, waged a successful struggle against the amendment of the Jharkhand and Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Acts, which would have enabled the big corporations to acquire their land. Their traditional rights to jal, jungle and jameen are statutorily protected under the PESA Act, wherein gram sabhas are all powerful. The Pathalgarhi movement is to, precisely, defend these rights wherein the statutory provisions are carved on stones in villages. The Christian – non-Christian divide is blunting this adivasi consciousness. The BJP is known to be favouring big business more than any other political party in the country. The discourse of development favoured by the BJP is one which spurs urbanizing, construction of massive infrastructure of roads and flyovers for the urban rich and middleclass.

The lynch mobs and their objectives
The lynch mobs are drawn from the dominant caste Hindus of the region, who use symbols like cow as a political tool to further their social hegemony and domination in the area, particularly over the adivasis. In the case of lynch mob in Dumri Block in Gumladistrict belonged to Sahu community, Sanjay Sahu, who was arrested for lynching Prakash Lakda to death and injuring two,is a criminal history sheeter, accused previously of extortion and murder. Many Sahus had their brick kiln on adivasi owned land and were using the soil of the land to bake bricks without paying a farthing to the adivasis. They wanted the adivasis to live in fear and never demand their land back. Sanjay Sahu was protecting his hegemony, and those of his minions and community members, and killing Prakash Lakda was neither his first murder nor would be the last murder. ‘Gauraksha’ was a convenient cover for his social, economic and political interests rather than a religious conviction. Sanjay Sahu enjoyed the political protection of elected representatives, and the elected representatives need Sanjay Sahu and his minions to push the voters to electoral booths. Sanjay Sahu’s political clout is evident from the fact that the BJP MP, SudharshanBhagat’s victory procession ended in his village, Jairagi, which makes no other sense as it is neither the border of the constituency nor has any other significance.

The accused in the Khuntidistrict incident were allegedly from Bajrang Dal and belonged to the Rajput caste. They were from Poda, Jaltanda and Karra block headquarters. Their names are Parmanand Singh, Ravindra Kumar Singh, Bhubaneshwar Singh and Pushpa Raj. Our informer told us that there were several other incidents of mob lynching in the area. However, no one reported the incidents, the victims being from the marginalized community. When the victims did summon courage, the police scared them away. Since, in this case, the lynching resulted in death, it attracted media attention and, therefore,the FIR was finally registered. The group was working with impunity and creating their political clout and fear among the marginalized communities. In both the cases, one of the objectives of the mob was to establish their unquestioned social hegemony, not only over the victims, but the entire community to which the victims belong.

Lynching and ordinary crimes
The difference in lynching and other crimes lies in the manner in which it is carried out and in the objective. Lynching is carried out openly, publicly, demonstrably and without any fear of law. Ordinary crimes are done with as much stealth as necessary to escape the law. Unlike terror attacks, caste violence and communal riots, wherein the targets are any and every member of a community, the lynch mobs target particular individuals accusing them of some wrong doing – whether or not the accusation is a fact. The mob may consist of scores of people from the dominant section of the society, enjoying the patronage of the state. The individuals targeted by the mob are under their complete control and can be made to do anything that the mob orders them to do – even eat shit or chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or ‘Bharat mataki jai’ or chant any invocation against the most sacred creed of the victim. The target of mob lynching is totally helpless. The members of a large mob encourage even the worst brutality. No brutality is brutal enough to be not perpetrated on the victim. This includes jumping on the body of the injured victim lying on the ground and unable to get up, beating for hours together with sticks and other weapons, burning, hacking with sharp instruments. The victim is perceived as worse than an animal – a demon whose existence, and his/her community’s existence, is a threat to the entire society. The brutalities are committed to send a message to the entire community to which the victim belongs. Therefore, videos of the brutality are made and uploaded on the social media to terrorise the entire community and gain sympathies of others for, what one thinks, a ‘heroic’ act.

There is no remorse in the members of the community to which the lynch mob belongs. Lack of remorse surprises us. How can human beings be without any remorse for the brutal act on the victims? While the theatre of communal riots has been mostly in urban areas with some exceptions, mob lynching is communally polarizing in the rural areas as well. Mob lynching is encouraged by SanghParivar as a vehicle to take the Hindu supremacist political ideology to the rural areas. Empathy of the SanghParivar for the lynch mobs is, therefore, understandable. The BJP and the SanghParivar are, therefore, against enacting any legislation to deter mob lynching.

By problematizing the word ‘lynching’ as foreign,Bhagwat and others in the SanghParivar obliterate this distinction between ordinary social violence and the brutalities that entail the mob lynching incidents, and indirectly acquiesce the incidents. Some even glorify these incidents. However, lynch mobs are not only digging the grave for humanity, they are also digging the grave for the rule of law in India and for Hinduism itself.


  1. No data on lynchings, NCRB withholds figures
  2. Jharkhand, Mob Lynching and Marginalization of Adivasis
  3. FIR against celebrities who sent letter to PM against mob lynching: Bihar
  4. Dalit men beaten up for attending birthday party, Rajasthan
  5. Lynching: India’s Shame!




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