It is important that Tabrez Ansari’s killing should not become another statistic in the series of murders which are being called mob lynching. We Indians are pretty original in mis-recognizing any problem that tells us what kind of brutal society and polity we have become. The term mob lynching is strategically deployed to make us forget the involvement of certain actors and, more importantly, the state in the murder of its own citizens. The image of the mob as a faceless, rowdy bunch consumed by something called the ‘mob mentality’ is being pushed as a clever narrative to avoid pinning the blame of such gruesome acts on a ‘recognizable’ group of people acting out a distinct ideological motive. The mob, it is argued, is irrational and is consumed by such blinding anger that it is impossible to stop it. This kind of narrative absolves any accountability of state institutions who will in many other societies be held responsible for such acts of omission and commission. Over the many years of lynching history, it is difficult to remember even one case where policemen have been booked for not taking necessary measures. But that is precisely the reason why this narrative of mob lynching is pushed. The mob, which is supposedly faceless and irrational, by taking the blame absolves everyone else who might be complicit in the crime.
Tabrez was killed because he was a Muslim. Those trying to put a gloss over his brutal murder by arguing that he was lynched on suspicion of theft are basically trying to rationalise and justify his murder. There are many thefts committed daily across the country. If all thieves were routinely lynched, then there would be complete chaos in the country. The ‘mob’ that killed Tabrez did not do so because he was a thief; they lynched him because he was a Muslim and the accusation of theft was just a pretext for killing him. Which thief, when caught is forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’? Which thief is asked his full name before he is lynched? Which thief is humiliated because of his religion? These are questions which must be asked from all the right wingers who are trying to justify his murder.
And that is precisely why we can see that the so-called mob was not faceless. All lynching is a practical culmination of an ideology of hatred which has been drilled over many years. This ideology is one of pure visceral hatred for Muslims. The mob, therefore, has an ideological face which can be located within the many sites of right-wing Hindu supremacist ideology. The faceless ‘mob’ also has a religion: Hinduism. Those still arguing for the innate pacifism and pluralism of this religion need to rethink their fundamental assumptions and ask themselves why this so-called peaceful religion is baying for the blood of Muslims. The mob also has a caste: most come from the historically oppressed sections of Hindu society. As Mohammad Sajjad, a prominent historian from Aligarh, reminds us, low caste Hindus have been the front faces of this so-called faceless mob, those most vociferous anti-Muslim voices seem to be increasingly coming from this section of Hindu society. Yet, amongst the so-called champions of social justice politics, this is hardly been talked about.
What is also noteworthy is the silence of those Muslims who consider themselves to be the custodians of the community. Is it because the majority of those killed by Hindu mobs happen to be low-caste Muslims? Where is the rage of those who champion ‘Muslim’ causes? Where are those who have made a career out of selling Muslim victimhood? The truth be told: most of these custodians who speak in the name of Muslims are either not Muslims or are upper caste Muslims. The misery, the affliction and the humiliation of pasmanda Muslims simply do not affect them.
The ideologically driven, low-caste Hindu mob, was very conscious of what it was doing to Tabrez. It is very clear from the disturbing video that they circulated that right from the very beginning their intention was to kill him. What is perhaps more horrendous in the complicity of state agencies in the crime. The police arrived late, as always, but refused to take Tabrez to hospital. They locked him up for the night and then the next day put him in jail where again, he was not given medical attention. Inside the police station, the main accused, Pappu Mandal, was seen chatting with police personnel and even expressing remorse over the fact that Tabrez was still alive. But then again, the police officials and the jail authorities will not be brought to book because they are not responsible: the mob is. The faceless mob will also come to the rescue of those medical practitioners who did not immediately send Tabrez to a better equipped hospital for treatment. The doctors were simply not concerned about this person who was nearly killed and was getting medical access after full five days. It was only when he was nearly dead that they told his family members to take him to another hospital in a ramshackle ambulance, which did not even have basic facilities like oxygen cylinders. Perhaps, for all these doctors, as for the police inspector and the jail authorities, Tabrez was first a Muslim and only then a patient. It is as if these various state authorities were hell bent on finishing the task left incomplete by the killer mob.