(Sanhita Saikia is a freelance journalist based in New Jersey,
USA and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
India is globally known as the country of non-violence and spirituality. The legacies of Emperor Ashoka, Gautam Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, and many others have left an imprint on the way India seeks to carry itself on the world stage and also how the rest of the world perceives it. Many seekers of wisdom and inner peace make their way to India, hoping to find a path to spirituality and enlightenment.
With this overarching image of peace and an aversion to violent ways lies the contradiction of rampant everyday violence within our society. One would expect a country that has given the world ahimsa and yoga to also be at peace with itself. Unfortunately that is not the case today. We claim to be civilized on one hand, touching the zenith through modernity, yet our actions time and time again prove how primitive we are.
Mobs are taking over civic spaces in India. The use of violence to resolve an issue is never too distant from most spheres of everyday life. Public lynching, a barbaric form of political expression and moral policing, seems to have become the new normal in India. Narratives of heart-wrenching horror have gripped the nation, as Indians kill Indians in some of the most grotesque mob violence ever recorded in total disregard for the law. Horrific images and reports and video clips of people being tortured or dying terrible deaths are surfacing every week across the country.
The recent bone-chilling lynching of two young men in Assam is both sad and terrifying. This incident exhibits how our humanity has taken a diabolical turn. In striking similarity to the incidents of mob lynching in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, an angry mob recently lynched two youths from Guwahati to death in a remote area in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam on suspicion of being child kidnappers. One of the attackers recorded the entire act of barbarism and circulated in social media where one of the youth was pleading before the murderers that he was an Assamese and from Guwahati.
It is beyond incomprehensible how these two innocent men met such a brutal death in their own homeland. They were killed by the failure of the system, rising of fake news in social media, a growing deficit of humanity and empathy, and the barbaric mindset of mob mentality. Lynching is an act of unspeakable horror. There is an absolute asymmetry of power. It is a mob versus an individual, who is often defenceless and begging for life. One of the most stinging descriptions of the dangers of mob violence was Mark Twain’s response to a racial lynching in Missouri in 1901. He saw in it the danger of America turning into “The United States of Lyncherdom”. The secular republic of India, more than a century later, appears to be amidst the shadow of a similar fear.
Lynchings and hate crimes in modern India are following a disturbing new trend which resembles the lynching of black Americans in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century US. During 1880-1930, thousands of black Americans were lynched by white Americans on fictitious accusations of raping white women or stealing cattle. The victims were killed in most horrific ways to inflict maximum pain and suffering. The dispersed body parts of the victims were collected by the attackers as trophies.
In the 21st century India, the perpetrators don’t collect the body parts of the lynched victims but they film the horror on their smartphones and upload it onto social media. There are several videos of such attacks being circulated in the social media by the attackers themselves. While sharing the horrific videos, the attackers neither have remorse for committing such an inhuman act of violence nor do they fear the law of the land. Rather, they feel proud of their horrendous act and want to keep the memory of the event alive.
Lynchings are a reproduction of supremacy. Photographs of the dead being circulated are less about the victims. It’s a visual symbol of majoritarian power asserting itself. The delivery of justice in India is very tenuous. Inefficient policing combined with an over-burdened judiciary makes it easy for people to take matters in their own hands and get away with it. India is slipping beyond the pale. It is unfathomable that the ancient Hindu horror at the taking of life, any life, the very same doctrine of ahimsa, or non-violence, that governed the beliefs of men like Mahatma Gandhi and Gautam Buddha, should in our time be used as a justification for murder.
The culture of collective murders as a social phenomenon is moving from the margins to the mainstream. Now lynching is becoming ubiquitous. It can happen anywhere, anytime. It is appalling how normal people turn into beasts when part of an angry crowd. Every act of violence that we tolerate without protest, brings it a step closer to our doorstep.
The recent spate of lynchings in our country is beyond comprehension. These cold-blooded murders have left us aghast, stirred our souls and made us wonder whether it is the new normal. A failure to recognize this new form of violence in India and call it out not only absolves us from introspecting the rot in our society, but more damningly precludes us from moving forward to resolve it.