The Karwan-e-Mohabbat – a caravan of love – set out from Nagaon in Assam on September 4, 2017, and concluded its travels on October 2, 2017, in Porbandar, a small coastal town in Gujarat where 148 years ago Mohandas Gandhi was born. During its travels, the karwan bore witness to such intense and pervasive suffering and fear fashioned by hate violence, and such extensive state hostility to its most vulnerable citizens, that we resolved that the caravan of love must continue its journey.
Its journey must continue not just metaphorically but also literally.
Even during the month that we travelled, news filtered in of one Dalit boy lynched for watching garba and two battered for sporting moustaches, a woman branded and killed for being a ‘witch’, continued police killings of Muslim youth, as also mob attacks in the name of the cow. Until collectively, all of us – we, the people of India – are able to bring an end to this, our karwan cannot end its journey. We commit that every month, some of us will visit families in at least one state.
Second, the members of the karwan will establish, with wide collaborations, an India Hate Crime Citizen Watch. We found during the karwan that there are literally hundreds of hate crimes unfolding, of which only a small fraction are reported even in the local press. A tinier fraction of these find mention, even cursorily, in the national media. Even among these, only very few – like Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Hafiz Junaid – register in any enduring way in the national consciousness.
We also found during the karwan that the police often does not register these as hate crimes but road accidents, violations of cow protection laws, or the police firing in self-defence. Families, especially Muslim victims, sometimes do not even try to register police complaints, because they fear that if they complain that they were attacked for transporting cattle, the police would register crimes against them instead of the attackers and lynch mobs.
The ruling establishment, the RSS and their supporters attempt to obscure the massive scale and recurring patterns of hate violence against minorities and Dalits, which the karwan came face to face with as it travelled across eight states. They cling to their official claim that these are random, stray incidents of statistically inconsequential numbers. The prime minister, every six months or a year, issues a short and generally-worded condemnation, never followed by hard action to prevent these crimes. Senior leaders of the BJP, including senior ministers, often justify the killings as legitimate anger against the killing of the sacred cow, targeting of Hindu women and a general affinity to crime of the targeted communities.
The mainstream media has largely been complicit in official attempts to obscure the gravity and magnitude of hate violence after Narendra Modi was elected to the office of prime minister. Two shining exceptions were NDTV and the Hindustan Times under the editorship of Bobby Ghosh. NDTV is subject to many actions to try to intimidate, silence or buy out the liberal and independent news channel. Ghosh was relieved of his duties, and The Wire accessed internal emails and suggests that a major reason for him losing his job at the helm of the newspaper was a national Hate Tracker that his newspaper established, to monitor hate crimes across the country.
Since, therefore, the government, the National Crime Records Bureau and the mainstream media are unlikely to inform the country about the nature, scale and spread of hate crimes in India, we are convinced that there is need to a Citizen Watch of a national scale to document hate crimes. For this India Hate Crime Citizen Watch, we are issuing a call for team of volunteers – students, lawyers, journalists, academics, activists – in every state affected by hate violence, to help investigate and document as many hate crimes as we are able to identify and confirm. There are excellent on-going initiatives such as by Citizens Against Hate, Peoples Union for Democratic Rights and others, to document in depth some of these incidents. The karwan will also continue to do this. What the Citizen Watch will try to do is to try to build as comprehensive a database as possible of hate crimes occurring across the country, and will incorporate both basic details of all incidents and in-depth case studies of as many of these as is possible.
The third on-going commitment of the karwan is to try to support each of the families affected by hate violence. There are four kinds of support that they require. The first is for legal justice. The second is for psycho-social care, to help them cope and deal with their suffering. The third is to access their entitlements, such as compensation from government, as well as other needs such as education, pensions and healthcare. And the fourth is for other material needs, such as to rebuild their livelihoods, often destroyed due to the loss of a breadwinner and of livestock, or fear. To assist the families for all of these, we hope to try to recruit two community justice and care volunteers to work with each family, and to train and support them in the fundamentals of law, entitlements and psycho-social counselling.
For a more systematic approach to legal justice from a state that is most often openly hostile to the victims and protective of the attackers, we hope that it will be possible to constitute loose human rights collectives in each of the states in which hate crimes are endemic. There are already many fine initiatives to support some of the families, by organisations like the Human Rights Law Network, Citizens Against Hate and also some Muslim religious formations. By coming together, we would be able to gain strength, learn from each other, and ensure that no family is left out of the striving for justice.
There is already also a larger initiative to try to constitute Aman Insaniyat Citizen Councils in as many districts as possible across the country, comprising women and men who are widely respected for their integrity – moral as well as financial – and commitment to constitutional values, particularly social and economic equality, secularism, caste and gender equity, labour rights and rationalism and the scientific temper. These citizen councils would respond as early as possible when there are any incidents of hate violence, or threats or mobilisation for such violence. They would be alert to any build-up, mobilisation and rumours that could lead to violence, moving the state and district administration to take necessary steps to prevent violence, refuting through the media and social media any false rumours that create hatred and suspicion. In the event of the break-out of any violence, they would have the responsibilities of organising fact-finding, oversight and encouraging just and comprehensive relief and rehabilitation, peace building and, as noted below, legal justice. They would also take a number of steps to advance communal harmony, and caste and gender equality, working closely with educational institutions, youth and women groups, trade unions, and other such social institutions, as well as local bodies.
Also read: Love and Loss in the Time of Lynching
And finally, the karwan has resolved also to chronicle – through books, films, photo exhibitions and public talks – the rise of hate and fear that we bore witness to during the karwan. We feel this is imperative to inform and appeal to the public conscience. Many travellers of the larwan have already begun to tell the stories they heard and saw, and plan to continue to do so, with pictures, videos and words. In order to inform and appeal to our sisters and brothers across the country, to care, to speak out, and to resist.
There is an evil stalking our land, of hate and fear engineered by cynical politics. To fight these, to restore compassion and constitutional values to our country, not just this caravan of love, and many others, must continue their journeys, into India’s troubled interiors as much as into the shadows of our troubled hearts and minds.
Harsh Mander is a social worker and writer.