Swami Agnivesh & Valson Thampu

The lynching of five dalits - Virender, Dayanand, Kailash, Raju Gupta and Tota Ram- in Jhajjar (Haryana), reportedly by a frenzied mob, for skinning a dead cow is yet another pointer to the criminality that marks mob behaviour, thanks to the communal manipulation of mass religiosity by those who wish to thrive by it. The brutal massacre of five citizens is bad enough. What is absolutely shocking is the fact that they were hijacked from police custody and lynched. It raises a host of questions that cry out for answers. The disturbing trend, however, is that the truth about events coloured by communalism, can never be known.

There are at least three aspects to this gruesome event that must engage our attention. The first is the sickness of religion it portends. The sanctity that cow enjoys in Hindu sentiments is so well-established that even Babbar in his memoirs laid special emphasis on respecting it. Cow has both ritualistic and symbolic implications for Hindus. Ritualistically it is entwined with the intuition of the divine, especially at the meeting point between the physical and the metaphysical. Symbolically, the cow points to the sanctity of the non-human part of creation, without which human beings tend to vandalize the rest of creation, as in materialistic cultures. A commitment to develop a caring attitude towards creation as a whole is, hence, integral to reverencing cow.

That caring attitude must be evident, first and foremost, in caring for cows. The disturbing truth is that a 5000-strong mob could collect at the drop of a hat to lynch those who skinned a dead cow. But it is doubtful if there would be even five among them willing to mind living cows that need care and protection. It is a sign of religious sickness that the eagerness to kill and destroy in the name of religion far outweighs the willingness to live up to its positive ideals. We do not know how the cow in the present episode died; whether someone other than the five victims killed it or whether it died of starvation, street accident, old age or sickness. It is almost certain that no one among the murderous mob asked this question. Nor would it have occurred to them that being a friend to cows involves much more than being enemies of the enemies of cows. What this event points to is a problem endemic in religion: the negative definition of religious sentiments. Even those who condemn others for their atheism or irreligion could be far from living by the ethical and spiritual core of their religious tradition. The plight of the cows that are seen roaming our roads, streets and by-lanes, thousands of them feasting mostly on plastic bags and dying of these synthetic and deadly delicacies, should be a greater pain than the sight of someone skinning a dead cow. But who cares?

The second major issue this event raises is the increasing legitimization of crime camouflaged in communal sentiments. It is now a matter of settled public perception that the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes will enjoy assured immunity, if they parade themselves in communal costumes. This has been so for a long time. Sadly, we do not have a respectable track record of dealing with communal atrocities according to the law of the land. The additional note to this symphony of institutionalized mayhem is the trend for politicians and law-enforcing agencies to use the excuse of mass frenzy to justify the outbreak of lawlessness and the dereliction of duty on the part of the State in such situations. Vajpayee's excuse in the Parliament for the destruction of Babri Masjid is a case in point. He explained it away as an eruption of irresistible public sentiments, as though mass frenzy is a talisman that shifts crime to the zone of legitimacy. What is beyond any dispute is that no civilized society can afford to entertain such notions and excuses. Public statements like these, from the highest functionaries of the Indian State, complement the communal bias that is created by vested interests and subvert the rule of law. Going by the Haryana event, even the police now have no qualms in excusing their culpable inaction on the alibi of irresistible mob frenzy. That was heard, with distressing regularity, in respect of the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat.

The seed for this may well be hidden in a gross misunderstanding and abuse of the provisos in the Article 25(1) of the Constitution, which reads: " Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part. . .". There can be no doubt about the foresight and the fairness of the intention behind these words in a multi-religious democracy. But, events in recent times speak loudly of the extent to which the conditionality of "public order" can be communally misused against those who are powerless. Those who can mobilize and incite the masses can subvert the life and liberty of others by contriving threats to public order. The creation of public disorder then becomes a convincing proof that the activity involved -whether it is propagating one's faith or skinning a dead cow- is illegitimate. What is grossly overlooked in this process is the duty of the State to maintain law and order and to defend the rights of all citizens equally. The present authors had a taste of this reality recently. The peace and communal harmony yatra they were organizing was banned from Ayodhya on the pretext that it would disturb the law and order situation there; whereas those who enjoy political clout and preach communal tension enjoy full freedom of movement.

The third issue here is that of the willful collapse or paralysis of the State. Increasingly, the readiness of the State to invoke legal provisions against those who spread communal hate and disturb peace and harmony in the country is being dictated by the clout of the offenders. People like Bal Thackeray, Abdullah Bukhari, Ashok Singhal, Praveen Togadia, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Narendra Modi do not need to have any inhibitions. They can make the most inflammatory statements, defy the rule of law, and rest assured of their immunity from consequences. The political culture of this country is taking a tragic turn by which the mettle of one's leadership is proved by defying the rule of law publicly. This is where Tehelka is a turning point. It proves that it is not those who violate the law but those who expose their corruption who get into trouble.

The lynching of the five dalit youths in Haryana is not, thus, a local event. It is a symbolic pointer to the degeneration that is overtaking the country as a whole. This descend to de facto anarchy must be arrested forthwith. Allowing the law to take its course and bringing the criminals, irrespective of their clout, colour or creed, to justice is the first step towards our national regeneration.