The Telegraph
Monday , June 19 , 2017
 
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When lynch mobs feel empowered

- Swachh murder flags influence of perceived sympathy from those in power

New Delhi, June 18: The alleged killing of a man by municipal workers during a Swachh Bharat campaign in a Rajasthan town on Friday appears to represent a trend of mob violence riding on expectations of an understanding government, sociologists have said.

The civic employees in Pratapgarh, 415km south of Jaipur, turned on Zafar Khan after he tried to stop them from taking pictures of women defecating in the open around 6.30am, police said.

Sociologists say the incident illustrates a trend in which members of the public use violence to "discipline or punish" someone they view as not conforming to certain expectations in line with the thinking of those in power.

"We have always had group-led violence - for example, the atrocities against the Dalits," said Devanathan Parthasarathy, professor and head of sociology at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

"But what we're seeing now is different from the past. Earlier, group mobilisation was linked to issues such as caste. Now, we're seeing a phase in which the mobilisation also occurs around other issues that are perceived to have overt or covert support from the dominant political class."

The civic workers had "kicked, punched and beaten Khan with a stick which led to his death", the FIR filed by Khan's brother says.

Parthasarathy and others say that while the government itself does not incite such violence, individuals already primed to indulge in violence are likely to justify their actions on the basis of what they perceive as government support.

"Some perpetrators of violence may be overzealous to please the political masters, others may see that the perpetrators are facing lesser consequences for violence," said Ravinder Kaur, professor of sociology at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. Kaur had cautioned nearly two years ago that the emergence of the Narendra Modi government was likely to "embolden" fringe elements, including those likely to indulge in violence.

Kaur said: "What we're seeing is dangerous - violence is becoming the normal way of dealing with displeasure."

"And those who indulge in such violence use perceptions of state support on specific issues to claim legitimacy for their actions."

Sociologists say the trend is not unique to India. They point to lynchings of blacks in the American South as an example of mob-driven violence that persisted from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century.

The late Columbia University historian, Julius E. Thompson, had in a 2007 book, Lynchings in Mississippi, suggested that while many individuals were opposed to lynchings, "large segments of society and government remained quiet for long periods".

Human Rights Watch, an international non-government organisation, had in a media release on cow vigilantism in April this year documented the killing of at least 10 people, including a 12-year-old boy, in seven incidents of violence in India since May 2015.

"It is important to recognise that 100 per cent of those indulging in lynchings are men," Parthasarathy said.

"Men from certain backgrounds feel they are no longer in control. Those indulging in such violence are likely to represent that deeply patriarchal background."


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