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The New Normal in Modi’s ‘New India’

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

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The unyielding spate of mob lynchings in India, and the support they receive from some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) functionaries and ministers, have shocked the nation. However, completely mindless of the same, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted in characteristic hyperbole on 16 July 2018:

Where the power of hope prevails over mindless hate.

Where 125 crore Indians write their own destiny.

This is our New India. (PMO India 2018)

A day later, on 17 July, this new India, marked by a new normal was berated by the Supreme Court, the custodian of our Constitution. While delivering a judgment on a set of petitions against mob lynchings, the three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by the chief justice observed that “horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land,” adding that the recurring pattern of violence “cannot be allowed to become the new normal” (Gowen 2018). Barely four days later, on the night of 20 July 2018, a mob of gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) attacked a poor Muslim man, Rakbar Khan, of Kolgaon village in Mewat district of Haryana bordering Rajasthan. Modi’s “new India” is proving a scary spectre for the large majority of people, particularly Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, who are unsure of surviving the next day, given the right wing-backed killing squads of cow vigilantes, lynch mobs, patriotic hoodlums, dharma-rakshaks (religious zealots), and not to undermine the police who operate lawlessly with complete impunity.

The Rakbars in Lynchdom

Alwar city in Rajasthan has recorded its second lynch-mob killing with Rakbar Khan; the first being Pehlu Khan, who was brutally killed by a mob of gau rakshaks on 1 April 2017 in similar circumstances, except that he was killed on a highway by dragging him from the vehicle that carried his milch cows in broad daylight (Saini and Mukherjee 2017). Despite showing the documents to prove that the cows were for dairy farming, his family occupation, Khan and others were dragged out of their vehicles and brutally assaulted with rods and sticks. Pehlu later died of his injuries, whilst others, though seriously injured, survived. The perpetrators reportedly robbed the victims of their cell phones, wallets and cash worth ₹1,10,000. As a matter of fact, the BJP’s cow ban has come handy to criminal gangs, masquerading as gau rakshaks, to extort money with impunity.

What is worse is the dealing of the state in these open-and-shut crimes. Within a year, the six men Pehlu Khan named as his attackers before he died have all been absolved of any guilt by the police (Mander 2018). The “dying declaration” of Pehlu, as per innumerable court rulings, is sufficient evidence to convict those named. But in the “new India,” Muslims and Dalits are not humans! A similar dying declaration by Sanjay Khobragade of Kawalewada village in Gondia district of Maharashtra was discarded to acquit the accused, and instead his wife and neighbour were arrested (Shantha 2014). The three men the police arrested for Pehlu’s killing are out on bail. Instead, charge sheets have been filed under Section 5 of the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995 against the two young men—Azmat and Rafeeq—who were attacked along with Pehlu but survived their injuries. Forget justice, the new normal is to shelter the culprits and charge the victims, as it happened in the recent Bhima Koregaon case wherein the agent provocateurs of violence, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, are out on bail, and those who demanded justice for the
victims have been booked as “urban Maoists” under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

The Pehlus and Rakbars of this country are meant to be killed in the new India. IndiaSpend created a database of mob lynchings through the content analysis of English media over an eight-year period (2010–18) and found that of the total 87 lynching cases since 2010, 97% took place after Modi’s government came to power in May 2014, and of the 289 victims, 88% were Muslims (Abraham and Rao 2017). Majority of the cases of cow-related violence took place in the BJP-ruled states, and Muslims comprised 84% of the total killed. It may not be far-fetched to guess that the rest 16% would comprise Dalits, who are not the intended “other” in the BJP’s schema but are the natural victims of the glorification of India’s past. However, as it appears of late, the realisation that Dalits are unlikely to be impressed by Hindutva prospects could be channelised to further consolidate Hindu solidarity, that sees Dalit assertion as an affront. Incidentally, as the facts surfaced, while Rakbar was left seriously wounded by the lynch mob, it was the police that completed the task of torturing him to death, signalling a partnership between the police and Hindutva mobs and heralding another kind of new normal.

The New Normal

In every sphere of public life, a “new normal” has been established in the last four years. Politics in India was never really principled but neither had it stooped to such lows, as we experience today. That lies, doublespeak and falsehoods are integral to politicians was always known but rarely were these peddled, in keeping with Gobbles’ maxim, as blatantly as they are today. The “new normal” involves fudging figures, propagandising half-truths, and repeating hyperbolic claims in the face of contrary evidence. The BJP has claimed, as they did with Pehlu, that Rakbar was a cow smuggler. However, the family’s traditional vocation of dairy farming and dire poverty prove a stark contradiction to this claim. Realising the consequence of this incident in an election year, the BJP’s state-level leaders tried to shift the entire blame for Rakbar’s death onto the police, bailing the arrested gau rakshaks and seeking to contain the damage to their Hindu vote bank.

Further, intellectualism too was never associated with Indian politicians, but never before have there been such blatant attempts to de-intellectualise the country as now. Identities like caste, community, religion, language, etc, were always exploited by political parties of all hues but never before has any party used the Hindu identity with such ideological zeal as the BJP, pushing India on a fast backward. The “new normal” consists of sadhus/sadhvis as politicians, yogis/yoginis as ministers, and gangsters as civil society activists.

The politician–police nexus has been infamous but rarely before has it been misused to the present extent. It is not the police alone, but all institutions that are being mutated to carry its ideological writ. Contrary to the folklore, India has never truly or even constitutionally been secular. The hegemony of custom, tradition and culture of the majority community was always discernible but subdued. This has now exacerbated with new vigour. The mythification of history has been inherent to India, but never before have myths themselves been projected/valorised as history, as it now is. The supremacist belief that India was the originator of all ideas, philosophies and knowledge in the world, which others have just stolen, is a new normal. Though caste still functioned as the lifeworld of people, they were not openly justified as they are today. The new normal is to speak of the virtues of caste, display caste markers, practise caste customs and impose them on others, if necessary, by force. The marginalisation of rights, curbing of dissent, censure of questioning, imposition of Hindu cultural mores, etc, is the new normal, and so is the inflicting of anti-people policies at the behest of imperialist forces in the name of patriotism, nationalism, and development. Curbing the democratic expression of workers, Dalits, Adivasis, students, women, and children with surveillance and police terror is also a new normal.

New Law or Renewed Will?

Reacting to the increasing mob lynchings, the apex court indignantly asked the states to legislate a new law to deal with the menace. The question really is: Are there no laws to deal with murders, or attempted murders, or causing grievous injury, or spreading communal strife, or committing caste atrocity? The issue has never really been the absence of law but the absence of will to implement it. It is possible that the existing laws have lacunae but before these are exposed, how can there be a clamour for a new law? Given that the root cause of this menace is clearly located in political support and police complicity, it may amount to diversionary tactics as is already revealed by the objections of certain BJP lawyers suggesting that the courts do not have a locus standi to ask the legislatures what to do.

If at all, the new law would need to chastise the entire law and order machinery, including judiciary, with well-defined accountability. In the case of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, there are punitive provisions against public servants who wilfully commit dereliction of duty in implementing the act. Yet, most cases of atrocities fail because the police, at the behest of the local elite, deliberately weaken the case during their investigation and prosecution. At times, they have been known to violate the rules that enable the obliging courts to dismiss such cases, which are then construed as “misuse of the act” as observed by the Supreme Court recently, compounding the injustice against victims. But there is not an iota of action ever taken against the erring public servant. Why should the judiciary then be immune to these provisions, if they are found to act in a prejudicial manner? When Judge C S Karnan can be sent to jail for daring to speak against judicial bungling, why are the judges who display infirmity of mind not taken to task?

When institutions are wilfully destroyed by the very people who are supposed to preserve and nourish them, it paves the way for dictatorial regimes. The present government has systematically destroyed all democratic institutions by installing people of questionable competence at key positions, who meekly carry out its writ. Nowhere is this as evident as in the sphere of education and in the saga of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), being transformed from an internationally respected democratic space into its antithesis by its vice chancellor and his coterie. The recent action of the administration disallowing Umar Khalid, who was arrested along with Kanhaiya Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya for shouting anti-India slogans on the basis of doctored videos, from submitting his doctoral thesis in clear defiance of the Delhi High Court’s directions illustrates the bizarre behaviour of this once hallowed institution in Modi’s new India (Shankar 2018).

References

Abraham, Delna and Ojaswi Rao (2017): “84% Dead in Cow-related Violence since 2010 Are Muslim; 97% Attacks after 2014,” IndiaSpend, 28 June, http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/86-dead-in-cow-related-violence-since-2010-are-muslim-97-attacks-after-2014-2014.

Gowen, Annie (2018): “India’s Supreme Court Warns of ‘Mobocracy,’ Urges Government to Pass Anti-lynching Law after Deadly Attacks,” Washington Post, 17 July, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/mobocracy-cannot-be-permitted-indias-supreme-court-cracks-down-on-social-media-fueled-lynchings/2018/07/17/f50d89a3-b198-4830-9f7f-4823f8127f0a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.dcfc0f2d2ef2.

Mander, Harsh (2018): “Pehlu Khan, One Year Later,” Indian Express, 21 April, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/pehlu-khan-rajasthan-cow-lynching-5145631/.

PMO India (2018): “New India,” Twitter.com, 16 July, https://twitter.com/pmoindia/status/1018874314345537536.

Saini, Sachin and Deep Mukherjee (2017): “Alwar Lynching: Pehlu Khan, Killed by Cow Vigilantes, Was No Cattle Smuggler,” Hindustan Times, 19 July, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/alwar-lynching-pehlu-khan-killed-by-cow-vigilantes-was-no-cattle-smuggler/story-oHFwJT3e8R8kJn396KEGOO.html.

Shankar, Aranya (2018): “Sedition Row: Umar Khalid Says JNU Refused to Accept PhD Thesis,” Indian Express, 24 July, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/umar-khalid-says-jnu-refused-to-accept-phd-thesis-5272316/.

Shantha, Sukanya (2014): “Dalit Activist’s Murder: Police Reject ‘Dying Delcaration,’ Villagers Say Will ‘Fight till the End,’” Indian Express,
https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/dalit-activists-murder-police-reject-dying-declaration-villagers-say-will-fight-till-the-end/.

Updated On : 6th Aug, 2018

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