India at 70

India Independence Day
Photo Credit: Sify News

As part of his ‘India at 70’ series, writer Arnab Ray has a very good post up on his blog on mob violence. He nonchalantly clears the various cobwebs gathered, nay spun, around the issue (one with immense TRP/Page Views potential, it has to be said), and presents mob violence for what it essentially is. If you’re an individual in India, never take on the mob.

Protecting the rights of the individual against the whims and fancy of the mob should be a fundamental duty of the modern nation state. Where is Republic of India in this regard? Indian polity cynically panders to all kinds of mobs—the bigger and more intolerant the better—and almost never stands up for the individual.

The uninformed English media uses a curious phrase whenever they have decided to report mob violence: ‘the mob takes law into its own hands’. That is patently false of course. The law, as it were, never left the hands of the mob in these parts. We may feel uncomfortable to admit this, but the fact is ‘rule of law’ is absent in large swathes of the country nearly 70 years after we became independent. Unless we sort out this issue, no amount of protests in solidarity with Muslims, even if well-intentioned, could make us the society we aspire to be.

(Some have pointed out the ‘hypocrisy’ of the #NotInMyName protests. Generally I’m not too bothered about hypocrisy if it is not distorting the issue at hand.)

This reminds me of another protest that I recently witnessed.

I’d written here a few months ago that my village could face severe water shortage if there were no rains in the month of Chithirai. There were no rains in the month of Chithirai.

When I went home last weekend, my mother wasn’t around. I was informed by the workers working in the nearby farm that she had gone to a protest. Protest? What is she protesting against? Turned out, the ladies of our village and some other neighboring villages are protesting in front of the village panchayat office about the lack of drinking water supply. I was flabbergasted.

Most families in these villages have traditional well and/or bore wells. While there is little water in them for agriculture, they are not completely dry that you are depending on the village panchayat to supply drinking water to you. What is the need for this protest? When I went to the protest site, the ladies were returning with victorious smiles. The spirit of the crowd seemed too high. I don’t think any of them had ever participated in a public protest in their life before. I went to my mom and dragged her aside.

“Why do you need drinking water from them? We have water in the well,” I said.

“Who drinks the water from our well? That tastes sappai,” she said. Oh okay.

We used to drink the same water from our well until recently, regardless of its taste. About 10 years ago, the village panchayat decided to supply clean drinking water to these villages. They built a water tank and provided individual taps for all the houses. The women who were used to carry enormous amounts of water from their wells to their houses every day were especially grateful for this.

It barely took a couple of years for the village panchayat (i.e., the State) to become the sole provider of drinking water to these villages—so much so, people are not relying on themselves even when they can. However what would happen if, say, a cattle thief was caught in one of these villages?

You guessed it right. ‘The mob would take law into its own hands’. Why?

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