Mob Violence–India at 70

[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.


18 thoughts on “Mob Violence–India at 70

  1. First. Right on.

  2. Any solutions? Education does not seem to have worked. Nature of society has coarsened and it does not seem to be getting any better.

  3. Is the problem related to the nature of us as a people or is it a result of specific laws or nature of the administration? Also what evidence would you like to collect if you wanted to prove your hypothesis?

  4. I like this article, and agree with your analysis. I have also seen mob violence atleast several times, and its very very scary and disgusting!! Most of the times its overheard about any pick-pocket/ chain-snatching incident. If allegedly caught (where you highlight 2 diff variations) instead of handing over to police, the alleged pocket-maar would be thrashed left and right by a mob who will gather around. But what I felt always more abhorrent, and heard about it many times (& seen about atleast 1 incident) is the role played by many so called white-collar passengers. In a busy platform they will be on their way home/or to office. Towards home is preferably better I felt after a frustrating train ride. They would come around, either cheer (mar mar salake mar!!) or even push around to get in the ring – “dada dekhi dekhi ki hoyeche, ki hoyeche”…and off comes the Bhadrolok mask – with a kick and couple of slaps!! The frustration is now gone …and boast proudly …which can be heard clearly – (salader mere shesh Kora uchit!!)…or just boast about it while quickly leaving the spot (dekhli kemon dilam!!). The police will always arrive later while curious people will look around a body – either dead or alive, & who knows what was his faith – a Hindu or a Muslim??

  5. So true Arnab.

    To look at it from another angle – there are several instances when alleged criminals (alleged remember, not convicted) are lynched by mobs in our country without any thought to due process.

    When it comes to serious criminals such as alleged rapists, the media and even supposedly rational people seem to relish that fact that the mob has delivered “justice”. Yet, in such instant “justice” there is often no way to establish guilt, who really knows whether the person is innocent or guilty. And even if they are guilty, what about the quantum of punishment for the crime in question.

    This kind of mob behavior takes us further and further away from a civilized society, and the rule of law continues to regress.

    It is an even more complex problem because the justice system in our country is so incompetent, slow, inefficient and corrupt.

    The only solution should be to bring those that commit mob violence to justice through law. But that seldom happens because as you say, there is security in numbers, and rarely does the police take appropriate action. This again goes back to the weakness of our justice system.

    A real head scratcher of a problem.

    1. It’s a core law n order problem, police never reaches on time, ppl involved in violence never face judicial punishment.

  6. Samarpan Dutta June 26, 2017 — 5:07 pm

    Very aptly put! As far as the media is concerned, the narrative of mob violence becomes a better-selling commodity if it can be woven into a prevailing, larger narrative… refraining from introspection into the real reasons behind the violence. Very often, the violence of a mob isn’t necessarily a well-directed assault on the specific victim/victims for the stated cause but rather a manifestation of pent up socio/political/economical frustrations and prejudices that can be given a ‘safe’ outlet. I use the word ‘safe’ in the context of escaping culpability as you have mentioned in your write-up. The solution to mob-violence, therefore, cannot be found in only stronger laws/enforcement but has to be sought in ways to stop such large-scale festering of these frustrations. The media and political parties across the divide play a large role in drumming these up.

  7. the difference your article ignored is what is a one-of incident and what is a recurring trend. It is becoming common and easy to target a particular group (i say group and not muslims because i have seen articles of truck drivers, south indians, etc) with the accusation of carrying beef and using it to inflict violence. That is disturbing..

    The mass amnesia is that people completely forget that India had been one of the largest exporter of beef..

  8. The Apathetic Indian June 27, 2017 — 7:08 pm

    Your analysis of how the victim is usually the person who can’t form a group fast enough is spot on. I also agree that the media has a big role in giving a communal angle to everything. But aren’t you giving the government and the ruling party a free pass in all this? Maybe there’s not much they can do when these incidents happen apart from letting the law take its own course, but they did and still do indulge in dog whistle politics. Election time they hyped up cow protection. Even now from time to time there will be a party person who condemns an incident then gives a dog whistle for the elements who support such violence.

    To me it seems like the extreme right and left are two ends of a pendulum that swings between extremes. The media is on one end but some or most of the blame has to go to the people who started swinging it

  9. Dont remember any of your posts being so full of whataboutery as this one … I differ in the political spectrum from you but have always respected your take on everything and your insights which generally cover all aspects of a topic … Unfortunately here you seem to have focussed only on the erstwhile mainstream media and liberal twitteratti outrage just to highlight the hypocrisy. And what better way to highlight hypocrisy than using whataboutery. Rightly so.

    Unfortunately, the piece says nothing about this bloodthirsty mob mentality. Point to be noted is that the pickpocket is also accused of it and not convicted of it , as is the cow thief or the beef eater. So dont see the logic of condemning one and not the other.

    The area where I have a concern is the way the buildup happens … A pickpocket gets caught in a public place and ppl around him / her thrash him … There is no group going around looking for pickpockets to catch them and thrash them to death. That does not seem to the case with regards to the lynching related to cow and beef. “According to reports”, there are groups which are doing the same. Do remember a few pieces which even had published interviews of self proclaimed leaders of such groups. Thats the line of distinction that I would like to draw. Lynching an accused pick pocket is the same in terms of the criminality of the act as is lynching of an accused cow thief. But the motive and build up seems very different.

    The other aspect is that the rhetoric on part of the govt in terms of cow protection is a lot more aggressive than other criminal acts which possibly reinforces the mindset of the gau rakhshak sanghs and they do not even think that they are doing something which is criminally wrong. Unfortunately twitter outrage can do nothing to change that mindset.

  10. Nice reading but how is it surprising? It’s the same old ‘power of plurality’ that the grandmothers (now, the nannies) have been demonstrating by folding their fingers into a fist. Whenever there is a sizeable ‘group’ around me, I become a potential member of either a vote-bank or a panel, “United we stand” – a taste of a rebellion, all for free – it’s fun all the way to exhaust the ‘negative energy’ (whatever that means) through an outburst on someone/something else while being surrounded by fellows.

  11. In the 80s, many news reports of women being branded as witch/jadu-tona and killed or outcaste from village. All to grab their land/property.

  12. Akshar Prabhu Desai July 17, 2017 — 1:30 am

    A very natural consequence of state failing to do its basic duty. If the state can not be relied upon for justice people are going to take up the law in their hands. State is dealing with more pressing matters like Snapchat filters, drinking age for whiskey and underwear on mannequins. Molestations and traffic accidents can wait.

  13. Arnab,

    I was able to download the Juggernaut app in UK and download the book Mahabharata Murders for Rs.30/-

    I am sure people would have already mentioned this to you via email / Twitter / Facebook.

    This is just insane. Rs.30/- is insanely low. If you are ever in UK, I owe you a beer (I don’t drink, but I am aware of some nice pubs) / coffee / anything you want.

    I have just downloaded the book on my wife’s Kindle because it doesn’t seem fair to be outside India and yet get the book for Rs.30/- (That’s less than £0.50!!!).

    Please do communicate to Juggernaut.

    1. Thank you. Have communicated to them. According to contract, they do not have the rights to sell outside India.

  14. A better more independent police system is what we need apart from a better more independent every other system that we have

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