Mob Violence in India Will Have Legal Repercussions, for Once
India is a country of more than one billion people, a fifth of the world’s population, the largest democracy; yet the country was held to ransom once again, this time by a rapist. The headline, “The Day a Rapist Held India Hostage,” by one of India’s well-known television celebrities, Barkha Dutt, in the Washington Post told the rather sordid story—in part. What was not included in that account was how this is not the first—nor will it be the last—time rampaging mobs, guided by the politically powerful, have stoked mob violence with impunity and been allowed, literally and figuratively, to get away with it.
In brief, the northern Indian states of Haryana, bordering the national capital of Delhi, and Punjab witnessed widespread violence after a Central Bureau of Investigation court in Panchkula convicted a self-styled ‘Godman,’ with hundreds of thousands of followers, Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, of rape. More than 36 people had been killed in Haryana in the violence at the time of writing this story. Those killed were not the mob leaders—some of whom were arrested only after the High Court of the state severely pulled up the state and central governments—but blind followers who had been “told to gather to get a glimpse” of the Godman. Crores of rupees’ worth of property was destroyed as a (deliberately) inept government and administration, which had allowed crowds to swell ahead of the verdict, simply looked the other way.
Several aspects of this tale bear reflection, not least the sheer courage of the judge, investigating officer and the victims who started the ball rolling in the first place. This Facebook post says it all, simply and powerfully:
1) Two brave young ladies/sadhvis (identity withheld) waging a legal battle for fifteen long years...combined with the number of years they were subjected to sexual assaults. Imagine, with their meagre resources, travelling to court 250 kms to Panchkula for every single hearing, protected by a lone gunman, surrounded/chased by Dera followers drunk on power literally baying for their blood. Imagine, travelling on those rickety state transport buses, how close they must have come to quitting a no. of times, stacked against the might of their rapist, for 15 long years. One of the ladies also lost her brother (assassinated).
2) An upright CBI Judge Honrl. Jagdeep Singh delivering a historic judgement despite colossal political & mob pressure. To hell with 3 lakh people stacked outside the court, threatening violence. To hell with bigwig connections. It didn’t matter how many lakhs were standing with the culprit it just took one Honrl. and upright guy to stand with those two brave ladies, on the day of the judgement.
3) An assassinated journalist Honrl. Ram Chander Chhatrapati, who first broke this story in 2002 in a small local daily called “Poora Sach” and kept pursuing the issue despite death threats and ultimately paid the price with his life. This is what courage looks like in human form. Courage which was shot five times from point blank range.
4) Anshuman Chhatrapati, a proud & bereaved son having lost his father at the age of 21. Struggled to kept his slain father’s legacy alive in form of local newspaper ‘Poora Sach’ amid looming death threats and political pressure. Ultimately getting the CBI involved in the investigations after knocking on the HC door in 2003. Imagine a 21-year-old, taking care of his father for 28 days, after five bullets have been pumped into his body and not even a single cop shows up to record the statement of the dying journalist.
5) Stalwarts lawyers Honrl. Rajinder Sachar, R.S Cheema, Ashwin Bakshi & Lekhraj ji, who fought this case pro-bono. They withstood the pressure, invested their time and led it to its logical conclusion. Imagine Sh. Rajinder Sacher, an octogenarian (as he was born in 1923), an old, frail, white-haired upright gentleman fighting the case without charging a single rupee.
6) CBI DSP Honrl. Satish Dagar, DIG Mulinja Narayanan and other team members for rock solid and fair investigation without bowing down to ANYONE. Imagine receiving innumerable calls to go easy or go soft on a certain individual. Imagine standing in a court jam packed with Dera supporters and yet standing firmly behind those two scared yet brave ladies and reassuring them.
So, by my count, it took just 11 upright people (I am sure there are many unknown faces, secret backers behind the scene), but these 11 were the face of the fight, vulnerable to threats and assassinations and were up against a self-proclaimed Godman worth 1000 crores, supported by more than 1 crore-odd people and endorsed by political heavyweights and stalwarts.
So again, by my count it took just 11 ordinary people (one shy of a dozen) to bring down a hugely resourceful rapist, masquerading as a religious guru.
I bow down to these fellow Indians for keeping our faith intact in the system and for giving us a ray of hope. For showing us, that a handful few doing their Job in the rightful manner can withstand lakhs.
Quoting my favorite lines by Hindi poet Sh. Ramdhari Dinkar ji, loosely translated below:
“The battle is not over yet, the one who oppresses is not the only sinner, the one who stands on the sidelines (read neutral) will be held equally guilty.”
I choose to stand with these fellow 11 citizens, especially with these two young brave ladies, their courage should be recognized, commemorated and honored by the state.
What about you?
The ruling Indian political class, led by the normally communicative prime minister Narendra Modi, was left stuttering—though Modi did, in his monthly address to the nation, utter some homilies about how violence in the name of anything will not be tolerated. Modi overlooked a brazenly provocative statement given by an elected official of his own government, the member of parliament belonging to the BJP, Sakshi Maharaj, who was defiant in the face of the court verdict.
India’s Godmen are a phenomenon that has not been investigated enough; recipients of political largesse, they often function beyond the reach of the law and the government. These Godmen can switch allegiance with political parties if any dispute arises, and maintain their power. There are few from within the Indian political class who have the vision to take them on.
One example is the BJP elected official, Sakshi Maharaj, who spoke after the recent rape conviction and has himself had similar allegations of rape and murder charges—a total of 34 criminal charges—in which trials are ongoing. While one of the murder charges is still being debated in court, the gang-rape charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. This elected official was even suspended from the upper house of Indian Parliament in 2006 on corruption charges. A sting operation revealed that he had been misusing MPLADS (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) funds. Star News, which carried out the sting, had claimed that its reporters were able to gain assurance from Sakshi that he would provide money to a fictitious NGO for a “commission.”
He owns and operates 16 educational institutions and 44 ashrams across the country. In 2008, Maharaj was again found guilty of misuse of official funds. He had granted Rs 25 lakh to a college he owned himself, even though the documents relating to the institute were found invalid.
This defense of the convicted rapist Baba Ram Rahim was made the same day that the violence erupted when the conviction was delivered by the court. Arguably, this comment was not simply inciteful and provocative, but it rather shamefully trivialized the criminal offense of rape apart from defying the court’s verdict.
Is this the first time India and Indians have been held victim to the rule of the mob?
Some historical recall would be in order here.
Close to a quarter of a century ago, on December 6, 1992, despite restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court and the ‘undertakings’ given by the BJP-ruled government, both these warnings and assurances were reduced to a farce. The location was Faizabad-Ayodhya, a temple town in north India made the site of a cynical mob mobilization. These assurances were not just hollow as hundreds of thousands of ‘political activists,’ not religious pilgrims, were allowed to gather, and a criminal act unleashed as 3,000-strong paramilitary simply watched: a 400-year-old mosque was demolished. The schisms caused by this criminal act have deeply fractured Indian society, alienating the common Indian’s belief in the secular, democratic state.
Within weeks of this, Bombay, India’s financial capital, was held to ransom as the leader of the rabid outfit, the Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray used his party newspaper, Saamna, to incite his followers to burn and loot Muslim property and attack Muslims. This has been meticulously documented in the Justice BN Srikrishna report. Thackeray was sought to be prosecuted by a group of committed citizens in a legal action led by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) but both the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India bowed down and refused to enforce India’s laws on inciteful speech and provocations to violence.
In 2002, in Gujarat, a cynically sinister pattern was repeated. Mobs led by supremacist outfits were allowed free rein of the streets. The result? A genocidal carnage of close to 2,000 Muslims was allowed. Here’s how the leading English daily, Hindustan Times (March 21, 2002), summed up what happened:
"Daughters were gang raped in front of their fathers and then their heads bashed in. Their fathers were doused with petrol and set on fire. Their property was looted. Their businesses were destroyed. And the police stood by and did nothing."
Needless to say, when the rule of law is consistently enforced and no one is powerful enough to be allowed to get away with crimes, our faith in the systems of democracy and justice are redeemed. In that sense, the recent actions by the Punjab and Haryana High Court and even India’s Supreme Court in upholding the rights of Muslim women and declaring privacy to be a fundamental right are so welcome. They arrest a decades-old trend where those made powerful by irrational mob worship are held to account, to the rule of law and the Indian Constitution.