Who is the culprit of lynching: Technology or Culture?

Whole world was in prayer this week for the amazing rescue operation that saved 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach trapped in the treacherous Tham Luang cave in Thailand. Diving experts from various countries involved in the rescue mission undertaken by the military which proved that saving the lives of those young boys (some of whom are not even Thailand citizens) perhaps are as valuable as protecting their national leaders.

Meanwhile, back in India Jayant Sinha, a union minister from Jharkhand was felicitating six men garlanding them with saffron flowers at his residence on the outskirts of Hazaribagh. This was not for winning a world cup but for gaining bail in a convicted case of lynching a meat trader last year!

Lynching: A National Sport

Two years ago the nation was shocked by a mob that murdered Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, UP for allegedly keeping beef in his house. In a country which was marred by communal tensions and riots however, such a tendency was unheard up until the BJP came to power in the centre. Subsequently the nation witnessed a series of lynching incidents most of which were allegedly for trading cows or beef. But some recent happenings had the feigned reason of child abduction. 27 people had been killed in 15 different cases in 9 different states within the last 3 months! Over 63 people have been lynched to death from 2015 according to The Quint. Lynching has now become a sort of ‘national sports’ in India.

Many people argue that the social media is the culprit behind lynching. Of course, social media, especially WhatsApp, was used conveniently to spread rumours and fake messages about child poachers and robbers entering respective cities and towns. India is one of the countries having a very large number of people (70 Million) using instant messenger service WhatsApp. The rumours that virally spread on these apps have the potential to reach thousands of people instantly and cause immense damage to people’s lives.

In social media not many people consider verifying facts before forwarding a message. The 16 year old son of Alimuddin Ansari, whose murderers Mr Jayant Sinha was garlanding, indeed received the video of his father being lynched by the mob in Ramgarh. What a heart-breaking situation a son could have! Unlike Facebook and Twitter, WhatApp’s feature of end to end description had made it impossible to trace the source accounts until recently. But the company has promptly responded to the alarming situation of increasing fake messages that put people’s life at risk by adding a new feature of ‘Forward Label’ thanks to the suggestions by experts.

The Culture of Lynching

But could Indians simply wash their hands putting the responsibility over the media giants? While technology was a catalyst, particular social psychosis and apathy have caused the number of lynching in the country increasing recently. Mob killings have become the new normal in India that people are not bothered about it. The mob quickly gathers, do their ‘business’ and then simply disappears. In Arunachal Pradesh the two lynched dead bodies lied unattended in the busy town square of Tezu for hours while life around routinely continued.

In a couple of occasions of mob attacks the police remained inactive to manage the mob. In Arunachal Pradesh the lynching occurred when the confessional statements of the arrested labourers were widely shared on social media. Soon people gathered at the station and murdered the labourers in front of the police.

In Rainpada, a remote village of Maharashtra, when the five suspected poachers were taken to the panchayat samiti office for questioning, people from adjoining villages called up their friends and around 3,000 people gathered and indulged in the lynching. In Tripura’s agonising story of lynching an announcer hired by the authorities to campaign against fake news was lynched to death in front of so many people. In all these incidents, people celebrated and vindicated the murders as ‘mob justice’ on social media while police remained reticent. In many cases even an FIR was not registered.

Impervious Public and Lawless Lawmakers

The indifference of the law and order system in seizing and punishing the perpetrators is equal to social media permitting people to spread any fake information about anything. If left uncontrolled we would be inviting a situation where anyone would circulate false messages on anything which would panic people to death. The society at large should be concerned about developing strong law and order system to manage the mobs and antisocial elements both in society and in cyber world. Similarly we need fast track courts to serve justice to the victims and as an antidote to mob frenzy.

Garlanding of the culprits by the minister himself is equivalent to righting the wrong actions in the society. It is not the first time that BJP and its stalwarts come up to protect the criminals. BJP MLA Sangeet Som, MoS Dr Mahesh Sharma, MP Nishikant Dubey, MP Giriraj Singh were all in the forefront to aid the criminals in various cases. After the gang rape and murder of a minor in Kathua, J&K many BJP leaders came up in support of the accused. Such supports not only encourage crime but also provide security to criminals. The political discourse over the last four years have created an environment in which the people could shed their inhibitions even to kill another.

BJP’s political ideology has been thriving on the idea that Hinduism is targeted and attacked by the minorities as well as spreading hate. This has helped the majority Hindus to create their ‘other’ and dehumanise them as an outsider of the moral community they represent. It is then easy to kill a stranger even if he/she has not done any crime to those directly involved in the lynching.

People who feast fake news have become thoughtless and insensitive. Our education system has failed our people to think critical. Indians use less of reason more of emotion especially with religious or caste issues. Media and politicians aggravate it rather than douse. Most people murdered in mob attacks were either Muslims or Dalits.

The Way Forward

The rescue operations in the cave of Thailand where an international community of experts were joining hands to save live without counting their religious identities is a proof that the world aspires for a renewed humanity. No discrimination was shown in saving the lives of those boys some of whom are not the citizens. So far as the Indian citizenry does not learn to respect other’s life and their legitimate space in the society, our dream of development will remain unfulfilled. So it is important to create counter narrative for which social media itself is the best platform. We need to transcend out online gossip culture with more introspective and proactive dialogue culture.

People who are active in social media should personally become more critical about the messages they send and receive. Admins of each groups should be more responsible and analytical in handling messages. People who are able to recognise fraud messages should immediately warn their friends about it and educate them instantly. Further, our educational institutions should take more interest in educating the children and young people about the dangers of spreading false news.

Hopes are not dead as we learn about some valiant men and a prompt police officer who dared to stop rallying crowd baying for innocent blood in some recent lynch attempts. But even after 65 reported killings no humanitarian agencies or organisations for social justice have come up with a fruitful campaign that counter the death culture prevalent in India. It is high time for us to spread true and positive messages against mob frenzy, street justice, and lynching considering mass murders as a modern day menace.

This article was published in Indian Currents on 16th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 29