Anything that can even momentarily please the collective conscience of people passes off as tolerable.
Mohammed Azam Ahmed, a software engineer working in Karnataka, was recently lynched to death in Bidar. Azam was mistaken as a child-lifter based on the fake news doing the rounds on messaging apps that ‘outsiders’ were kidnapping children. Azam wasn’t a tribal villager, Azam wasn’t a meat trader. Azam was a techie working on a project with Google. Azam could have been any of us.
The Supreme Court recently urged the Government of India to formulate a separate law for punishing those convicted for lynching. But how much can it really help when acts of lynching don’t even shake us anymore?
A brutal and heinous crime is made worse when it becomes normalised in society. Rapes used to irk our daily conscience a long time ago. It made us angry, it disturbed us. Today, hardly a day goes by when we don’t read of a rape case in our newspapers. It has stopped disturbing us. It doesn’t take long for a crime that once stirred our collective sense of morality and became headlines to slowly move out of the front pages.
That is exactly what is happening with the recent spate of lynchings.
What makes lynching a crime unlike any other? Is it unlike any other? Nearly all hate crimes require a certain degree of dehumanisation of the victim in the offender’s head. It requires the process of making enemies out of those who come from another religion, caste, village, community, country, and so on. It is the manifestation of a deeply held feeling of superiority where one is just a step away from taking the knife.
It started off with Muslims being the primary victims of hate crimes on the alleged pretext of cow slaughter or beef storage. According to India Spend, Muslims were the target of 52 per cent of cow-related violence between 2010 and 2017, and comprised 84 per cent of 25 Indians killed in 60 such incidents. We are seven months into 2018 and all victims of cow-related hate crimes are Muslims.
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The story turns only more dismal when we start accounting for those lynched because of child-lifting rumours. While most of these lynchings were based on false rumours being spread on WhatsApp, the question we need to ask is whether – about cow slaughter or kidnapping children – we would have been okay if they weren’t based on false rumours.
Are we okay with living in a world where the only means of satisfying our flimsy sense of justice is by taking the law into our own hands? The greatest danger of normalising mob vigilantism is precisely this: Anything that can even momentarily please the collective conscience of people passes off as tolerable.
It should be noted that fear and insecurity are definitely not limited to the geographic location of where an incident occurs. The repercussions of a lynching in Karnataka are felt in Delhi. Only the privileged can reduce the perpetual sense of fear that the minority and underprivileged communities live in to just a number – of incidents and victims.
The gory images of people being lynched and videos of the incident going viral are almost like badges of honour for the offenders, enough to strike terror, anxiety, and dread in a community. When lynching-accused are being garlanded, is there any hope left whatsoever?
The last time minority communities felt a sense of respite, or even a brief sense of optimism was when amid all the lynchings there were some people saying #NotInMyName. The protest was a great show not just of solidarity, but also of outrage. And outrage we must. Because the minute we stop the outrage, lynching becomes as normal as every other crime we only remember to forget.
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