Watching the abject horror of 28-year-old Rakbar Khan’s murder unfold in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, a year after a murderous mob of cow vigilantes bludgeoned Pehlu Khan to death, many would find it disconcerting and disheartening that it was left to the Supreme Court to point to the culture of violent intolerance that is rapidly enveloping India’s hinterland.
The past three years have witnessed the murders of 50 people mostly of the minority and weaker sections in the name of gau raksha (cow protection) or by mobs driven by rumours purveyed on social media that the victims were out to kidnap and kill children. Sixteen such instances have been reported since May.
And these do not include the unfortunate Rakbar, who was beaten to death in the wee hours of July 21 as he and a friend, Aslam Khan, were herding two cows from Alwar town to their home in Lalwandi village. A day earlier, villagers in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli district had beaten a mentally challenged woman to death because they suspected she was a child-lifter. And on July 22, a mob in West Bengals Jalpaiguri district beat up and stripped four women who were going door-to-door selling clothes.
All of this happened within a week after a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court spelt out its disgust at the horrendous acts of mobocracy and cited the recurrent pattern of violence that was in danger of becoming the new normal. The bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Mishra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, asked Parliament to create a separate penal category for the offence of lynching with deterrent penalties that would instil a sense of fear for law amongst the people who involve themselves in such activities. The judges spelt out preventive, remedial and punitive measures to tackle the menace, asking state governments to appoint nodal police officers in every district to identify vulnerable areas; collect intelligence on individuals or groups indulging in hate speeches and take steps to prevent the dissemination of rumours through social media. The SC directed the Centre and states to report compliance of its directions within four weeks.
Although the government has responded by constituting a Group of Ministers, headed by Union home minister Rajnath Singh, which will make recommendations on a new law against lynching based on a draft prepared by a committee under the home secretary, the ensuing debate in Parliament is distressing.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha on the morning, a combined opposition brought a no-trust motion against the government, Singh chided Congress leaders for using Hindu Taliban and mini Pakistan to describe the growing intolerance in the country. He went on to declare that the biggest incident of mob-lynching happened during 1984 and a big leader (Rajiv Gandhi) said when a big tree falls, the earth shakes. And they (Congress) are trying to give us lessons in mob lynching!
Back at Alwar, BJP MLA Gyan Dev Ahuja insisted that Rakbar and Aslam were gau taskar (cow smugglers) and the victim was beaten to death by the police, not by gau rakshaks. Notably, Aslam, the only known eyewitness to the lynching, told police that the five attackers had blatantly boasted they were Ahuja’s men. The absurdity doesn’t end there. A day after the killing, Indresh Kumar, a senior RSS functionary, was quoted as saying this in Ranchi: Mob lynching cannot be welcomed. [But] if the practice of eating cow meat is stopped, many such crimes of the Satan could be stopped. His wisdom was echoed by BJP leader Vinay Katiyar, who counselled Muslims to refrain from touching cows and provoking Hindus. In Delhi, Union minister Jayant Sinha regretted garlanding eight men convicted for lynching a cattle trader, Alimuddin Ansari, in Jharkhand in 2017. Interestingly, the minister said he was doing so only because it gave his rivals an opportunity to say I was condoning [cow] vigilantism. Meanwhile Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria announced an inquiry into the July 21 lynching. This was a day after the SC agreed to hear petitions seeking contempt proceedings against the state government for failing to adhere to the court’s directions against mob lynching.