A video captures a mob beating up an elderly activist. He falls to the ground with his clothes awry as young men rain blows down on him.
Such attacks are horrifying, but sadly not unusual in India.
Swami Agnivesh, a 78-year-old Hindu monk who has long promoted social causes including the rights of Dalits (formerly “untouchables”) and the abolition of bonded labor, was recently attacked in Jharkhand state. Agnivesh said after the attack that he was targeted by two youth wings of the state’s governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “They alleged that I was speaking against Hindus,” he said.
The BJP, which leads the central government in India as well as in several states, campaigns on the promise of good governance and development, but includes members of groups that militantly promote a Hindu nationalist ideology.
In recent years, groups affiliated with the BJP have attacked Muslims and Dalits over allegations of illegally trading in cows or beef. They have forced Christian tribal groups and Dalits to “re-convert” to Hinduism. They have attacked journalists, human rights lawyers, and activists. Their leaders have frequently enjoyed political patronage, and some even hold political office themselves.
The use of organized mobs to express “offended” sentiment with violence has undermined the rule of law in places, with scores of people beaten, even killed, in attacks that the Indian media has described as “lynchings.” On Tuesday, the Supreme Court condemned these “horrendous acts of mobocracy,” and called upon the government to enact new legislation to tackle the growing problem. BJP leaders said there was no need.
Laws are only as good as their enforcement, and there appears to be little interest from the BJP in ending this violence. The BJP denied its members were involved in the attack on Agnivesh, but justified it nevertheless. One leader declared him to be a “fraud,” who “survives on foreign donations,” and concluded that he “had himself planned this attack to gain popularity.” Another said that Agnivesh had “hurt religious sentiment.”
Unless the BJP ends this wink-and-nod approach that allows its supporters to get away, literally, with murder, it will bear responsibility for the resulting mobocracy.