[Want to do a series of posts on India@70. This is the first]
The problem in our country is mob violence.
It has been a problem since we became a country.
While the individual is powerless in front of the law, unless you have privilege like Mallya or Meira Kumar, the group isn’t. That’s why Indians intrinsically know that they can do pretty much anything as long as they attach themselves to the right group.
Growing up a student in Jadavpur University, I knew this too. Bunk class alone, and you lose attendance. Bunk class en masse, and the professor walks back. Not prepared for an exam, and you are in deep shit. No one prepared for an exam, why you can call a strike.
The victim in this country is always the individual who cannot form a group fast enough. If you are a pickpocket working alone and you get caught, be prepared to have the daylights thrashed out of you by the crowd. However if you are a pickpocket working in a group, and a man catches you just when you are reaching into a pocket, your fellow pickpockets will accuse the victim of being a pickpocket and thrash him up.
Driving a car through a crowded road. A man on a bike, without a helmet, comes crazily from the side and hits you. He assembles a mob and you are forced to pay him money. Or your car gets vandalized.
Get into a scuffle over seats, and before you know it, you have been knifed.
Protest against public molestation, and the group throws you from the running train.
Unfortunately rather than calling out this problem universally, our liberal media and their consumers like to close their eyes to mob justice when it happens counter to their narrative. So if a Muslim man is lynched by a crowd which is Hindu, it is a national emergency. If a Muslim man is lynched by a crowd which is Muslim, next please.
If it is Gujarat, then 2002 is always current affairs. If it is Kashmir, Pandit genocide is “bringing up that same old issue”.
A recent incident. A number of people were lynched on suspicion of being child abductors. Media figures quickly expressed outrage because based on the information available then, the victims were all Muslim. When it became known that some of the dead were Hindu too, the act became yet another statistic, consigned to the dark hole of media silence.
Which reminded me of something that had happened many years ago. In the 80s, a number of Ananda Margis, members of a Hindu religious monastic order, were lynched to death in Kolkata on the exact same suspicion of child abduction. However not one Calcutta paper put a communal tone to that crime. Not one Bengali intellectual gave back an award, not one. No one was ever convicted or tried for that, even though it occurred in broad daylight on Bijon Setu.
No problem can be solved unless we recognize it for what it is. Unfortunately that never happens.
Mob violence is always couched as a party or a person problem (“Oh those Hindu patriarchal cow-loving fascists” or “Didi wants to turn Bengal into Bangladesh”) rather than as a systemic malaise that cuts across party and state lines, the manifestations met through alternate bursts of selective outrage and strategic silence.
Which is why it festers. Through regimes and over time.
And the common Indian remains, by default, in a minority of one.