George Orwell, the famous English author and political commentator, in his essay "Freedom of the Park", wrote, "The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country."
He added, "If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them."
Though Orwell was writing on the topic of freedom of speech, the sentiment that what people want is what takes place in a society holds true in almost all cases. Whether right or wrong in terms of the law of the land, it matters little.
This is exactly the reason why the people of India have to sit up, take notice and own responsibility when it comes to the growing number of recent incidents of a mob coming together, attacking, and eventually killing people. Directly involved or not, the people as a whole along with the public institutions are responsible for each and every such killing.
The point that a group of people in different areas in the country have come together to kill people, with no signs of having second thoughts or showing little care about the law of the land while doing so, and in most cases even daring to videotape the crime, proves that no matter which minority on the other side- religious, political, class, caste or any other- the mob has no problems in taking matters into their own hands.
And all this takes place as society watches in silence while the blood of 'others' is spilt and the whole narrative which should be based on the natural human reaction of repulsion and anger towards such incidents is allowed to be hijacked by vested interests.
It's about minorities of every kind
Minorities of every kind have ended up not only on the wrong end of such violence just due to loss of life, but also the conditions that follow the overt or covert justifications given for such incidents. They give rise to an environment of suspicion with which groups are looked at, and the vulnerability that it brings for them.
An example of this is the latest incident where a 16-year-old Muslim boy was beaten to death, following what has been described as an argument over train seats that quickly turned into a violent attack on him, which was no doubt brought on due to the fact of him belonging to a minority community.
Such an incident points to how difficult it becomes for any member belonging to a minority group, of any kind, to go about their normal life when even a normal argument could quickly turn into a life-threatening situation just due to their minority status.
This is true not just in the present conditions and circumstances prevalent in India but also many times in the past. The prime example of these being how the Sikhs felt in 1984 post the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Hindus felt in the state of Punjab during the same decade, the Muslims during and post Gujarat riots in 2002 etc.
Such vulnerability is not only true in the case of minorities in terms of religion but of every kind. As can be seen by violence unleashed against parties in a political minority in cases of political murders by those who are in a majority in states such as Kerala. Also in the case of a police officer killed in Kashmir outside a mosque, because a mob in a state which is going through turbulent times treats law enforcement agencies as outsiders and a minority no matter what religion the officers belong to.
Political parties spin them into 'Us vs Them'
The government of the day, no matter of which party, is responsible for not being able to stop such incidents and not being able to bring those guilty of such crimes to justice. In addition to all these, the handling of such crisis by governments and political parties ends up adding to the problem than solving it.
Allowing discussions and actions on a topic, which should shake the very spirit and fabric of the country, to be skewed by various groups on the basis of what agenda suits them best. Into a debate of 'Us vs Them' such as Muslim vs Hindu, Party vs Party, My Protest vs Your Protest, issues etc.
This in most cases is led by the political parties of the country, who either have something to gain or lose from them. And this by no means is a result of coincidence or involuntary actions. It is a well thought out way of handling such a heated situation.
The present scenario is a clear example of this as can be seen by the raking up of past incidents during the terms of other governments or in areas where the opposition is in power. Statements by political leaders from both sides and also attempts to now get the statistics of those lynched in previous years can be seen as further proof of this.
All this is done knowing very well that two wrongs don't make a right, but given the circumstances, is the best strategy of the time. By no means is this true only for the BJP, which is in power at the Centre and in most states where such lynchings have taken place. It is a strategy employed by almost all political parties in one form or the other.
The debate has become about protests, not lynchings
Such a strategy has been able to shift the focus from being about human beings being lynched by mobs, to a debate about whether a particular protest against such killings is right or wrong. This was achieved by bringing up issues of the past where another person not belonging to a religious minority was killed in a similar manner.
The idea of a majority of one kind being able to kill someone from the opposite side seems lost in the middle of all this. The fact that widespread protests did not take place following similar protests in the past does not make the current protests any less or more legitimate.
But such a point is difficult to find with the mainstream media in the country being at its partisan best, and the coverage of such incidents and the protests against them, based on more than just public interest.
Though the political parties and the media can always be blamed, the fact that members of such professions come out of society puts the blame solely on the feet of all the people that it is made of.
The blood is on everyone's hands
It will keep happening and governments will get away with it as they only reflect the rest of society and they too will blame it on the other 'side.' So the reason behind such behaviour of institutions is not very difficult to imagine given the apathy Indian society shows as a whole towards incidents where others need help, especially in the case of grave physical harm.
Examples of this include those of road accident victims who lie on the road, bleeding and in pain while bystanders record videos instead of helping. Or recently when in Telangana, a man was hacked to death in broad daylight in the middle of the road but no one garnered the courage to do anything about it. Such incidents just prove the point that the country is turning into a society of voyeurs if it already isn't one.
These also show that for Indians, as long as things do not happen to someone directly connected to them, people would rather stand by and let things happen and even record and share videos than help out. These include those of mob violence and harassment against Orwell's 'inconvenient minorities' such as religious, caste, class, law enforcement, political etc.
And they will continue to take place till, in the English writer's words, "public opinion is sluggish." The recent reactions, or non-reactions, of the masses, have shown this to be the case.
So next time this happens, the society and the people need not look at the neighbour, the politician, or news on the TV screen. Instead, all that is required to understand and see the reason behind them is a look into a mirror.