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A Mob Can Come For Any of Us

Two of the three main accused in the lynching case, in which a 50-year-old man Mohammed Akhlaq was killed by a mob in Bisada-Dadri village in Greater Noida last week, have been arrested. They are young men named Vishal and Shyam, who had allegedly conspired with the priest of a local temple to incite people by telling them over the temple loudspeaker that Mohammed Akhlaq had slaughtered a calf and stored its meat in his fridge at his home. One of the theories police are working on is that one of the young men had a personal score to settle with Akhlaq and he plotted with his co-accused to trigger a communal excitement to gather a mob to kill him. Akhlaq was dragged out of his house along with his 22-year-old son Danish, who was critically injured and is still in hospital with serious injuries. If that theory is true, it is a disturbing trend. People can excite communal passions to serve personal ends.

However, even that theory presupposes that strong communal prejudices exist and that people who entertain such prejudices can easily be instigated to join a mob to attack a target they already believe to be guilty on the basis of their prejudices. No one asked the two young persons and the temple priest to go to police or civil officer or local council or MLA or MP with a complaint against Akhlaq, if any. No one asked whether anyone had seen Akhlaq slaughtering the calf or whether anyone had seen its meat stored in his fridge. No one advised them to go and meet Akhlaq and question him if he had done anything of that sort. No one offered to accompany them if they were going to meet Akhlaq. All the 200-odd men who formed the mob believed what they were told by the main accused. Is this a civilized India? Is this an India where everyone is conscious of not only his or her rights but also of other people’s rights? Did Muhammed Akhlaq have no right to explain his side of the case or defend his right to life?

Mob justice is contradictory to legal justice in a democracy. All political parties – from the BJP that rules the Centre to the Samajwadi Party that rules UP – are asking each other not to “politicize” the Dadri lynching case. Their mutual advice is nothing but warning to each other not to play to their specific communal constituencies. They are looking at the prospects of harvest of communal votes. There is absolutely no doubt that Muhammad Akhlaq was a victim of communal beastliness. The mob was assembled at communal instigation. However, even if we were to ignore the fact for a moment that Muhammad Akhlaq was someone whose religion and food habits were different from those of the attackers, the incident is inexcusable. If such mob lynching becomes the norm, some people in one religious community could instigate other people of the same religion on grounds of caste or sub-caste or ethnic ground and lead them to kill anyone on whatever the provocation they can excite a mob with.

If any political party or partisan religion-based organization is feeling happy about a mob killing someone of a minority community in Dadri they need to be seriously warned that this kind of patriotism poses a grave danger to democracy and society. Mob lynching has been taking place here and there across the country. Mobs lynch someone they suspect as thief; mobs lynch someone they suspect as eve-teaser; mobs of one caste lynch someone of another caste; mobs of persons belonging to one ethnic background lynch someone who is not from their ethnic background. And of course, mobs of one religious community have been lynching persons of other religious communities during riots or even in individual incidents. So, if anyone is feeling elated at the “final justice” given to Muhammad Akhlaq for killing a cow, they better sit back and think what kind of India we want to see and make. Lynching will become the norm in the society. And it would not always, exclusively and only target followers of religions who are demographic minorities in India. It would target anyone from any faith, any caste, any state, any class.

Let us hope that the police pursue the case to secure successful prosecution and conviction of the main accused and the members of the mob who slaughtered Muhammad Akhlaq. Let us hope that also drives a sense of deterrence among those who are willing to allow their communal prejudices to overpower them in such a way that they go out and kill a man without any fear of law enforcement authorities and any fear of justice. Reports say people of a religious community, including Akhlaq’s family, are moving out of the Bisada village. It is something that must not be allowed to happen. People of different religious faiths should be helped to revive their mutual trust, despite the unforgivable case of brutality.

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