Lynchings: the dark underbelly of our society

MITRA PHUKAN

Horror piled on horror, it was said, in another context. But this is a phrase that can well apply to us now. One day, it is a little girl, viciously raped and killed, on other days, there are beef lynchings. Some injure, others kill. All are brutal, barbaric.

Could it be that we have regressed, as a nation, and as a State, to such an extent that lynchings are now becoming so common? Or is it that, like rape, lynchings were not commonly reported in the media, not in such detail, before? Whatever the reason, it seems that one after another, lynchings are coming to the public awareness, often in terrible, horrifying detail.

After each such incident, we think that we have reached the nadir of human depravity. After Junaid, last year, who was lynched just before Eid, we had thought that here was mob violence at its worst. Tragically, the incident in Dokmoka in Karbi Anglong in Assam where Nilutpol and Abhijeet were lynched by a baying crowd, has proved that there is really no end to depths of degradation to which human beings can plunge.

Two young men, a musician and builder, went to Karbi Anglong take in the beauty of the place and look for ornamental fish.  Meanwhile, there were rumours doing the rounds that there were child lifters around. Just as they were returning home, at around eight in the evening, their SUV, they stopped to ask for directions. A crowd of men gathered around them, and inspite of their protests, lynched them. The police did arrive after they got the news, but that was several hours later. By then, one of the boys had died, the other was dying. The police took them to the nearest primary health centre, where they were both declared brought dead. Chillingly, a video was taken of the whole incident, and circulated widely on WhatsApp. In it, one of the boys is heard screaming, “I am Assamese! My mother’s name is Radhika Das, my father’s name is Gopal Chandra Das.”

The brutality of the whole episode has ripped aside the veil that we, those who live in Assam, like to cover ourselves with. We like to say we are a soft and gentle people, that we live in a “Golden Assam”. Are we? Do we? After Nellie, which we tried our best to hush up, after the Dhemaji bomb blasts, after the Ganeshguri Flyover killings, after all the witch hunts that we are routinely carried out, do we have a right to say this? Why do we refuse to look at the dark, ugly underbelly of our society? How can we move forward, how can we take our place in the civilized world, if we cannot face up to the violence we are prone to, and unless we try to remedy it?

It is indeed a matter of deep concern that this entire incident is being given all kinds of colours. It was by a particular ethnic group, so there should be retaliation on them, is a visceral though misguided cry that is coming out from many. Like a pack of jackals circling their prey before coming in for the kill, there are so many other “vested interests” in the wings, watching how they can make capital to suit their own agendas. How horrifying this is. And in much of the discourse around the subject, it seems that humanity, plain and simple, is taking a back seat. But an eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.

And as usual, the administration is not exactly covering itself with glory. True, various measures have been taken, people have been arrested, but let’s see how things progress. Assam, already on edge because of the coming release of the final NRC draft lists, and the proposed Citizenship Bill, is in danger of tipping over to uncontrollable anarchy with the addition of this latest incident.

Social media is being blamed for what happened. But why shoot the messenger? Social media was only the vehicle through which the rumours about witch hunting were circulated. It was the reaction to the rumour that was so terrible, not the medium by which it was spread. We are, in any case, a society that is very prone to spreading and believing rumours. Much before social media and smartphones, rumour mongering has been a time-honoured pastime, inflicting damage on both a personal and societal level. From time to time, there have been appeals from the Government, during wars, for instance, not to spread or believe in rumours. And rumours have always spread faster than the internet, with a life of their own.

In fact, social media is a powerful medium to counter rumours, also. It is today bringing people together to conduct peace rallies, to spread messages of restraint. So, let’s not deflect the discourse from the core horror by focussing on the role of social media. Let’s realize that we are a people who are prone to taking the law into our own hands, especially when we think that we can get away with it. And of course, law breakers do have every reason to think they can get away with it. The boy who was killed by lynchers in Diphu, a few years ago, still has not had justice done to his memory. His case is still dragging on in the courts, while the lynchers move around with impunity.

Internet rage is all very well. But as people, we must follow this up, and see that the case actually makes it to the courts, and that it does not drag on.

Certain questions do come to one’s mind, though. Where were the women when the lynchings were going on? Could they, or any other villager, could they not go to the police station to inform the authorities about what was happening as soon as it started? If they could see and share WhatsApp pictures of purported child lifters, why could they not call the police on their mobiles? The other question that comes to mind is: among the many witnesses who saw what was happening, will anybody come forward to identify the ones who actually inflicted the violence? Or will they turn away, saying they did not see, they did not hear, they had no idea what was happening? Will local organizations of the area condemn the ghastly act, will they try to help the authorities as much as possible to let justice take its course? Will the people of the area realize that there actually is an administration in place, which will try to bring the perpetrators to the courts of justice?  

And no, let us not blame superstition, or illiteracy for what happened. That is just an excuse, a handy scapegoat. It is the killers who are to be blamed. India is full of illiterate people, but very few turn into lynchers. It needs a particular sick mindset to do this. It is a form of group bullying by people who think they are more powerful, in some way, than the victim. It is a way of showing their supremacy at that point of time. Like rape, it is about scoring points, about dominance. Rapists and lynchers also have a lustful mindset. Rapists lust for sexual excitement, lynchers have a lust for cruelty, and group sadism.

 Human values don’t come into it at all.

The only way forward is for justice to be delivered, and to be seen to be delivered. Swiftly, and fairly.

 Only then can our collective anguish be somewhat assuaged. Somewhat.

Mitra Phukan

Mitra Phukan

Mitra Phukan is a writer, translator, columnist and classical vocalist who lives and works in Guwahati, Assam. Her published literary works include four children's books, a biography, and a novel, "The Collector's Wife". Her most recent work is another novel, "A Monsoon of Music" published by Penguin-Zubaan in September 2011. Besides, her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Her works have been translated into several languages. She is the Northeast correspondent of the Chennai-based journal of the performing arts, "Shruti" and a member of the North East Writers' Forum.