Prominent activists such as Kanhaiya Kumar, Jignesh Mavani, Tehseen Poonawalla and Shehla Rashid have formed an anti-lynching front in the background of vigilante attacks in the name of religious symbols like the cow.
Under the banner of the National Campaign Against Mob Lynching, the platform will fight against what it calls “cultural terrorism” that it said is “being encouraged by people in positions of power.”
Several people have been beaten up in the last two years by self-appointed defenders of the faith, especially targeting those who eat beef.
Unlike the followers of Semitic religions, Hindus have traditionally taken a more relaxed attitude towards topics such as blasphemy, sacrilege and so on because of the incredible variety of faiths within the Hindu tradition.
Many, if not most, of the traditional Hindu religions were atheistic, including Buddhism, Jainism and Ajivika. There is even a completely hedonistic religion known as Carvaka in Hindu tradition.
Theistic traditions, which were dominant in the Vedic society but were overtaken by the Sramanic traditions later on, saw a comeback in India in the middle ages under the Bhakti movement, though with a different set of Gods.
The movement was based on prayer and worship, and is seen as a survival strategy against the onslaught of Islam — a more organized form of religion that threatened to overwhelm traditional indigenous religious practices. However, even under Bhakti traditions, the spirit of ‘truth in different forms’ and a resulting spirit of tolerance, persisted.
With the coming to power of the Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi, many ‘activists’ of Hindu right-wing groups seem to believe it is time to impose their views on vegetarianism, Hindu scriptures, the divine status of the cow and similar matters on India as a whole.
The first wave of such violence, targeting those who ate beef, could be brought under control only after Narendra Modi himself criticized such activists. Reacting to the violence that saw lower caste Hindus and Muslims attacked by ‘cow protectors’, Modi said that “70-80%” of such activists were criminals who donned the mantle of cow-protectors to hide their “anti-social activities”.
However, violence restarted recently with the elevation of Yogi Adityanath, who has a reputation as a hardliner in such matters, to the post of chief minister in Uttar Pradesh.
National Campaign Against Mob Lynching is modelled on the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement that brought lakhs of ordinary people on to the streets to protest alleged corruption under the previous Congress Party-led government.
The campaign hopes to follow in the footsteps of the IAC, which was created with the aim of drafting an anti-corruption law and presenting it to the government, but ended up doing much more to discredit the ruling dispensation at the center.
The campaign has roped in people from different walks of life, including Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde, academician Apoorvanand, student leader Richa Singh, film star Swara Bhaskar and others.
It will propose a draft law against vigilantism and present it to the government.
The aims of the platform were explained in a press conference on Monday by entrepreneur and activist Tehseen Poonawalla, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students’ union vice-president Shehla Rashid, activist and JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mavani, the man who led the Una Dalit movement.
Though, on the face of it, the movement is aimed at framing a stringent law against mob lynching, it is likely that it would try to tap, and fan, popular anger against such incidents to hurt the BJP, just like the IAC was able to amplify popular sentiment against corruption to hurt the Congress Party.
In 2011 a group of individuals joined hands under the banner of India Against Corruption led by the veteran social activist, Anna Hazare and demanded an Ombudsman Law to curb the prevailing political corruption.
The campaign assumed the shape of a movement and became a biggest anti Congress platform that prepared the ground for the defeat of Dr Manmohan Singh led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)government in 2014.
The National Campaign Against Mob Lynching resembles Indian Against Corruption movement in many respects.
The prominent members come with strong anti BJP credentials: Tehseen Poonawala has leaning towards the Congress; student leaders Kanahya Kumar and Shehla Rashid are known anti-Modi faces, and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani is an emerging competitor to the BJP in Gujarat who is targeting to mobilize under-privileged sections against the saffron outfit.
Though Monday’s press conference in Delhi was the formal launch of the campaign, the grouping got going last month when these young leaders met in Poona last month and addressed a conference together.
Poonawalla, on whose petition the Supreme Court recently issued a notice to the Central Govt regarding ban on vigilante groups, said: “The need of our times is a specific law to deal with vigilantism. The government must promulgate an ordinance ASAP and make lynching a non-bailable offence with punishment upto life imprisonment.
“In addition the local police officer, in whose jurisdiction lynchings take place, must be suspended immediately and a judicial inquiry must be initiated against the officer. If the government fails to enact a law in the stipulated period, lakhs of farmers, cattle grazers and dairy farmers will leave their cattle at the PM’s residence.”
The bigger question is, will right-wing violence be to the NDA what corruption and scandals were to the UPA.