Delhi and many other cities in India witnessed a protest against mob lynching on Wednesday. Recent lynchings and the lacklustre response from the government (in both states and at the Centre) are getting a lot of attention from the media. While there is an intense opinion-based battle raging online and offline, the killing of a 16-year-old in Haryana prompted a host of concerned people to come out on the streets to protest.
I was there too. I am a witness. I also saw certain things that did not make sense to me. It was a strange evening, which had some…anomalies. So I am going to do what I do best: present my observations and ask a few questions.
Why I decided to go
I found out about this protest through WhatsApp. I got forwards in multiple groups that such a thing was happening. 6 pm at Jantar Mantar on June 28, it said. Be there. I ignored it at first for a very simple reason that the message said it was specifically to oppose killings of Muslims by a mob. I am personally uncomfortable with public protests, which have religious overtones. My perspective about lynching is simple:
A human being is surrounded by other rabid human beings, humiliated and then murdered. A mob takes law into their hands, justifying it in their head with a made up reason, and then acting on it. Crowds react quickly and there is very little thinking involved because crowds are known to do that. A human being loses his/her life in the most brutal of ways and THAT IS WRONG. Period.
I realise it’s an idealist view, but the truth is, life and death is that simple really. If I want to be alive, I guess, everybody else wants the same.
I have spoken to many people about this and reached a conclusion that NOBODY is cool with murder when it’s put in such simple human terms. Whether I spoke to a Right-winger, Left-winger, liberal, conservative or any other ideology (and I have spoken to a bunch of them), everybody privately agreed that they are uncomfortable with the fact that innocent human lives are being lost.
On June 27, I saw a few tweets reverberating these sentiments.
So I made up my mind that this was a good time to speak up – “STOP THIS MOB LYNCHING”.
I reached at 6 pm and saw that there was already a considerable crowd assembled there. A bunch of people I know from various walks of life — journalists, policy wonks, political operatives, etc, were all there. People related to the political side of things were in the background, watching. They were not going out of their way to talk to the media about their party or their leaders or staking claim to the protest. They were there because they cared, like me.
First thing I noticed: There was a stage with proper graphics and lights and a sound system. I asked myself, “Wait, if this is a spontaneous protest, who paid for this stage to be setup?” I even asked a few people. Most of them had no idea and started wondering about that too, one person told me that it was built using some contributions from the public. I let it go at that point but the question still lingered.
My idea of the protest was that a bunch of people would gather at Jantar Mantar with banners and express their outrage over the lynchings. I did not expect speeches and a Rabbi Shergill performance to happen there, honestly, but all that did happen. I was actually comparing it in my head to the students’ march that happened last year (after the JNU incident) or the December 16 protests that happened after the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, which were pure outbursts of public anger and disappointment with the administration. They were spontaneous and organic. This one, I am not so sure anymore after seeing the stage.
(Note: THIS IS NOT AN ACCUSATION. It’s just a question I have and if any of the organisers can answer it after reading this piece, please do. I will correct myself.)
A few meters from where the protest was happening, there is a tent where a gentleman named Dr Prem Singh has been fasting since June 25. I had seen a tweet about it earlier so I went to see him. He was surrounded by a small crowd that was listening to a wizened old man speak about mob lynching. Dr Singh was sitting on the ground looking visibly upset. When the old man started talking about how different political parties should be asked to join the protest, he screamed at him and said (in Hindi): “Don’t involve political parties! They ruin everything. Please don’t talk about parties.”
I took a photo of that moment too:
There was not much media attention going his way because a random collection of OB vans were parked quite a distance away, near the stage. I don’t think many people even knew that this was also happening in the same place. (Not sure if any media house covered it but a simple cursory Twitter search reveals that there is one story by Scroll.in a day before the protest.)
Another interesting thing about this event was that there were a considerable number of aged people present there. Volunteers were providing chairs to them and making sure they were not inconvenienced. It was heartening to see that.
The media presence was incredible. OB vans were littered everywhere across the venue, representing almost every media channel. I was at the protest, but was being told that the simultaneous protests were being telecast live across the board for the whole evening and well into the night. I spotted Ravish Kumar doing his thing, going around and talking to folks about why they were there.
Journalists from other outlets were also doing live broadcasts over social media, talking to people and getting their views. I noticed that there was a gaggle of folks who seemed to be there just to get the media attention, as is often the case during such protests. But most of the people there were present to express their genuine concern over lynching.
Times Now had a curious take on the whole thing:
They claimed that the organisers of this protest also contacted people in Pakistan to hold a simultaneous protest there to oppose lynchings here in India. Alt News has a piece on this craziness that passes off for journalism. Read it and you’ll see what I am talking about.
An attempt to discredit with an agenda?
This whole “was there an agenda” business is frankly quite annoying. Especially for people like me who came there purely to oppose murder. And there were quite a few, believe me. Most of the people there at the protest had come because they got the information from either social media or Whatsapp or word-of-mouth that this event was happening. They wanted to be part of the general outrage they sensed is building up within their fellow countrymen.
But then, there were others who were selectively opposing the lynchings of Muslims. Even the graphic on the stage, which was later pointed out to me, highlighted incidents of lynchings where Muslims were involved.
I do feel that *all* incidents should have been highlighted there to give out a sense of complete solidarity.
Let’s get this straight: By being selective and pointing out that one community is being targeted, we are falling for the same trap that has been set up by rulers to maintain power. It has been done multiple times and our British oppressors even had a phrase to describe it — Divide and Rule.
We are doing disservice to ourselves by not pointing out the fact that the government should have NOTHING to do with religion and that the law is applicable to all equally. Data does point out that 86 per cent of the people who were killed through lynching were Muslims. But let us not forget the fact that 100 per cent of these people were killed by incredibly rabid human beings.
This selectiveness has turned it into a Hindu vs Muslim thing and there is no denying it. The majority of incidents being highlighted by the media have religious overtones to it. By highlighting the communal angle again and again, they end up fanning the flame further. We are falling for the same old drill of accusation and counter-accusation.
“Where were you when such and such Hindu was butchered? Why didn’t you protest then?” asks one side. “Why aren’t you acknowledging the fact that these people are being targeted specifically for being Muslims?” says the other side. Very few answer: I am here now and I am equally outraged for all lynchings.
There are very obvious ‘sides’ and the nuance that would bring everyone together to condemn these killings is being lost somewhere.
Take a look at what Times Now is doing, for example. They are very obviously exploiting these protests to garner attention to themselves and cause a further rift between the two sides. None of their anchors are going to say, “Listen, please. Stop. This butchering needs to stop! Whatever the religion of the person getting murdered.”
Indeed it’s important to acknowledge the specific pattern of targeted killings in these horrifying incidents — in the case of Junaid Khan’s murder, his family has stated that religion was a big factor in the attack. But we also need to recognise the obvious larger pattern at play here. Let us collectively accept that this whole ‘agenda’ that everyone speaks of is being brought up time and again for a few very obvious reasons.
This is a big distraction from our failing economy and crushing unemployment. People are frustrated, confused and angry owing to a series of disastrous policy decisions, which were unleashed based on some whim. Decisions that are profoundly affecting our livelihood and making all of us feel helpless. The ‘agenda’, if there is such a thing, is not to let the anger be directed towards the government but to channel this rage and give it an outlet: target the ‘other’ community.
The idea is to rule using fear of mutually-assured destruction. It seems like a deliberate attempt to create a sense of insecurity where we constantly keep thinking that there is an enemy who is coming after us, to hurt us and take over our lives. So much so that other issues take a backseat and we are kept distracted through polarisation.
The BJP came to power on the promise of ‘development’, to advance business and make our country prosperous. What is happening today is also sending out a bad signal to investors abroad that the current government is desperately trying to attract. The only way to ensure that businesses would function is to ensure that they are backed up by a peaceful society where people live in harmony. Incidents of lynching are doing the opposite. If these incidences are not dealt with soon, there is a chance that BJP’s already fragile economic agenda will be in the doldrums.
Question the protest, not the intent
The #NotInMyName protest might or might not have been spontaneous. There are some obvious anomalies that were observed not just by me, but by many others. Having said that, let us not discount the intent of all the people who attended. Some deep-set feeling of worry drove them towards Jantar Mantar that evening and the mutual unrest was palpable.
It was primarily a crowd that otherwise constantly outrages on social media that got off their bums for a change and braved heavy rains to be there. Everyone present was not ‘elite’ and no they did not do it to ‘defame’ the country. They were there to make sure the administration pays attention to the brutality, which was unleashed on unsuspecting individuals.
Never forget, hate has no religion.
Endnote: the protest seems to have caught the attention of our Pradhan Sevak. Now I just hope he sincerely does something about it.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @Memeghnad