The Art of Legitimising Lynchings

With incidents of lynching and mob violence against minorities on the rise, what are the perils of propagating half-truths and half lies
Lakhinder Singh Delhi

The most important issue in the 20th century and the 21st century is the power of hate and the power of stupidity. The powers of evil are very pervasive, effective and visible and there is no attempt at subterfuge or camouflage on the part of evil forces. They are so sure of their cause that they do not even attempt to justify the evil they perpetrate on the world. Just as Gavrilo Princip (the man who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, setting off a chain of events that triggered off World War I) is the most influential person of the 20th century, Kellyanne Conway (Donald Trump’s campaign manager who coined the term alternate facts) might well turn out to be the single most important person in the 21st century. Cleverness, disinformation and deception are the new mantras and Kellyanne might just be the new prophet. Alternate facts and alternate (false and suitably disguised) information might be the main philosophy of the 21st century.

In a sense, we are living in a dangerous era. No longer is evil defined as evil. It could easily be transformed into alternate morality or alternate ethics. Alternate morality only needs to be utilised or managed or explained away. Terms like “killer instinct” have become most common. Many people will believe that having a killer instinct means simply making a living out of murdering people or ruthlessness. For many politicians in India, this has become the central arch of their political craft and political strategy.

In this case, lynching can be considered as a public reaction or the indignation of the ordinary man or an expression of public opinion instead of being called cold and preplanned murder which it actually is. Once you bring in the concept of the “ordinary man” or public interest, everything—Hitler and the holocaust, Himmler, Eichmann, Heydrich, Pol Pot, Stalin, Tamerlane and the Japanese atrocities in China and Korea—can be sanctified and glorified. To me, if the world is to be saved a fresh reprint of George Orwell's book Animal Farm and 1984–10 million copies—should be ordered because it was the first book to highlight the dangers of disinformation and dishonesty with regard to language.

The trick is to distort the fact so thoroughly that it no longer remains a fact but becomes a dough and you can prepare whatever you like with it—chapatis, biscuits, muffins, anything. And then you will have standardised intellectuals to corroborate the new facts. Such intellectuals are coming out fresh, mass produced from the factory floor of newspaper offices and universities.

What nobody seems to understand or nobody cares to understand is that this strikes at the very root of civilisation and the human existence as we know it. And this kind of intelligentsia is dangerous because it is made of depraved human beings who tell the general public that they are espousing a specific noble agenda when actually they have a partisan axe to grind.

The veneer of civilised existence of the human race is very fine and thin. Man’s evolution from more primitive creatures is a scientific fact. As such violence and aggression form a basic trait of human nature and this is what gets transposed and transformed as evil. Incidents of lynching and mob violence or ethnic cleansing can only be considered as the outcrops of an earlier age when humans diverted from the course taken by apes and gorillas. I think I can go one step further than Darwin by saying that only the external features changed, while on the inside, the man remained faithful to his primitive origins, surpassing them by a more sophisticated execution of their agenda.

The attempt to create an alternate structure of facts and news which deviates from the truth can be tactically successful but will prove disastrous in the long run. Since we are not patterned on the structure of the erstwhile Soviet Union or the present day Communist China, we have to scrupulously follow the dictums of democratic behaviour. Mob violence, lynching, or the controlled and sophisticated dissemination of disinformation, as is happening in the 21st century in India and in other countries, do not sit well with the concept of a democracy or an advanced civilisation.

We should spare a thought for the hard fact that some very illiterate and irresponsible people have captured space on electronic media. The trait of unnecessarily provoking our neighbours for the benefit of some TRP ratings is a sign of extreme recklessness and depravity. It is a wonder that our so called educated class has not been perturbed by this at all.

Roman historian Livy had once said that because of the infinite variety of experience described, history is the best cure for the sick mind. People in India do not care much about history but only want to mobilise history to reinstate an alternate reality. The history of India has shown time and again that a lighthearted, frivolous attitude toward ethnic and communal dissension can have horrible consequences. In 1947, no national leader, including Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru or Sardar Patel, could make any dent in the force of communal violence. In the overall task and agenda of electoral victories and political success, one can lose sight of this danger. Utilising communal differences for electoral or any other gain is not playing around with petrol, it is like playing around with Napalm. And every educated or literate person knows the consequences of that.