Dimapur lynching: Five reasons this was a hate crime

The outrage was centred around the rape accused's identity and not his alleged crime.

 |  5-minute read |   13-03-2015
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I am going to call it as I see it. The lynching of an accused rapist, 35 year old Syed Sharif Uddin Khan on March 5 at Dimapur, at the hands of a mob, which dragged him out of the jail, paraded him naked for 7 km and then beat him to death, was not a case of vigilante justice, even though it may outwardly have seemed as such.

Even as I write this piece news is emerging about another man from Agra being beaten to his death by a mob. The circumstances of this case prima facie appear to be different from the Dimapur lynching and while neither can be justified I would like to focus the attention of this piece only on the Dimapur case given the facts that have emerged in the public domain. This was not a spontaneous outburst of emotions that galvanised scores of people a whole ten days after the alleged rape. It was a hate crime and here's why. 

#1. It wasn't about rape: Whether there was any rape in the first place is a mystery that only deepens with reports from the Nagaland government to the home ministry suggesting that it was "consensual sex" not rape. Till date the Nagaland government remains elusive about a rape having taken place. Meanwhile, the Assam CM Tarun Gogoi has claimed that an unconfirmed medical report shows "no rape". Under pressure, whether the Nagaland government and police will now attempt to cover its tracks, only time will tell. One thing is quite certain though. This wasn't about anger against rape, compounded by a slow moving judiciary that delays justice to an extent that it becomes impotent. Between 2011-2013 Nagaland has had the best conviction rate when it comes to rapes at 82 per cent which across the country was about 26 per cent! Nagaland is the only Northeast state to feature in the list of top ten states with the "least incidence of registered rape cases" across India. 

#2. Outrage was centered around Khan's identity not his alleged crime: The rhetoric that preceded the lynching was about Khan being an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant (IBI). Hate speeches and slogans were made against a particular community even on the day of the lynching right before the mob broke into the Dimapur central jail. The state was not unaware of this. Rather it furthered the rumour when its DGP LL Doungel said it was suspected that Khan was an IBI, as per media reports. That Syed Sharif Uddin Khan came from a family of patriots, who had served and continue to serve in the Army and had even lost a brother in Kargil just wasn't enough. His identity was the crime for which he had to pay a price.

Do not seem so shocked. Mainstream political outfits, particularly the BJP, Shiv Sena and RSS backed groups, have for years spewed venom, that seeks to brand an entire community as Bangladeshis or one that owes its allegiance to Pakistan. We, have pretty much done nothing even as office bearers and MPs of the ruling party - from Yogi Adityanath to Sakshi Maharaj, from Praveen Togadia to BJP's UP state president Lakshmikant Bajpai, have gone around reinforcing false and baseless propaganda about one community being responsible for 99 per cent of rapes! The media has given them prime time platforms to air these views. These views are being allowed to percolate in every household. 

#3. The complicity of the state: Many commentators have expressed that the Nagaland government was guilty of "mishandling" the situation. I have reasons to believe that it was much more than that. The warning signals in Dimapur could not have been missed. Section 144 which prohibits mass gatherings was in place in Dimapur but it was strategically lifted to allow some groups to orchestrate this lynching. It is impossible that local intelligence did not have an inkling of what was transpiring on the ground. If our local intelligence gathering is so pathetic that it misses out on a gathering this big with an intention to strike a central jail, then God help us all. I wonder how we intend to counter the Chinese influence in the Northeast if our intelligence machinery cannot see what is happening in broad daylight.To add to this, the security forces did nothing even as Khan was dragged out of the prison and paraded. Why was standard operating procedure to disperse a crowd not used? Why did the police leadership not use force to maintain law and order? Why do pictures show cops standing as helpless bystanders even as the crowd drags Khan out of the prison?  

#4. The "it happens" approach: Many so-called activists and media people justified this brutality, either under the pretext of people getting fed up by the delays in the judicial system (which, as I pointed out, did not fit in Nagaland's case given its excellent conviction rate) or the flimsier ground of the accused being an "illegal Bangladeshi immigrant". Now that it has emerged that a man had been lynched only for his identity, why has civil society and the political class gone silent? Where is our Twitter happy prime minister? Where are those 9pm debates which profess to hold a brief for "the Nation"? Too inconvenient for them to ask why a man must pay the price of his life for his identity? 

#5. History cautions us: A few months ago we had a young man in Pune, Mohsin Shaikh who was killed, again only for his identity. Since May 2014 a blank cheque of triumphalism has been issued to right wing elements to make hate speeches that paints an entire community as a villain. Every day we see a build-up of baseless propaganda and stereotypes even by leading voices in the media and social media that has marginalised an entire community as an "outsider". This is contrary to the promise of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" that was promised by the ruling party - the BJP, which shares an ideological space with such xenophobic elements. It is unlikely that a BJP run central government would find any major fault with the NPF led state government. It has no moral locus standi to do so.

When we turn the pages of history, this was exactly the kind of vitriol that was allowed to be unleashed against the Jews in Germany before the Holocaust. I shudder to think that if this tendency goes unchecked what should we expect next?

Writer

Shehzad Poonawalla Shehzad Poonawalla @shehzad_ind

Formerly served with ministry of parliamentary affairs, Govt of India. He is a lawyer, civil rights activist and a Congress party supporter. Views are personal.

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