Day 3 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 Karwan-e-Mohabbat, or “The Caravan of Peace” or “Peace Yatra”, is a movement led by activist and author Harsh Mander that is making its way across the country, visiting places where mob lynchings and hate crimes have taken place and sincerely attempts to forge links between different communities. “It’s a call of conscience to India’s majority,” Mander once said in a statement about the Karwan. Below is Harsh Mander’s Day 3 of the Journey.
On a bumpy bus journey from Giridih to Ramgarh in Jharkhand, trying to type my short update for today.
My heart very weighed down in a day with many reminders of why this Karwan was important to attempt.
The cowardly killing of a fearless, charismatic, influential and uncompromising fighter against religious hatred and bigotry Gauri Lankesh of course cast a long shadow on our hearts. A sobering reminder that the climate of hate, intimidation and fear is mounted not just against minorities and Dalits, but also against those for defend their rights and fight for constitutional values.
We went to a village in Giridih, and found a terrifying replay of the Akhlaq lynching, not just of the events but of communal rationalisations in the village to justify the lynching. The old man who was lynched – Usman Ansari – has just about survived the lynching, but is terribly broken both in body and in spirit. He is still in hiding months after the lynching. The organisers did not let even us know where he had taken refuge, and agreed to only a small group from the Karwan visiting him in secret.
The story that unfolded on 28 July 2017 had many echoes from Dadri. One Muslim household alone in a Hindu settlement. The rumour that he had killed a cow, when a decapitated cow was mysteriously found in the village dump-yard. His neighbours attack him brutally in his home, beating him until he is unconscious. They take him for dead, and set on fire his home, reducing it to ashes. They are about to set his body aflame. His life is saved by seconds because of the arrival of the police and the DC.
The one silver lining of the story is the exemplary role of the young DC, and the police under his guidance. The crowd stones them and their vehicle. But they rescue the old man, and rush him to Hazaribagh hospital. He is unconscious for eight days, and treated in Ranchi hospital for to months. His scalp is still wounded, his hand bones crushed to pieces.
But none from his village tried to save him during the killing, and none have reached out to him since then. The state administration has also given no financial help. The old man wept often when he spoke to us About how his neighbours tried to kill him. About how his sons were out begging for money in the community to help his medical expenses and feed his family. About one son who has lost his mind after the trauma. About his resolve to return to his village, even if no one wants him, even if he may be attacked again, because there is nowhere else he can call home.
Our even greater sadness was in the village meeting that followed. Around 300 men had gathered. We spoke but there was no remorse. They were convinced that Usman was guilty. They asked why we did not express sympathy with the ‘innocent’ men who the police had arrested, and the man injured in the leg when the police fired to disperse the mob that wanted to burn alive the unconscious Usman. A replay of the same arguments that we heard in Dadri. That Muslims were guilty by definition, that Hindus were innocent and nationalist by definition. Our arguments appealing to justice, and to even elementary humanity, only led to anger and hostility among most who gathered there from the majority community, even members of progressive and left organisations. No compassion, no contrition of any kind.
Two reminders – the Lankesh killing and the absence of any compassion for the aged and broken survivor of the attempt by his neighbours to lynch him – of why this Karwan e Mohabbat needed to be done.
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