Vigilantism: developing a form of crowd-terrorism?

Rohit Dhankar

This morning I read an article in The Indian Express published on 5th August 2016, titled “In the name of the cow: Murder, flogging, humiliation of Muslims, Dalits”. It lists several instances when people (it seems all Muslims and Dalits) where either killed or thrashed or humiliated in varied ways on suspicion that they were somehow involved in cow slaughter or beef eating or beef trade. Most of these vigilantes it seems remained unpunished for their crimes. (I am assuming The Indian Express article is factual.)

Incidents of vigilante violence are common affair on Valentine day every year and in enforcing dress code on women and their eating in restaurants etc. have also been in the news often. Most of the perpetrators of these crimes remain unpunished and publicly express their resolve to continue their activities. Often they also seem to be proud of this obnoxious behaviour of theirs. This shows that the law enforcing agencies are giving them space to continue committing these crimes.

There is a vocal brigade of netas (many of them Members of Parliament) in BJP who not only defend such acts but praise them and issue threats, mainly to Muslims. The vigilante groups and these BJP netas clearly seem to be connected. If that is the case then the seemingly scattered and sporadic violence in the name of cow (and in one wave that of the nation, Bharat Mata, etc.) may not be spontaneous and unconnected. It might actually be planned, however loosely.

I have not been following this issue but do not know of any strong statement from the central government either to unequivocally condemning it or to stop this menace. Had it been the issue of one or two incidents one may still argue that the government need not issue statements but to curb such elements. But it is a pattern now, the government says almost nothing on it, and the pattern is growing more and more violent and menacing.

The question that comes to mind is: could this be a thought through strategy of mass training in crowd-terrorism?

Terrorism, as it is practiced today, most often is an act of a few individuals who cause high damage and at high risk to themselves. Because the risk to the life of the terrorist is very high it requires a mistaken preparedness for sacrifice and mistaken notion of bravery. A terrorist sees himself as a brave warrior for a cause. This requires a cause for which one is prepared to die. Which is possible only through faith and/or very high level of indoctrination or unbearable oppression that makes one feel that life is not worth living in this form. Or it involves all of them.

But if there is a community or group in which not many meet any of these conditions, where there is no faith or cause to defend in which one actually—as opposed to just professed—believes, then it becomes very difficult to produce terrorists. Or it takes very long time to create that fervour of faith or mentality of victimhood. But if the terrorism is given a crowd base where it is relatively difficult to single out a particular individual then the risk gets distributed and diffused. It still retains the character of expression of hatred and aggression, but since it is expressed collectively, the participants feel relatively safer. They can also handle the guilt—if and when their humanity surfaces—more easily.

The vigilante activity—if above argument is correct—resembles more and more a mass public training programme in crowed-terrorism. Targeting merely on suspicion creates an atmosphere of fear in the marked groups. Which is the main object of all terror. Ambiguity about the guilt of the most victims sustains the support base in the community; which is a necessary condition for any terrorist activity to survive.

The Hindu community has the first responsibility to stop and eradicate this vigilantism. Simply because it cannot flourish without internal support from the community. Also because it will harm the most Hindu community only. In other forms of terrorism the support base of communalised and active elements still remain relatively small. This crowd-terrorism communalises much larger sections of the community and requires much larger set of active elements.

It seems this is the time for ordinary Hindus—practising or otherwise—to stand up and speak. The religious leaders and politicians and so-called sadhus cannot stop it, many of them perhaps don’t want to stop it. If they (religious leaders and sadhus) speak against it they will use too many ifs and buts, which will make them sound more like its supporters. Explanations of a terrorist’s acts on the basis of being misguided or having mistaken perception of various pressures on his community or less respect paid to his community beliefs than required, etc. will sound like “justification of their acts”. First, there are very few people in the public who can make out “an explanation of a phenomena” from it’s “justification”. Second, most often whose who explain actually try to justify without dropping their own fig leaf.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: