Is The Mob Lynching of a Muslim Man In Assam Part Of A Bigger, More Sinister Problem?
The 68-year-old man was dragged to the side of the road, abused, and assaulted in the state’s Biswanath district over suspicion of selling beef.
On April 7th, a 68-year-old man was dragged to the side of the road, abused, and assaulted mercilessly by a mob in Assam’s Biswanath district. The mob even force fed him pork because he was a Muslim. Their reason? They suspected him of selling beef.
The incident came to light after a video of the event went viral. The victim has been identified as Shaukat Ali. In the video, he can be seen bloodied and on his knees, deep in slush and mud, begging the mob to let him go. The mob asked him whether he was from Bangladesh and had a license to sell beef. They even asked him whether his name was in the National Registry of Citizens (NRC). They also warned him to stop selling meat. The police have registered a case and have detained five people so far.
This might seem like a mindless episode of violence, but is it really? The victim clearly belongs to a minority community that has seen several of its members being targeted in similar ways. This is not an isolated incident. The timing of the assault also raises questions. Phase one of the general elections is set to get underway on April 11th. Five constituencies from Assam are set to vote in Phase one. One of them is Tezpur, which covers Biswanath district. So, has this kind of violence become a way to gain electoral clout?
Perhaps, the largest question to be asked is this: Is violence of this kind the new normal? In the name of cow protection, people from certain schools of thought have been taking the law into their hands. Storing or eating beef has become a death sentence in their eyes. Over the last five years, such cases of mob ‘justice’ have become increasingly common.
Several cases have captured national headlines as well. To begin with, there was the Mohammad Akhlaq case. On September 28th, 2015, a mob descended on the home Mohammad Akhlaq in Bisada village near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. Accusing him of storing beef in his house, they attacked and killed him. His son was also injured in the attack.
Since then, such incidents have been occurring at a regular clip. The more prominent cases include the one from Una, Gujarat, where members of a Dalit family were flogged by self-proclaimed cow vigilantes for skinning a dead cow on June 30th, 2016. On April 1st, 2017, a 55-year-old dairy farmer called Pehlu Khan from Nuh district in Haryana was beaten to death by cow vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar district while he was returning from a cattle fair. On May 18th, 2017, three cattle traders were lynched to death in Jharkhand.
So, why are cases like this taking place? It seems like since the 2014 election, elements which existed in the margins till now, started asserting themselves aggressively. They have become more and more brazen, helped by a perceived degree of latitude from law enforcement agencies. Indeed, in some cases the government seems to be in support of them. In a recent rally of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath in Bisada village, some of the prime accused in the Mohammad Akhlaq case were seen in the front, cheering him on. Not only did they seem to be well looked after, Adityanath also mentioned the incident in his speech, using it to hit out at the Opposition. Clearly the issue is still very much alive and electorally valid.
Thus, seen through that lens, the Assam incident takes on a different dimension. On the back foot in the state due to public anger related to the NRC fiasco, the BJP has been trying to make up ground. This incident seems to have come at an opportune time for them.