On June 8, when Nilotpal Das, a 29-year-old sound engineer, and his friend Abhijeet Nath, 30, a businessman, set out to visit a popular tourist spot in Karbi Anglong’s Dokmoka—about 180 km from state capital Guwahati—they had no idea that the area was in grip of a virtually generated paranoia: messages claiming that a group of child-lifters had entered the area from Bihar had gone viral on social media and WhatsApp. Had they even known, it would have been just another rumour fuelled by mindless Whatsapp forwards.
More so, this xopadhora rumour was nothing new and neither was it specific to Assam. The child abductor lynchings have come almost like a wave: a 52-year-old transgender in Hyderabad, a 26-year-old in Bangalore, a 55-year-old woman in Tamil Nadu, all lynched by mobs gone paranoid over social media messages and whatsapp rumours.
However the Dokmoka killing drew newer fault lines in the state. The backlash saw targeting the entire Karbi community for the wrongdoings of a few. Spontaneous protests broke out in many parts of the city – and demands ranged from hanging the culprits to purging the city of tribals. In this cacophony, many saw a wedge being driven between tribals and non-tribals. Despite having expressed remorse and condemning the lynching, the Karbi community is facing flak from a section of Assamese speaking people on the social media.
In a state where the society is already reeling under divisive forces with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, this is no good news. This tragic incident which saw the brutal murder of two promising youths, also brought to the surface many problems that the Assamese society is still grappling with. Even in this day when smartphone is in everyone’s hand, age old superstitions’ grip is anything but weakened. Greater connectivity and easy access to internet has in fact made sure that rumour travels faster than news.
What is also disturbing is the sick mentality that fuels people to capture videos of mob lynching. Is it to be used as a piece of evidence against the murderous mob or is it a treasured prize of masculinist violence? Violence has been so normalised that we can live with ourselves after recording the death of people? Incidents as these show that once we scratch the surface, the society is very much rotten underneath.
The incident and the strong backlash against it saw the arrest of a large number of accused including the person who allegedly started the rumour that the two young men were child lifters. The attack saw a rather delayed response from the police. The crowd in fact kept growing as people from nearby villages joined in. The assault continued for more than two hours but by the time the police reached, the men were already dead.
The role of the police has been criticized by various sections of the society. Not only did their coming to the scene of crime was way too delayed, their officials also made very callous remarks. The Deputy Commissioner Mridul Kumar Mahanta stated that the youths should have informed the police before going to the place. This sounds absurd as the area is not out of bounds. However the officials could not explain the absence of police patrolling in the area.
The incident also opened a floodgate of hate speech against Karbis. Repeated appeal from intellectuals, litterateurs across communities, and even one of the victim’s parents to denounce politics of hate and keep peace is falling on deaf ears. Many are worried that people with nefarious and dubious plans might use this opportunity to cause ethnic rift and target the social fabric of the greater Assamese society.
The need of the hour is to step back and understand why such incidents of mob violence in happening so often these days. It is not specific to Assam or to tribal areas, because every other day such news comes from across the country as well as the state. In such a condition is it the impunity from punishment that a mob enjoys, which sees its frequent occurrence?
Around five years back, the town of Diphu witnessed a ghastly mob lynching. Jhankar Saikia was murdered brutally in front of his father. What is more disturbing is that despite the presence of police, Jhankar was continuously battered. And the police failed in controlling the mob. Five years later, Jhankar’s father still awaits justice while the accused are out on bail. One is forced to question, had Jhankar’s murderers been given stringent punishment immediately, the latest Dokmoka incident might not have happened.
Impunity is rendered on mob violence also because of the absence of any law against mob lynching. There are no fast track courts for quick deliverance in such cases. Absence of stringent law, poor conviction rate and delayed prosecution are making it difficult to give justice to victims of mob violence. Even after the gruesome incident of Dokmoka, many cases of mob violence are happening at regular intervals. If this continues, mob violence will be the new normal and mob lynching will be a ‘no-news’.