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How the poorest of the poor are becoming targets of lynch-mobs in India

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 6 July 2018, 18:48 IST


The harrowing tale of lynchings in India have been making global headlines. The phenomenon is spread across states as mobs continue to lynch people with the figures being reported standing at 27 in one year. Rumour-mongering on social media is being held as a key factor at work, though many dispute it.

The first question that comes to the mind is that who are the people that are being lynched. The recent trends show that are the poorest of the poor coming from the minorities and other marginalised sections. There are very remote chances that civil society at large would come forward to stand with their families in heir quest for justice. The lynchings before were carried out on pretexts ranging from possession of beef to alleged child abduction. But in the end, the target was made more vulnerable for his religious or caste identity.

One needs to understand hows and whys of the recent lynchings that have followed rumours like child lifting and a case in point here is the lynching of a beggar woman in Gujarat, a state whose model of governance has been sold successfully by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to other parts of the country.

Forty year old Shanti Devi Madari along with three other accomplices was attacked by a mob of 30 people in Vadaj area of Ahmedabad on 26 June.

The attack resulted in her death. Reports say that the incident took place at a very little distance away from the police post and the CCTV footage of the spot clearly identifies the attackers. The police have arrested six accused and many others are expected to be nabbed soon. On the very same day 14 others, including 11 women, were reportedly attacked by mobs in Rajkot, Vadodara, Surendranagar and Surat.

The incident of Shanti Devi's killing has led to massive outrage among the members of the de-notified Tribes (DNT) along with others who protested by forming a human chain and a march. This was followed by a cal for another protest at Lal Darwaja area of Ahmedabad on Thursday for which the police denied permission on pretext of security concerns related to the forthcoming Jagannath Rath Yatra on 14 July.

“There were around four thousand people who were coming from various parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Once we were denied the permission, we had to call them up asking them not to come as we did not have any alternate venue available. Yet those who had already left their houses came and we held a symbolic fast and a meeting in a small hall. We even got the support of the Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch (AAM) that has been working on issues of minorities and Dalits,” said Dakxin Chhara, a theatre activist who has been working on the issues of the DNTs.

“Things cannot be looked at superficially. One has to go deep. Shanti was from a community of snake charmers who lost their livelihood with imposition of animal right laws. These people do not have either education or any other skill to earn their living. They have been compelled to beg for survival. The government has simply ignored their plight. For generations they have brought up monkeys, snakes, bears as their own children. They could have been given licences to carry on their vocation with strict directions on upkeep of animals if atrocities were to be curbed. Instead they have been reduced to living a life which is far worse than that of animals. I have a recording going back to more than a decade of a couple of snake charmers held captive by animal rights activists in a six by six cage. A monkey was made to sit atop this cage and it kept easing itself on these poor people. This is their plight,” he added. He said the meeting was called to highlight the plight of the DNTs and to seek compensation for Shanti's family.

People have been underlining the social hypocrisy saying, “Here we have a society that worships snakes and cows and at the same time doesn't think twice before lynching in their name.”

His words were echoed by Shanti's husband Chuninath who said, “ I know no other vocation. We never had land, shops or business. We have survived on alms for generations through our shows. Why would we lift someone's child when we barely have enough to feed our own children?”

Advocate Shamshad Pathan who is a senior AAP activist has a different take on the issue. “These lynchings are the product of a particular ideology that makes the perpetrators think they are above law and courts. They believe in dispensing justice their way without any belief in the legal recourse. They do not believe in the constitution. They also think that the police would not dare to act against them. These instances were there before also but have gone up considerably after 2014.” He refuses to believe that WhatsApp rumours are responsible for these mob lynchings and says that putting the blame on WhatsApp is one way of shirking responsibility.

Social activist Mittal Patel who has been working amongst nomadic tribes and had organized the human change and march in Ahmedabad said, “I have observed that that in such cases the poor are targeted because of their distinct appearance and clothing. No one would accuse a person dressed in clean modern outfit of child lifting. It is only the poor wearing their traditional ragged and often dirty outfits who become objects of suspicion. I have been asking people that suppose a person from Saurashtra decides to roam in America in his traditional outfit would that be a reason enough to make people suspicious of him and lynch him?”

She further said, “We met Gujarat Home Minister Pradipsinh Jadeja and sought that the police be told to become active and not allow mobs to gather. The policemen cannot be indifferent to hundreds of people gathering at a spot. When they themselves claim about intensified patrolling, they need to deliver results of this patrolling.”

The central government asking states to check incidents of mob lynching fuelled by rumours of child lifting circulating on social media has made headlines along with a warning to WhatsApp to check circulation of irresponsible and explosive messages. Bit it surely needs to do much more to check the lynch culture that is fast becoming a new normal in the country.


First published: 6 July 2018, 18:48 IST