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Time to stand against violence in India


India has a long record of Hindu-Muslim hostility, linked to our history of invasions by Muslim rulers centuries ago. The partition of India did not help matters.

However, apart from sporadic riots mostly provoked by venal politicians or priests – ordinary people, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Adivasis and others have lived relatively amicably, their livelihoods often interdependent and interconnected. Our history books taught us this was ‘unity in diversity’.

But the last few years have seen a deliberate stoking of communally-charged violence. People are being pitted against each other. Social media is being used to spread false rumours, to manufacture hatred. To incite anger. Start riots. A small but growing minority portray themselves as protectors of Hinduism, claiming it is under siege by Islam and Christianity.

Groups calling themselves ‘gau rakshas’, (cow protectors), roam across India, killing with impunity anyone they feel has violated not the laws of the land, but the arbitrary norms laid down by these vigilante groups.

Most attacks have been against Muslims falsely accused of eating, killing or trading in beef, now banned in several states. But Dalits, whose caste-based livelihood has always revolved around the disposal and skinning of dead animals are also being targetted. In Una, Gujarat, two dalit boys were brutally thrashed, ostensibly for killing a cow.

Dalits are still ordered to pick up dead animals in villages all over India. Dalit school teachers and government officials aren’t spared. They have no choice. Refusal brings on violent attacks.

Adivasi (indigenous) people are also being pitted against each other. A campaign of hate is urging these generally peaceful people to kill each other. Those following their ancient religious practices against those converted to Christianity.

What’s particularly distressing is the impunity accorded to perpetrators of these lynchings and murders. Harsh Mander, a former civil servant, turned writer and activist, points out that an enabling atmosphere has been created to attack minorities.

The list of recent victims confirms this. On 1 April, 55-year-old farmer Pehlu Khan was killed on a busy national highway in Alwar, Rajasthan. In Una, attackers circulate videos of merciless whippings of dalit boys accused of killing a cow, crowing about their misdeeds, confident of impunity. A crowd cheers them and others join in for fun.

A couple of years ago, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by his neighbours in Uttar Pradesh over rumours that his family had been eating beef at home – but the meat in his fridge was mutton, not beef.

Junaid Khan, just a teenager, was stabbed 30 times on a crowded train between Delhi and Mathura. Onlookers did not intervene. They just watched. Some indifferent, others partisan.

Hindus who believe in secular India are often afraid of being branded traitors or unpatriotic by fundalmentalist Hindus. But all over the country, ordinary Hindus are standing up to disassociate themselves from these crimes.

Many prominent Indians have taken a lead in the ‘Not in my Name’ campaign and numerous other protests across the country.

Harsh Mander has initiated one such a protest.

Emulating Gandhi, who marched for unity just before he was assassinated, Mander has rallied together people from all over the country who want to say, ‘Enough. End the hate’.

On 4 September, a group of people, with prominent activists Mander, John Dayal and Ram Puniyani leading the march, initiated a Caravan of Love, Karawan e Mohabbat (KeM) – a journey across parts of India worst affected by the lynchings. Supported by a dedicated band of young people working frenetically, the caravan will visit the families of the massacred, to atone on behalf of the nation. It began in Assam, scene of the Nellie massacre in 1983, where over 2,000 Muslims were butchered with impunity.

The caravan met two young mothers Halima and Rumeena in Nagaon, Assam state. Their teenage sons, cousins Abu and Riyaz were out fishing on their day off when a man yelled, ‘cattle thieves’.

They were surrounded by a bloodthirsty mob who beat them mercilessly. The extent of the hate was obvious by the mutilation perpetrated on the lads: their eyes were gouged out and ears chopped off. The men arrested were soon out on bail. The ring leaders went scot-free.

Lynching, vigilante-ism and hate crimes continue to go unpunished in India, and the situation is encouraging and enabling violent criminals.

Activist writer, John Dayal says, ‘I’ve visited lynch victims around Delhi. When I heard about Harsh’s invitation to join the KeM, I gladly supported the idea.’

Mander has issued a challenge to fellow Indians in general, and to the Hindu majority in particular.

‘Why are we silent? Why are we not speaking out?’ he asks. ‘It’s a call of conscience to India’s majority.’

We cannot see our beloved country descend into chaos, into killing fields like Rwanda or Kosovo. 

Personally, I believe in the people of this country. Most Indians, the silent majority, are alarmed at what’s happening. They’ve shown, time and again, that they can, and will act.

I think that time has finally come. The tide, hopefully, is turning.

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