The soothsayers of old put much store by atmosphere. When the auguries did not read right in the entrails of sacrificed sheep or fowl, or the Oracle at Delphi said all was not kosher for the Athenians, kings trembled and emperors frowned. Like Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “And even the like precurse of feared events,As harbingers preceding still the fates; And prologue to the omen coming on, Have heaven and earth together demonstratedUnto our climatures and countrymen.”
Our ‘climatures’ are clouded with uncontrolled mass fury as if the legerdemain of history has conjured up vengeful phantoms to haunt the present. Anger has replaced conversation in India, vitriol has upended wise counsel and savage opinions are weapons in the hands of hoi polloi. In the last few months, elections have been fought by castigating opponents with vile accusations and vitriolic sarcasm. Recently, the dignified and respected Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was eviscerated by unaccredited trolls of her own political persuasion for granting a passport to a woman who had converted to Islam.
For the liberals, it was a moment of ‘I told you so’ glee, more than genuine moral outrage. Little children are imprisoned and raped at random, and politicians lead processions defending the rapists. Women are violated, murdered, set on fire, burned with acid or simply thrown on the wayside and left to die. But predictable outrage ignored the numbing numbers when an agency reported India is no country for women—the herd banded together against what was deemed a foreign conspiracy to give us a bad name.
There is so much bloodlust and fear in the air and mob justice is the new normal. More than 16 lynchings have been reported across India in the last two months and rising. Cow vigilantes torturing and killing Muslims in the name of beef are extreme examples of faith shaming. The blood of innocent citizens is being shed on our soil. The fact that the atmosphere has become toxic with mob law proves the justice system is failing. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 2.97 million crimes were committed in India in 2017. In 2018, so far, the crime rate has increased. The conviction rate was below 50 percent.
The casualty of the rising bloodlust is the cohesive sense of nationhood. India, which had cast off its parochial ballast and claimed the global century, is being hijacked by a superstitious, suspicious and bigoted minority. Both sticks and cell phones play a role in mass murder. As e-governance cuts through red tape and brings transparency to the deepest parts of the country, technology is being used by murderers with fatal irresponsibility. Perversity is the proud prism of violence; murders and lynchings are shot on phone cameras and posted on social media sites, heedless of the negative image of the country these shameful acts project to the world.
This frightening face of India, with its social weather infected with fear and grim gratification, is a new paradigm where the politics of development has little influence. Such newborn evil can be tackled only through social action, caste sensitisation and police reform, which is long overdue. Or else, we will be left studying Hamlet for omens. And the graves would be tenantless and the sheeted dead would squeak and gibber on the Indian streets.