‘Murder’, Foucault says, ‘is the point at which history intersects with crime’. Do Pehlu Khan and Tabrez Ansari’s deaths qualify to be raised to the level of history? Let’s figure out!
There are varied reasons for the killing of 10,000 people since 1950 during Hindu-Muslim communal violence. The roots of this violence doesn’t begin at the brink of the partition, it came out during the animosity towards the Islamic conquest of India during the middle ages and the policies established by the colonizers, these reasons were exacerbated when there is a claim for a new Islamic state of Pakistan and a “secular India” with a Muslim minority. It can be considered that this communal violence has a mainstream political strategy to get the votes in the name of Hindu nationalism. Right after the partition of India in 1947, this Hindu nationalism started being visible in the form of a pattern of irregular factional violence between the majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities. Therefore, the crimes against Pehlu Khan and Tabrez Ansari carry the burden of the history of communal violence of these two religions. This paper will focus on how and why lynching became a favourite regulatory means against the minorities in India.
Lynching is the verb derived in the early 20th century during the American Civil War after the liberation of slaves, from the well-known phrase “Lynch Law”, which means a punishment without trial. The United States had witnessed 4,743 lynchings between 1882 and 1968 because it was assumed that crimes like murder or rape will be only committed by the Black people. “The similarities with the American lynchings of the late 19th century with Indian lynchings are striking,” says Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil. In India, Mob-lynching has become a common phenomenon against the Muslims, the country’s largest religious minority, executing them after torturing and corporal mutilation. The self-proclaimed “cow protectors” unleashed violence in several parts of the country. In 2017, Pehlu Khan was allegedly killed by a cow vigilante’s mob near Delhi-Alwar highway while transporting the cows because cows are sacred in Hinduism. After two years, accused were acquitted on the grounds of “reasonable doubt”. In 2019, another case of Tabrez Ansari came out where the mob killed a person and police didn’t file the case and doctors didn’t treat Ansari properly. Later the police had dropped murder charges against all the 13 accused in the case. In Spite of having no connection with any right-wing political parties, Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists had protested the arrests of the accused. Though they were isolated incidents, the victims were mostly from minority and socially disadvantaged communities. The incidents have become a symbol of the Indian government’s inept handling of religious hate crimes. Human rights groups are lobbying for the creation of a specific hate crime law, but none exists in India yet. Lynching is operated by the system of rules defining the permitted and the forbidden, the licit and illicit, in a manner that had little to do with the codes and procedure of the government’s law and courts. These understandings of people come because of the local customs and caste and religion convention established since the partition or maybe before.
All the cases are meant to be seen from “two sites, one as a discursive site-on the behalf of the state in one case and on behalf of the community on the other. However, law reaches before historiographers and make the event as a case and death as a crime.” The relationship between the murder and the crime is hidden in the context of the ‘case’. A case is something which law creates that is limited to a person or two but, a case that can be taken to the level of the history will become a movement, to identify the murder’s hand as the hatred towards the minority of the religion by religion fanatic people or authoritarian community. One side of the death can be seen when Khan was charged posthumously with cow smuggling. Police say he didn’t have a permit to transport cows across state lines, here, the law has taken the charge to decide the case without the history. And another side would be the one where there is immense hatred towards the Muslims community and their practices. Be it demolition of Babri Masjid, Gujarat riots or everyday lynching they all are the events providing us with the history of the hatred. The interplay of the solidarity with the fear makes such lynching cases as murders.
There is a miscarriage of justice as State is soft with the lynching. Not just this, State safeguards the cases with the impunity effect. These cases deserve the official justice but they aren’t even flagged red, it is largely unacknowledged, it is the failure of the state to incorporate some of the most vital issues of the social conflict within its hegemonic judicature. Death of Pehlu Khan and Ansari can only make sense if it connects with what goes before and comes after it. Seeing it through the lens of Muslim sufferings rather than the death of a man and the lens to see the reaction of VHP on the arrest of accusers will show the history attached to it. Only history will show the existence of the ghost of partition in the form of revenge and hatred.
Hinduism as a religion has been associated with tolerance and compassion. However, in the prickly social climate that our current governments have fostered using history as a tool, it’s unfortunate than an issue as seemingly harmless as dietary preference has become so dangerously polarizing. Modi Government’s imposed the ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter sparked a new wave of cow vigilante in the country and increased the attacks on Muslims for beef-eating and make them anti-Hindu. This constant battle between the majority and choices of minorities is a historical situation, not just in India but in America, Germany, and other countries. The ostracization of people because of their eating habits, race, gender, caste, and religion has become a common process in majoritarian culture; a culture where people are still seeing minorities as a threat to them, a culture which is not liberated enough to accommodate the difference of the choices. This whole structure to prove something wrong is based on religion by considering an animal much more important than human life. And, it is because of the lack of outcry from the Indian Hindu who majorly might not support the murder but accepts the discrimination against Muslims. And, as mentioned this discrimination hasn’t come after the Modi government, this hatred is there throughout. Modi government has just triggered hatred by spreading the message of Muslims as a threat to “Hindu country” by quoting incidents from the past. And, all of this qualifies the deaths of Khan, Ansari and many others to be raised to the level of history-“a history without masters, a history crowded with frantic and autonomous events, a history below the level of power and one that fell foul of the law.”(Guha,44)
- Guha, Ranajit. “Chandra’s death.” Subaltern Studies V: Writings on South Asian History and Society (1987): 135-65.
- Krishna, Gopal. “Communal Violence in India” Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 20, No. 2 (Jan. 12, 1985): 61-74