Lynchings: Examine the deeper malaise

With a general election not far away, every issue is being lent a deep political overtone.

The details emerging from the Alwar lynching episode involving cow vigilantes point to a deeply worrying trend. A thorough probe into the latest instance of “gau rakshaks” striking in Rajasthan is needed if the country is to understand the background against which such crimes are popping up in a pattern involving as much of brazenness by dispensers of mob justice as contributions by police forces. Indeed, if it is determined after a probe that the police delayed taking the victim to hospital while its personnel sent the cows to a shed and enjoyed a tea break on the way, we have more than just mob violence to worry about. If the police is complicit in such crimes that are bringing a bad name to the country, the malaise is far deeper than anyone may have imagined.

Reports about vigilante groups keeping a close watch on cattle trading centres and fairs in and around the Delhi region and going on to persecute members of a certain religion who buy cows are also emerging. And as most of the incidents seem to be taking place in a state that is headed for Assembly elections in a few months, it would appear there is something far more sinister to this pattern of cow protection. It’s only now that a sense of urgency seems to have overtaken the Centre, which has formed a panel of bureaucrats to suggest measures and a legal framework to a ministerial committee (GoM) headed by the home minister, which will then report to the Prime Minister. The government must handle such incidents very firmly lest the message go out that people can take the law into their own hands and expect to get away with it, taking advantage of the slowness of India’s criminal justice system. Alwar is not just the occasional sprouting of uncivilised behaviour in the region that is more in keeping with medieval times than in a modern democracy of 70 years’ standing.

Something is clearly rotten in the state of Denmark, to paraphrase Shakespeare. The sustained pattern of illiberal action against writers, including murder, mob lynching on mere rumours as in Madhya Pradesh on Sunday, political murders taking place in a couple of southern states like Kerala and Karnataka and several other instances of extreme intolerance leading to confrontational situations everywhere points to a trend that is reflective of a society that is finding ways to get more and more polarised. These events across the country show that the malaise goes way beyond politics and religion, although both are being freely used to drive the wedge deeper. With a general election not far away, every issue is being lent a deep political overtone.

It’s an unhappy time to be an Indian. And far from showing the way, our leaders — across the political spectrum — seem to be leading people towards further divisiveness.

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