Why there’s no crying halt to lynchings?

As the number of lynching incidents increases across the country, the emergence of mobocracy has put India’s secularity and democratic constitution to test

News reports of lynching of young men, have been on and ongoing! In fact, academic and publisher, Zafar-ul-Islam Khan, compiled a list of the men lynched, from June 2014 till the summer of 2017. He clarified that this list does not include names of the injured in the same or other similar incidents. And I went through the list of names of the 27 men lynched in that period, 25 names are those from the minority community!

And veteran journalist Ziya Us Salam’s book Lynch Files The Forgotten Saga of Victims of Hate Crime (Sage) focuses on the lynch tragedies. To quote him, “In recent years, cases of mob lynching of Muslims and Dalits have increased to an alarming extent. These cases are discarded and forgotten without any justice served to the victims. The emergence of mobocracy from the roots of Hindutva and gau rakshaks has put India’s secularity and democratic constitution to test.”

Mind you, so severe has been the impact of these lynching killings on the community that many Indian Muslims, including I, did not ‘celebrate’ Eid for the last few years. Nah, no celebrations in the backdrop of the mounting tragedies.

Taking you somewhat backwards, towards 2017.It would be apt to describe the summer of 2017 as a stretch of ongoing sorrow. In fact, there had been several reported incidents of gau-rakshaks lynching young men on the beef alibi. One after another…right from the day Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri, on suspicion of storing beef in his home.

And as I had travelled through the interiors of Haryana’s Mewat region what stood out was sheer poverty, together with that the scare of the goon brigades. In fact, Meos living in Haryana’s Mewat belt told me that the ‘beef’ excuse is used to hound and harass the Meos. With parched lands, closed diaries, shut eateries, Meos looked very tense, “Our children arrested, thrown in jails …we beaten with rods if we protest. Are we animals! Are we living some enemy country! Today we can be killed on cooked -up charges of cooking beef or selling beef -biryani! Our forefathers fought the angrez for the country’s Independence but see what we are facing today!”

Haryana’s Mewat belt was no exception. Tense situation prevailed in the rural stretches of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, where entire Muslim clans sat apprehensive…There were reported cases of Muslim men thrashed and abused and humiliated, forced to swallow cow dung and drink cow urine, even hung from trees, by the goon brigades unleashed all around.

Along the expected strain, the killing and hounding of the hapless carried offshoots. A majority of the Muslims in North India, including I, did not ‘celebrate’ any of the two Eids — Eid -ul- Fitr and Eid- ul-Adha — in 2017. One could say that Muslims did observe Eid, and with that they offered namaaz in the various mosques and visited relatives but there were no celebrations. Muslims went about with black bands on their arms, upset and disillusioned with the biased system. As several put across. “We are getting lynched. And the killers not arrested. Even if caught for television shots, they are let off by the police!”

Also, the following two years — 2018 and 2019 — many Muslims, including I, did not celebrate Eid. What celebrations in the midst of the continuing political chaos and violence spreading out ever so steadily and blatantly.

And if one were to focus on this year’s Eid – ul – Adha, just hours before the Muslim community could even start to think in terms of ‘celebrating’ Eid – ul – Adha came in news of the lynching of a young Muslim man — Luqman Khan, in Haryana’s Gurgaon. Yes, last fortnight, this 25 year old man was attacked by goons armed with hammers, fracturing his skull! Big hue and cry that day but what after that day! No follow- ups! No political ruler even squeaking a word on that horrifying incident!

Tensions had been building up for the last few months – It started off with the anti – CAA-NRC- NPR protests. Accelerating with the Delhi pogrom, followed by arrests of scholars and students, and also of the victims of that pogrom! And then came the Coronavirus together with the communal virus, killing hundreds amongst us. To be followed by the plight of our migrant workers and mazdoors.

Tell me, what lies ahead….what more sorrows and hate- killings in the midst of communal build-ups! Can human forms be left alive and spared! Can there be a halt to lynching.

Ending with these lines of Sahir Ludhianvi, tucked in Ali Husain Mir and Raza Mir’s volume ‘Anthems of Resistance’:

‘…Blood however is blood; if it spills, it will congeal

It will congeal on the desert sands, on the murderer’s hands

On the brow of justice, and on chained feet

On the unjust sword, on the sacrificial body

Blood is blood, if it spills, it takes root…’

♦ ♦ ♦

Protima Bedi had more to her than an attractive body

As August 18 nears, I’m reminded of Protima Bedi’s death in a landslide, in Pithoragarh on August 18, 1998…

Many more memories are coming up ….Much before I had interviewed Protima Bedi, I’d been spotting her all over this capital city, New Delhi. Some aspects stood out and seemed unchanging she was never alone but always accompanied by a male friend, who invariably happened to be one of those who’s who, from the creamy lot this city houses in plenty…She always wore simple cotton stuff; very often the traditional mundu (Kerala’s two piece saris) tied rather low, with her mid riff amply revealed. And there seemed much emphasis on the tiny little blouse or choli, with her breasts making their presence more than seen! Even the short-sighted couldn’t help but see her lazily camouflaged or just-about  somewhat covered breasts! She didn’t seem to wear much make up, except a big-sized bindi and lipstick on her thick lips! That pout caught attention. Oh, yes, she looked attractive and she knew that people were staring at her, rather ogling! Her gait was confident and even when she wore the simplest of saris or mundus she looked different. Something or everything very different to her.

I had met Protima Bedi and spoken to her along the informal strain, at several of the social dos and gatherings, but a detailed interview with her came up when she was all set to dance before the newly formed forum Association of British Scholars (ABS ).And with that, she was all set to collect enough money for the dance school  Nrityagram  she had set up in Karnataka.

And as the interview progressed, it got more than apparent that she did not feel comfortable answering any of the queries related to the then reigning political figure of Karnataka, Ramkrishna Hedge, whose name was more than linked with her …She’d retorted and reacted to any of those romantic links to him, “If that was true then I wouldn’t be begging for rupees for my dance school…right now I feel like a beggar, begging for one hundred or ten thousand …yes, I am begging for 100 or 10,000 for my dance school …but no giving up.No way!”

But didn’t her dance school get ample funds from the Department of Culture? “Of course we got, but we need more funds. After all, I’m taking our traditional dance to the rural areas, for that’s where it belongs.Why should cultural dance forms get limited to the urbane elite, viewing in the air-conditioned halls …I have taken our traditional dance forms to where it belongs — to rural India. And today we have more than 200 village kids coming to learn the different forms of our traditional dance and 18 residential students too … its a dance village that I am trying to run.”

But with all her possible contacts with men on the circuit, funding couldn’t be such a problem. Well, not such a problem that she’s reduced to ‘begging?”

“What men! What contacts! I’m so involved in my dance village that I have no time to think of anything else… from early morning I’m so busy with the daily chores. We do all the work ourselves — cleaning, cooking, washing,teaching. I am determined to continue doing what I’m … have to keep this dance school going on. Yes, I am very strong willed-woman and even if I have to starve I will not give up.” Starve for what? “Obviously for food! What else!”

And with that she took to explaining that traditional dance forms must be taught to women and that its time women of this country be given their due freedom in the actual sense of the term “How can I rest in peace when so many injustices are going on …Look at the way our women are being suppressed! Look at the crap going on in the name of culture!”

And when I pointed out to her that very contradiction  she dancing for this urban elite forum ABS, and yet talking of rural India, she hit out — “For funds! For my dancers! For my dance village! For my passion, my dance school !’m one of those women who never ever gives up.”