Nilanjana Bhowmick is a journalist and writer in India.
Indians are angry.
On Sunday, five agricultural laborers were lynched by a mob of nearly 3,000 people in the Dhule district in Maharashtra. The local people were alerted by a fake WhatsApp message about child kidnappers and accused the laborers of being “child-lifters.”
Their deaths were just the latest in a series of WhatsApp-related killings in the country. In recent weeks, there has been an outpouring of shock and protests over the lynching of two men in Karbi Anglong, in the northeastern state of Assam, over suspicions of them being child kidnappers. In that episode, an unsubstantiated rumor that originated in a video that went viral on social media. And in Jharkhand last May, seven people, including two brothers, were beaten to death by mobs in two attacks over child-kidnapping rumors in areas dominated by tribal populations.
We see this rising anger in the increasing popularity of hardline Hindutva groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their open-arms training in Indian cities. The CIA recently classified the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, two Hindu-right extremist groups infamous for their Islamophobia, as “militant religious organizations.” It can be seen in the venomous posters and car stickers of the Hindu god Hanuman that has become the face of militant Hinduism. It can be seen in sword-wielding right wingers parading in broad day light claiming “India is Ours”.
We also see this anger in the vitriol that Hindutva online trolls unleash daily against minorities and women.
A report by Minority Rights Group International said that “since the 2014 election victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of Narendra Modi, there has been a climate of rising Hindu nationalism. This has in turn seen the promotion of an increasingly exclusionary environment, reflected in the advancement of policies and legislation . . . that discriminate against religious minorities.”
Indeed, dozens of hate crimes against Muslims have taken place around the country. At least 10 Muslim men have been lynched and many others injured by vigilante cow-protection groups, as the government snoozed. Earlier this year, the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl sparked wide outrage in India. The girl was attacked by a group of Hindu men for days. They held her hostage in a temple, drugged and unconscious, and raped her repeatedly to teach her Muslim nomadic tribe a lesson and to force them to move out of the area. It was the pinnacle of Hindu anger against Muslims.
“Religious minority groups, particularly Muslims, faced increasing demonization by hard-line Hindu groups, pro-government media and some state officials,” an Amnesty International report on India said. “Mob violence intensified, including by vigilante cow protection groups,” the report added.
According to the report, in 2016, more than 40,000 crimes against Scheduled Castes were reported, including attacks on the lower caste Dalits by upper caste Indians. In May of that year, two Dalit men were killed, several injured, and dozens of Dalit homes torched by upper caste men in Saharanpur, in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh, following a clash between the communities. In March, mobs carried out a series of racist attacks against black African students in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. Statistics showed that more than 338,000 crimes against women were registered in 2016.
However, the Karbi Anglong incident is testimony to a much larger and more dangerous trend.
In the Karbi Anglong incident, there was no religious or communal angle. The two Assamese men, who had been passing through Karbi Anglong had stopped to ask for directions and were mistaken for the child kidnappers that the villagers had been warned of in the WhatsApp video. They were mistaken for child kidnappers mainly on the basis of suspicion, because they did not speak the local dialect and were dressed differently; basically, they were outsiders.
What stands out in the Karbi Anglong video is unbridled, savage anger. It points to the unshakable fact that much of India has been overtaken by a sense of insecurity, fear and paranoia.
This anger is now targeted against anything that doesn’t fit our narrow definitions. The anger could be over differences in religion, caste, community, or merely way of life. In India, where no two people look the same or share the same language, unfamiliarity had always been exciting, or curiosity-provoking. Now it provokes fear and insecurity.
Maybe in India, we are all outsiders now.