Probably in the oversight because of the country seething with a great popular agitation around the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), two deaths by mob lynching in our state of Kerala, failed to evoke sufficient public debate. Last Monday, Anil kumar (40) of Valakam in Kollam and Ajesh (30) of Vellayani, Thiruvananthapuram were murdered following brutal attacks by mob. Whereas the Kollam murder was in the name of immorality, the Thiruvananthapuram incident was following an allegation of theft.
This column had dealt with the issue of mob killings several times. Mob murders have been subject to debates at different levels in national politics over the last few years. Such killings in northern India are mostly executed by Hindutva right-wingers as part of their political agenda. Naturally they hit headlines as political controversies. And such murders have also resulted in the image of India ebbing at international level too. However, Kerala has been free from mob murders of communal nature. At the same time, an earlier incident of Mannarkkad in which a tribal youth named Madhu was beaten to death on allegation of stealing rice did deeply hurt the conscience of Keralite society. That time, the entire state stood by Madhu and his family. The state government too displayed commendable vigilance in bringing the culprits to books. Thus the death of Madhu made Keralites think seriously not only about mob killing, but also about the living conditions of tribals.
This is a factor that makes Kerala stand out from the north Indian situation where the accused in mob lynching get honoured and enjoy political protection. At the same time, what happened in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram do tell us that there is still some left for mob authority in our our democratic, enlightened consciousness.
The youth who was killed in Thiruvananthapuram, Ajesh is one who suffered from psychic disorders too. And the crime attributed to him was theft of a mobile phone. Further, those who attacked him could not recover the device in question from him even after searching and questioning him under torture. This is not to say that had it been recovered, the assault would be justified. But even in the rationale of the mob, the victim's crime was not established. That speaks for the atrocity of the act. What all kinds of torture was that youth forced to bear, like burn with boiling iron placed on his private organ, brutally hit with cloth squeezed into the mouth and record them all in the video! Ajesh hailed from extremely weak background. Most curious of everything was that the mobile phone lost had belonged to none of the assailants. An auto passenger first complained to the auto driver of his loss of mobile and asked him to return it if it was found, and promised him half its price. It was some auto drivers who succumbed to this temptation of the half-price that eventually resulted in this malicious attack. And one of the assailants had even the antecedent of being accused in criminal cases including theft.
If mob killings are taken as a whole, one thing easily emerges: most of the victims of such attacks are those hailing from a background without much social capital. Like Madhu from Mannarkkad, Ajesh too came from such background.
The fact is that even as we make progress in several spheres, internally we are becoming weaker. Put otherwise, we will have to accept that whatever deficits we had continue to exist unaffected by the mobility and vibrance that the society achieved as a whole. That is to say, our social renaissance has come to a halt at some point. The social sections and segments that were weak, continue to be in the same strata. They, or such spheres, remain uninfluenced by our progressive pretensions. All these incidents should make us rethink whether we are failing in actualising at grassroot level the key values like respect for rule of law, and lofty democratic consciousness.