Published: 28th March 2019
Why Karwan-e-Mohabbat could hold the answer to stopping hate crimes, lynchings in India
This group of activists have put together a veritable caravan of safety, Karwan-e-Mohabbat, and they're documenting hate crimes across the country
It was the much-awaited Durga Puja procession in October 2018. The marketplace in Sitamarhi, Bihar was crowded. Someone had knowingly or accidentally broken an arm of the goddess Durga's idol. In a fit of rage, a few teenagers and one woman turned to an 82-year-old man nearby and unleashed their wrath, burning him alive.
His only crime? He was visibly Muslim-looking.
A few months before that, in Gujarat's Anand district, a 21-year-old Dalit boy was reportedly lynched by the predominantly upper caste crowd merely because he stood there watching their garba (dance) performance.
In yet another incident, in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, a group of Christian theologians and priests were attacked and arrested on false charges of forced conversion, their car burnt — all because they were out singing carols on Christmas eve.
These are just some of the several incidents of targetted hate crimes that have been plaguing the country over the last few years. But why is it important to monitor and recount these crimes? The answer, quite simply is, that if you don't, it's like it never happened. If you are not aware of the crimes that are happening, you cannot begin to find ways to resolve it. In fact, a lot of these hate crimes are under-reported. Monitoring and accounting for hate crimes is crucial for authorities to formulate effective strategies to counter it. It is also essential for the victims to feel a sense of justice coming their way. Numbers and statistics are powerful weapons and sometimes, you need numbers to understand the dire reality of a situation.
Road through perdition: The Karwan-e-Mohabbat bus during one of its journeys
It has always been a matter of concern therefore that when such crimes happen, there is hardly any public empathy or solidarity with the victims. In a move to create awareness about these crimes, a group of activists and journalists led by veteran activist Harsh Mander started an initiative called Karwan-e -Mohabbat, which translates to Caravan of Love. They started their journey in September 2017, travelling to eight states across the country, visiting families of victims of hate crimes and offering them assistance — including legal aid — to help them cope and move on with their lives. The humsafars (travellers) also chronicle each visit meticulously.
We spoke to one of the travellers, John Dayal, a senior journalist, activist and member of the National Integration Council, Government of India about the initiative, their journey so far and what they found. Excerpts...
Lynchings and hate crimes have increasingly been in the news. How did the journey begin and what were your findings?
Last year, after the first lynching, Harsh felt that a small structural society wasn't enough. He reached out to a few of us. Myself, Natasha Badhwar and Rahul Jayaram were the first to say yes to him. When we began our journey, the country was so polarised that people from the minorities were afraid to come out and sit with you. The whole idea was to empathise and be morally accountable. We wanted to show solidarity — show the families of victims our grief, to stand with them and say sorry that this happened to you in our land. That's where it began. Since then I've carried out sequential blogging of wherever we've gone -- Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkand and UP, to name a few. The Mewar region in Rajasthan continues to be an area of great concern and I regret that it will continue to be an area of concern. We try to visit every single family that has lost a loved one to hate and lynching — mostly minorities like Muslims, Dalits and Christians.
Peace Squad: Kritika VK, along with Karwan members Natasha Badhwar, Harsh Mander and John Dayal
Was there any sort of commonality you found in these cases?
Yes and no. We also met many women who were killed under the guise of being witches. We also met people who were lynched because they were strangers in a new country. We were in for a big shock when we visited places near Udaipur, and saw the cold-blooded nature of the lynchings. One infamous incident in Rajasthan was where a man slit the throat of a Muslim while his own 14-year-old nephew filmed the whole sequence as though he were a filmmaker. And then the killer speaks directly into the camera explaining why he did what he did. We have visited about 50 families so far. In Tamil Nadu, we visited three Dalit families who were murdered by upper castes from a neighbouring village. We visited them weeks after the murder, and the walls in their houses still had blood. They didn't clean it because they didn't want to let go of the evidence. It was traumatic because we see the impunity of the state and the immunity given to the killers.
How do you trace these families? What do you do once you meet them?
Fortunately, these things are being reported. They are under-reported, they are watered down, but they are being reported nonetheless. So we have these incidents on record — also through social media, word of mouth and newspaper reports. Harsh Mander runs several NGOs that includes lawyers and other people who can help. If the families require legal aid, we help them out. We take up the case, we look at the testimonies and offer them assistance.
Legal aid: Members of the Karwan examine legal documents of the victims' families
Your blogs indicate that there has been a lot of apathy by the police when it comes to hate crimes. Is that true?
That is a consistent pattern across the country regardless of the identity of the victims: There is an apathy on the part of the government, a complacency with the police and the fact that it is always the victims who are caught in a state where instead of fighting for their rights, they end up trying to defend themselves from false accusations. That changes the course entirely. The same family that lost two people to a police firing are now defending their uncle or their cousin arrested for cow slaughtering. This is ridiculous. Some directive needs to be sought from the Supreme Court for this.
Several minority groups are often accused of disturbing communal harmony. Is there any truth to that?
Hate crimes can be inflicted by Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, atheists... anyone. The victims can also be Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains or atheists. But it's the worst when it's committed by the majority community against any minority community. A minority is a minority. There is no reason for white people in New Zealand and Hindus in India to be frightened of Muslims.
Guardians of the minority: Members of the Karwan hold a candle vigil at the end of the first leg of their journey
What makes hate crimes different from other crimes?
Every single death from a hate crime cannot be excused. It is not like murder that happens in the heat of the moment. It happens because of someone's identity. Hate crimes have no place in a civilised society. The Karwan fulfills the responsibility of informing and influencing the public conscience about these crimes, which are otherwise neglected.
You are a member of the NIC. How do you look the possibility of improved national integration in the prevailing political scenario?
The National Integration Council, of which I am still a member was perceived by Jawaharlal Nehru to provide an extra-parliamentary platform that would be concerned with issues of national integration - caste, religion, gender, economy, disparity, exclusion. Nehru created it. Modi has not called a single meeting of the National Integration Council in the five years that he has been its chairman. What we need is multiple fora for discourses on national integration. We need inter-religious platforms, inter-community and inter-caste, and inter-cultural platforms and we need a place where women can discuss their issues at a level that is national and international — not in the petty forums of the Women's Commission of any state. These are issues which involve the weakest of the weakest. They must be heard. This country has stopped listening to the grasshoppers. It has stopped listening to the cries. We only use the tears of the widow as military propaganda. We are not listening to the cries for peace from the same widows. Look at the widows of the army jawans. They are the ones who are saying we don't want wars. Yet, television shows the same tears as a reason for retribution.