When politics hijacks causes and protests

The problem of lynching is endemic to India.

 |  5-minute read |   04-07-2017
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In a protest against recent lynching incidents in India, a country-wide demonstration — #NotInMyName — was organised after a 16-year-old boy was stabbed to death on train.

The protests were held in London and Paris as well. But unfortunately, a human cause was given a communal colour. The fliers distributed during the protests and the banners displayed showed only lynchings of Muslim victims after 2015. Even in attributing value to human lives, it took a communal identity, playing to the tune of polarity, even when asking for justice.

The underlying motivations were hard to ignore, too apparent to hide. Some of those who attended said it to be a gathering of dissenters of the ruling party, rather than for the cause, it professed to rally for. It could be another short-lived movement, which couldn’t shake people’s conscience, contaminating the claim for justice and value of human life.

To understand the underlying "politics", let’s understand lynchings first. The etymology lies in the history of American revolution where a county court judge, Charles Lynch, used the “unwritten law” against the British supporters, who were under trial. He made the charges, empanelled the jury members, the court would adjourn. By the time the court resumed, the accused was hacked to death by the mob outside, which Lynch often argued, was a war-time necessity. The war had ended but the “unwritten law” had swayed across America and remained there for more than a century to come, delivering “mob-justice”, later against the Blacks.

The problem of lynching is endemic to India. The issue is deeper than it appears, and has layers. Going by the data for the last decade, there have been various causes behind lynching incidents across the country every year, ranging from caste to financial and religious disputes among people.

citizens-ap_070417045155.jpgThe problem of lynching is endemic to India. The issue is deeper than it appears, and has layers.  (Credit: AP photo)

However, it's simply astonishing how people get violent over petty issues and take human lives. The successive governments have been unable to address the problem. The answer to it could be expected in a strict law against mob violence, including adequate police-people ratio, for better law and order. There are two visible sides of activism in the present context. Violation of people’s rights and voices for people’s rights. The other two sides, which are often ignored in the process - the government and the influencers of activism.

The history of individual rights goes back to Magna Carta in the year 1215. However, the history of modern-day human rights began in 1948 with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The premise and prelude to it was the significance of the value of a human life in the accepted free world. The sphere of "rights" is wider than the real human understanding of it. The general understanding of democracy, if asked on the streets, is met with narrow answers like – "the right to vote and choose who you want to run your country".

With all the positive arguments of human evolution till date, we haven’t been able to counter the challenges of human identities and the limited information the masses are exposed to. While the evolution is understood in terms of technological advancements, and the values of mutual respect and compassion among humans, the dark side of basic human nature, that is, greed, anger, hatred and callousness are simply overlooked, leave alone an attempt to address it, in the least.

The essence of democracy, the best governance system known yet, is nothing, but freedom. Freedom to life of an individual as a human and the way she or he wants to live. It also offers the freedom to register dissent against the rulers people have chosen. Some of the major social movements in the recent past across the globe revolved around the idea of democracy.

For instance, the Arab Spring sprung in seven countries of West Asia and North Africa in 2010, against the oppression of people by their dictatorial and religious-monarchic regimes. The revolution saw thousands of people taking to the streets. Eventually, the leaders of dissenters, Muslim Brotherhood, managed to topple the government and formed their own in Egypt, only to have unmasked their Islamist intentions afterwards. The crisis in the region now is worse than what was.

In 2011, the Indian government faced the people’s ire for complicity in numerous cases of corruption. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in protests across the country. Finally, a faction of the organisers formed their political party and successfully contested the Delhi Assembly elections. The India Against Corruption Movement died as soon as they came to power.

In a similar outrage, Women’s March was organised in January 2017 against misogyny and to show solidarity to women who go through gender discrimination every day.

Millions of people around the world joined the march. Soon after, it was discovered that the organiser herself was a Sharia law supporter, which is the bedrock of violent gender and human discrimination wrapped in a religious code. The Women’s March was never talked about thereafter.

There have been hundreds of significant social movements in India which more often that we have seen die due to vested political motivations of those who lead them.

The moment a social cause gets infused and tainted with political motivations or vested interests, the dishonesty behind it spells ultimate death knell for it, eventually leaving the "victims", in whose name it rises, even more vulnerable and defenceless.

Communal politics has disgracefully been a part of electoral politics in India, but the civil society falling prey to it is equally despicable. It’s time to raise the societal standards.

Dissent, of course, is the sign of a healthy democracy until it becomes an empty fad, and gets reduced to a mere hashtag.

Also read: Not In My Name: There's no shame in refusing to remain silent


Surendra Veer Vikram Singh Surendra Veer Vikram Singh @svvikramsingh

The writer is a political analyst and researcher.

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