Day 4 of Karwan-e-Mohabbat: In Its Search Of Love, Peace And Brotherhood in a society famous for its tolerance, communal harmony and diversity, till not very long ago, Karwan-e-Mohabbat (The Caravan of Love) made its way through the bylanes of cities where incidents of mob lynchings had taken place.
The fourth day of the Karwan began with an unexpected healing moment, when the local gurudwara in Ramgarh district headquarters in Jharkhand where we spent the night at a dharmsala, invited the Karwan e Mohabbat to the gurudwara to endorse its call for solidarity and love. They quoted from Sikh scriptures verses of both Nanak and Kabir to underline its message of inter-religious unity and tolerance. Speakers reflected on how relevant this message was for our times of rising hate.
The small local Sikh community settled there after Partition. We remembered the two storms of hate that twice destroyed their lives – in 1947 and then again in 1984 – and how they should teach them the consequences of hate violence today against other minorities.
We then drove to the village Manua in Manoa block of the district, and met there the strong unbroken widow Mariam Khatoon of a man who had been lynched two months earlier in the busy marketplace of Ramgarh town.
On the morning of 27 June 2017, coal trader Aliuddin Ansari leaves his home in his car. About an hour later, imagine the horror of his seventeen year old son Shahban when he receives a Whats App video of his father being lynched brutally by a mob of young self-styled cow vigilantes. He jumps blindly on to a motorcycle to drive to the town in a desperate bid to save his father, but his bike crashes a little distance from his home.
He calls his 22 year old brother Shehzad, who leaves immediately with his mother. When they reach Ramgarh, they find their car overturned and gutted in the centre of the market, and Shehzad’s father’s blood stains on the streets. People tell them that the police have taken Amiluddin for treatment to the civil hospital in Ranchi.
They drive in a rush to Ranchi. There they learn that he had died at the hands of the mob in the Ramgarh market itself. The police does a hurried secret post-mortem without allowing the family to see the body, and to date have refused to share with them the contents of the report. It takes multiple visits to the police that long night before they were given the body late after midnight.
In many episodes of lynching, we are witnessing this bizarre new social phenomenon of hate – of the lynching video. We watched in horror the video that Amiluddin Ansari’s sons saw on their phones, even as their father at that moment was succumbing to his attackers. These videos are typically taken by the attackers themselves. You watch them in Ansari’s lynching video laughing as the battered bleeding man begs for his life, as though this was a sport, a reality television show or a video game. At one point, a boy grabs the terrified man’s face and turns it to the camera, asking the videographer to take a good shot. There are pictures of piles of red meat on the streets, but none of these actually being taken out of the car. No one comes to the aid of the hapless man before he dies.
The state administration has done nothing to support the bereaved family. The younger children have dropped out of school. The meat was sent to check if it was cow meat. A group of local boys angrily protested when the police failed to arrest those of the attackers who could be easily identified from the video. The police has slapped a series of criminal charges against these protestors, who spent 25 days in jail. Some of the attackers were later arrested, but there are many others who eye-witnesses are willing to name. We saw the photograph of a young man beating Ansari with a fibreglass baton that closely resembles that of the police.
Mariam Khatoon was firm and composed as she spoke to us when we met her, breaking down only once when she recalled how difficult the police made it for them to get her husband’s battered body the night after he was lynched. ‘I only want justice’, she said to us again and again. ‘I want those who lynched my husband to be punished, not for revenge, but to ensure that no one has to go through what my children and I have undergone’.
In the aman sabha meeting that was organised in Ramgarh after we met Mariam Khatoon and her family, we took solace that there were at least no public rationalisations for the hate lynching as we heard in Giridih the night before, (for the lynching of Usman by his neighbours on the charge that he killed his cow a day before Ansari had been lynched). A few senior speakers from the town soberly agreed with me and said that they should have broken their silences and condemned the lynching when it happened, and not remained silence. They concurred that their silences made them complicit in some way in the hate crime. They agreed to constitute an Aman Insaniyat Committee to prevent and respond to hate crime in their district, and to support its victims.
In the afternoon, we arrived at Ranchi. Here the Christian community had organised a massive meeting to coincide with the Karwan to protest the draconian anti-conversion law recently passed by the Jharkhand assembly. The law, they feared, was designed instil fear in the hearts of the small Christian minority, and to tear apart tribal society, in which in the same family, there may be people who worship by their traditional Adivasi Sarna faith, some who are Christian, and some who identify themselves as Hindu. The gathering endorsed the importance of solidarity, of various oppressed minorities and castes and liberal elements, to stand together to fight violence and discrimination against any peoples, and to uphold and practice love, the call of the Krwan.
And now with a day for travel, we move to Mangalore in Karnataka. The Karwan there will both mourn and pay tribute to the fearless defender of justice and secular values Gauri Lankesh, and continue our sombre journey of atonement to the families who were traumatised by this new rising social epidemic of hate lynching.
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