The Gau Mata Rakshak is Also Batman: Vigilantism as Hate Crime

In a culture fed on superhero movies, we must understand that vigilantism is often an excuse for hate crime.

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The Gau Mata Rakshak is Also Batman: Vigilantism as  Hate Crime
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In a plush, dark cinema hall, momentarily removed from the dreary reality of everyday life, Batman, Spiderman, the Avengers and Deadpool are very easy to love. Disillusioned by a broken, impotent legal system that is all but incapable of ensuring that crime is punished, our superheroes take matters into their own hands. When they’re in charge, justice is swift. Crime is punished: the bad guys get what was coming to them.

It’s not difficult to answer why we love them. In a world where ‘good’ doesn’t necessarily win over ‘evil’, superhero movies are cathartic. However, we would do well to listen to Dark Knight’s Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. An individual who takes the law into their own hands is a vigilante, and vigilantism must be condemned, rather than celebrated.


Contextualising Anger: The Dallas Shooter

Last week, Louisiana police shot Alton Sterling, on grounds that were flimsy at best. Hours later, Philando Castile was shot by a Minnesota cop. The policemen were white, and their victims black.

An enraged Micah Johnson took matters into his hands. Motivated by a deep sense of personal tragedy, Johnson took it upon himself to avenge an entire race of oppressed people, discriminated against for centuries. In other words (and you’re not going to like this), Johnson is Batman. Both Batman and Johnson had deeply personal triggers: it was their disillusionment with law enforcement that pushed them to become who they did.

Closer home, Kashmir erupted in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s death. Protesters took to the streets, registering their ire against law enforcement. On 10 July, a group of protesters pushed a police vehicle into the Jhelum, and a policeman drowned in the process.

Killing cops has only vocalised detractors against movements like Black Lives Matter at a time when the movement was acquiring critical mass and a clear moral centre. Similarly, the policeman’s drowning does nothing to help the movement for azadi in Kashmir.

Kashmir erupted in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s death. (Photo: Reuters)

The Lynch Mob: Self-Appointed Custodians of the Law

On 5 March, 2015, Nagaland witnessed horrific mob violence. Between 7 and 8 thousand people broke into Dimapur Central Jail, dragged out a man, baying for his blood. He was paraded naked and beaten to death.

He had been detained under suspicion of rape. The mob, unwilling to wait for legal intervention – perhaps because they have been given to believe that waiting is futile – decide to dispense primitive, medieval ‘justice.’ The accused, Syed Farid Khan, was tied to a motorcycle and dragged 7 kilometres. He died on the way.

In a democracy, Khan was denied a trial. The fate he met was barbaric. Vigilantism ensured that he was tortured to death. Inasmuch as they were self-appointed custodians of the law, the mob was Batman.


An Indigenous Brand of Vigilantes: The Gau Mata Rakshaks

In September 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched and killed by a mob for supposedly eating beef. Ever since his murder made headlines, reports of gau raksha ‘vigilantes’ exacting justice on those involved in beef trade or consumption have surfaced with alarming frequency.

If one were to liberally apply the Batman analogy (yes, this one’s a bit of a stretch), the miscreants are Batman, fighting for the safety of the citizens of Gautham, namely the cows.

In September 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched and killed by a mob for supposedly eating beef. (Photo: Reuters)

Vigilantism: An Occasion for Hate

Vigilantism is dangerous, because individuals (or groups of individuals) are partisan; motivated by deep personal tragedy or rage. That motivated individuals are incapable of taking legal decisions is not a novel idea – ancient Greece instituted law courts.

Very often, vigilantism is an occasion or an excuse for a community or individual to commit a hate crime. If we turn our attention away from Dallas and look at the examples of vigilantism in our own backyards, we’ll find that in Dimapur, the mob wasn’t merely reacting in anger to the man’s alleged crime.

Syed Farid Khan was initially thought to be a Bangladeshi immigrant. Historically, Nagaland has looked upon immigrants with hostility and suspicion, accusing them of acquiring land and ‘stealing’ jobs that they felt were rightfully theirs. Nagaland’s unwillingness to harbour immigrants has culminated in their demands for the Inner Line Permit (ILP). The ILP is a document that allows Indian citizens to travel to a state-designated protected area. If Khan were native to Nagaland, his punishment may have been less gruesome.

The gau mata rakshaks’ prejudices are easier to identify – they act out of a desire to establish religious superiority and moral authority.

In October 2014, three African men were brutally attacked in Delhi Rajiv Chowk metro station for allegedly sexually harassing a woman. Given the alarming callousness that harassment is dealt with usually, the mob’s actions were surprising. The men were black, and the mob’s anger was racially motivated. If the men were Indian, harassment would have gone unpunished.

Because Batman and the Avengers exist in a fictional universe where good and bad are largely black and white, Bruce Wayne, Iron Man and his posse are the good guys. However, in the real world, where the relationship between crime, ideology and punishment is complicated, instant, gratifying justice is best left to fiction.

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Topics:  Dimapur   Jhelum   Batman 

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