The image of a democracy is ironically determined by regional stereotypes. Non-conformist Berlin, conservative Munich, and cosmopolitan Frankfurt sum up Germany; Provence for food, Paris for the arts and fashion, and Marseilles for crime are defining faces of France. The rule applies to New York, Silicon Valley, London, and Manchester, too. India, for time immemorial, has been romanticised as the land of the maharajas. Rajasthan was the jewel in its crown. The state’s Tourism Department is now running a slick campaign showing various visitors stunned by its natural beauty—Janesthan, Aryasthan, Huansthan, et al. A more fitting label now would be Lynchistan.
Until Yogi Adityanath took over Uttar Pradesh, it was UP which had the dubious title of ‘India’s Heart of Darkness’—a region deeply divided along sectarian, economic and gender lines. Yogi has used the Uttar Pradesh Police, reputedly infamously insensitive to powerless victims and opponents of the ruling party of the time, to curb the mafia, morality vigilantes and lynch mobs. His unambiguous message: No crime will be tolerated in my state. The UP Police is trying hard to enforce Yogi’s fiat.
On the other hand, Rajasthan is ruled by Vasundhara Raje—media darling and a royal from the historic Scindia clan; erudite, Anglicised and at ease in Delhi’s social circles—an antithesis of her UP counterpart who sleeps on the floor, leads a frugal life and doesn’t use air conditioners. The contradiction is stunningly stark, going by the spate of lynchings in Rajasthan by cow vigilantes who beat to death innocent men. The state police and CID is complicit or biased towards the murderers, confident of the government’s protection. It has gained notoriety for blatant partisanship.
According to news reports, the cops, who did not take mob victim Rakbar Khan to the hospital on time to prevent his death, said they couldn’t care less because the local MLA was on their side. In another case, six men named as murderers in the dying declaration of mob victim Pehlu Khan have been exonerated. The legal notion is that a dying man will not go to God with lies on his lips (nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire), and Indian Law believes a ‘dying man can never lie’. Raje and her government don’t.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, reacting to Opposition outrage to mob murder, said states are responsible for law and order. The people of India do not trust the highly politicised police. UPA’s Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had asked the police to go easy on Muslim youth. A Union Minister, more loyal than the king, has said lynchings are a plot to ruin the Prime Minister’s image. Politicians and cops are ‘Friends with Benefits’. Some senior officers pander to their political masters for plum postings and hush money. Cops, too, are drawn from the ranks of society. Today the Indian police system is largely casteist, communal and corrupt. A law against mob violence is in the making.
It is shameful that in 21st century India, a law needs to be passed at all against lynchings. As the high-level committee deliberates the new penal provision, what does it say about India’s image as an emerging world power and economic powerhouse? The time has come for Indians to police themselves. A new hashtag is needed. #SayNoToOurselves.