By Harsh Mander*
There is a rising darkness in India. Mobs violently are acting out visceral hatred in many parts of India targeting people because of their faith and caste.
These assaults are characterised by bystanders who actively support the killing, or do nothing to stop it. Pehlu Khan is killed on a busy national highway; in Una, attackers circulate videos of whippings, convinced of their valour and impunity. Akhlaq is lynched by his neighbours. Junaid is stabbed 30 times on a crowded train.
As this lynching threatens to grow into a national epidemic, Indian Muslims are learning to endure an intense sense of foreboding – a lurking, unnamed, unspoken fear. This is not simply the apprehension of discrimination, of being treated the ‘other’: in classrooms, in public spaces, in residential colonies. This they have long become accustomed to. What is new is the persisting danger of imminent violence, of being vulnerable to attack anywhere – on a public road, in a bus or train, in a marketplace, even in their homes – only for looking and being Muslim.
In tribal regions, Christian people are also feeling a mounting dread. There is another community as well that has long lived with everyday violence and humiliation, the Dalits. But they too are now fearful of attacks for pursuing their socially demeaning caste vocation of skinning cows.
How culpable are we when our brothers and sisters are burned and lynched and we stand by?
We need to interrogate the reasons for our silences, for our failures to speak out, and to intervene, when murderous hate is unleashed on innocent lives. We need our conscience to ache. We need it to be burdened intolerably.
Darkness can never be fought with darkness, only light can dispel the enveloping shadows. To speak to our collective silences, we propose to embark, with as many comrades who wish to join, on a journey of shared suffering, of solidarity, of atonement and of love.
We have joined hands to undertake this journey across parts of India which are worst affected by lynching. The purpose is twofold: to respond to the everyday fear of Muslims, Dalits and Christians, and the worrying silences of the majority. We aim to declare that we stand with our Muslim, Dalit and Christian sisters and brothers in this hour of gathering darkness. But the journey is also a call of conscience to India’s majority.
We propose this as a large collaborative civil society initiative, a month-long journey which will include visiting families of those who lost loved ones to hate lynching. It will be called Karawan e Mohabbat. It will be a journey for sharing pain, for atonement, for solidarity and for love.
The journey will begin from Nellie in Assam on September 4 and end at Porbandar in Gujarat on October 2. The first phase of the Karawan will cover Assam, Jharkhand and possibly Karnataka.
We will gather again at Tilak Vihar in Delhi on September 11. In this second phase of the Karawan all participants will travel together by buses. From Delhi, the Karawan will move to Western UP, Haryana, Rajasthan, and on to Gujarat. This phase of the Karawan we will culminate at Mhow, the birthplace of Dr Ambedkar.
In a third phase of the Karawan, we will visit Kandhmal and Tsundur. The Karawan will conclude in a large program in Porbandar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, on his birth anniversary October 2.
The major aim of the Karawan will be to visit families which have suffered from lynch attacks in each of the states: Assam, Jharkhand, (possibly) Karnataka, Western UP, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. We will offer our atonement and solidarity to each of the lynch victim families. In each state, we will try to assess how the family is coping and what they need for livelihoods and the pursuit of justice.
In advance of our visit, an advance team will visit them in the earlier month and spend at least a week there. They will try to constitute an aman committee, with members of Muslim, Dalit and Hindu groups (and Adivasi and Christian where applicable). These aman committees will commit to support the family for justice and livelihoods, and promote amity, goodwill, and peace in the larger community.
After we meet with the family, we will with the help of the aman committee organise a public meeting – an aman sabha – on the themes of love and solidarity, preferably hosted in the settlements of the majority community. There will also be singing on these themes by singers who we hope will accompany the Karawan.
In the course of the Karawan, we wish to also acknowledge symbolically the long history of mass targeted violence against various vulnerable communities in India after Independence, with their unmet justice and unhealed wounds. We start at Nellie because this is the largest post-Partition massacre, and not one person has been punished for these mass crime.
The same reason compels us to visit the 1984 widows’ colony at Tilak Vihar, Delhi, because the Sikh widows have suffered as well from monumental denial of justice. Kandhamal is another site of unhealed wounds and prodigious injustice. And finally it is critically important to acknowledge the history of atrocities for many generations endured by Dalits that we will visit Tsundur in Andhra Pradesh.
And finally, we will visit Mhow, to pay tribute to Dr Ambedkar for leading the writing of India’s constitution, and to be mindful of his caution to all of us that the core of democracy and our constitution is fraternity. It is fraternity that is most under attack in India today. The last point of the Karawan on Oct 2 will be Gandhi’s birthplace, to recall his lifelong belief in Hindu-Muslim unity, and in his last months, his walk in Naokholi when the entire country was enveloped and ripped apart by hate.
During the travel, we hope to include a team of chroniclers – writers, poets, photographers, videographers – who will record what they see as we travel for the rest of us, and share it in real time as we travel. We seek also to have some speakers, singers, musicians, even maybe stand-up comedians, who will communicate to local audiences in the areas stricken by hate our message of love and solidarity.
For the lynchings and the climate of hate, this Karawan will point to the culpability of the governments, political parties, partisan administrations, and marauding mobs. But most of all it will reflect on the culpability of all of us, of the silent bystanders. It will ask us to interrogate the reasons for our collective silences, for our failures to intervene when murderous hate is unleashed on innocent lives.
The journey is a humble tribute to Gandhi’s last and finest months. A million people had died in Hindu-Muslim riots, yet he walked bravely alone in Naokholi for love and peace, even as the entire country was engulfed and ripped apart by hate.
In our appeal, we say, ‘We need our conscience to ache. We need it to be burdened intolerably. Darkness can never be fought with darkness, only light can dispel the enveloping shadows’. To speak thus to our brothers and sisters, and to our souls, we propose to embark on this journey of shared suffering, of solidarity, of atonement and of love. A Karawan-e-Mohabbat.
*Aman Biradari and Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi