Why the word ‘lynching’ has got the goat of Mr Bhagwat

Last Updated 09 October 2019, 10:48 IST

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comment that lynching is a "western construct" and that it should not be used in the Indian context to “defame” the country, has fuelled various interpretations. It has left analysts flummoxed, especially about the rationale behind his interpretation and the timing of his fulmination.

Addressing the Vijayadashmi function of the RSS in Nagpur, Bhagwat inter alia said: "Lynching is not a word from Indian ethos, its origin is from a story in a separate religious text... We Indians trust in brotherhood. Don't impose such terms on Indians….Lynching itself is a western construct and one shouldn't use it in the Indian context to defame the country.” To emphasise the foreign link, he referred to the Biblical story where Jesus questioned a mob who tried to lynch a woman accusing her of adultery.

The RSS chief condemned lynching, though not unequivocally, while hinting that the conspiracy to portray mob violence as lynching was an attempt to “malign the country and the Hindu society."

Why has the word ‘lynch’, that originated in mid 19th century after Captain William Lynch (head of a judicial tribunal in Virginia, Circa 1780), got the goat of Mohan Bhagwat? Dictionaries define lynching as, “to kill someone who has not been found guilty of a crime at a legal trial” by a group of people.

Those who do not like the word ‘lynch’ can always use its Hindi equivalent. A loose Hindi translation will go something like this: ‘gair kanooni tarike se hatya’ or “bheed (crowd) ke dwara ki gayi hatya’ (now you know why even Hindi newspapers and television anchors prefer to use the word ‘lynch’). But call it lynching or mob murders, a crime is a crime and no amount of semantic acrobatics will paper them over.

The first incidence of lynching in the Modi era took place as early as June 2014 when Mohsin Shaikh, a 28-year-old IT engineer was lynched by goons of Hindu Rashtra Sena in Pune. A year later, Mohammad Aklaque was lynched in Dadri district (UP). Thereafter several incidents of lynching such as Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan, Mohammad Naeem in Jamshedpur, Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh (Jharkhand), Junaid Khan and a few others took place.

And between 2015 and 2019 (till October 8) over a 1000 public intellectuals — including academics (from India and abroad), economists, scientists, artists, historians, film makers and writers expressed outrage over the growing incidences of intolerance; some wrote open letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention while some returned their awards (‘award wapsi’) to the government in protest.

On August 6, 2016 Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time came down heavily on cow vigilantes calling them “anti-socials”.

Addressing a ‘town hall’ in Delhi, the PM said: “It makes me angry that people are running shops in the name of cow protection. Most of them are anti-social elements hiding behind the mask of cow protection."

But his censure was not followed up with stringent action and hence had little salutary effect. A year later Alimuddin Ansari was lynched in Jharkhand and on December 3, 2018 in Bulandshahr, UP, police officer Subodh Kumar was killed by a mob during a clash over reports of cow slaughter; the main accused is a local Bajrang Dal leader.

While the RSS maintained a nuanced silence over Modi’s comments, saffron hardliners lambasted the PM for his audacity to dub ‘gau rakshaks’ as “anti-socials”. Outfits such as the VHP and Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha lashed out at Modi saying he had insulted “Hindutva”. Former international working president of VHP Pravin Togadia wanted to know why the “head of the country” had given a clean chit to “cow butchers” and victimised cow protectors who helped him get elected.

Though there appears to be a reduction in lynchings over cow or beef now, as many as 24 persons were lynched in different parts of the country on suspicion of being child lifters in the last two years. While the polemics over lynching continue, most of the perpetrators have gone scot-free. In Jharkhand, eight of the 11 convicted for the lynching of Alimuddin Ansari have been granted bail and a month later Union Minister Jayant Sinha famously garlanded eight of them.

All 17 accused in the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaque are out on bail. When one of the accused died in jail, his body was draped with the national flag and Union Minister for Culture, Mahesh Sharma, was present at his funeral. In the case of Junaid Khan, murder charges have been dropped for four of the six accused, and they are out on bail. Charges have been dropped against killers of Pehlu Khan despite his dying declaration naming them, while of the nine others arrested, eight are out on bail.

If there is a conspiracy behind the lynchings to defame India, how come the investigating agencies have not been able to nail the conspirators? And it is intriguing as to why the criminals are allowed to video-graph the incidents and circulate them with impunity?

And why is it that the RSS chief flagged the issue in a big way only now? BJP insiders say Bhagwat is agitated over the adverse global media coverage of the lynching incidents and the “intolerance” debate. NRI BJP supporters and the Economic Right in US and Europe are also growing uneasy over bad press courtesy of the hardliners back home.

The RSS boss is trying to contain the damage and showcase the Sangh to the global audience as a cultural organisation working for national interest. Last month, Bhagwat reportedly scheduled an in-camera interaction with foreign journalists “to clear misconceptions” about RSS and its ideology and address “some wrong narratives” about it. Invitations were sent to 70 foreign media organisations save Pakistan.

Last year, he addressed a three-day lecture series for the Indian media and met members of the diplomatic community. In July this year, he hosted German Ambassador to India Walter J Lindner at Nagpur headquarters as part of a strategy to enhance RSS’ legitimacy and acceptability in India and outside.

(Kay Benedict is a New-Delhi based independent journalist)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 09 October 2019, 10:44 IST)

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