Time to exercise restraint
There are democratically and lawfully elected governments at the Centre and in the States, with all the instruments of imposing the sanction of the Indian State – the police, the para-military forces and the armed forces – at their disposal. No country allows non-official private organizations to exercise powers which the State alone can do. But a disturbing trend is becoming evident in India. Self-appointed vigilante groups think they have the power to summarily execute anyone they think is engaged in cow-slaughter or transport of cattle for slaughter. The Mohammed Akhlaqs and the Pehlu Khans are not exceptions, they are becoming the rule. The authority of the State to book and penalize alleged law-breakers is being blatantly usurped and exercised by self-appointed vigilante groups. And, what is more disturbing, the State is seen as either apologetic or indirectly supportive of such people and their actions.
What is happening today will naturally raise concerns in other people and in other lands. One cannot dismiss such concerns as unwarranted interference in India’s internal affairs. Where human rights – and their blatant violations – are concerned the world has a right to feel concerned. Violating all canons of law, Hindutva groups are organizing processions and publicly making a brazen show of arms of different kinds. For obvious reasons, the State is hesitant to take strong action against them, emboldening them further. If the Indian State does not assert its authority and things are allowed to drift, some day these non-State actors will come to wield power as State actors. That danger is inherent in the present situation.
The Centre and the States – irrespective of the political party running these governments – must act in unison and re-establish the authority of the Indian State. Self-appointed vigilante groups must be forced to exercise restraint and act within the ambit of law, if not disbanded outright. The political parties – in power or in opposition – will have to realize that it is a Frankenstein’s monster that is in the making and if not neutralized will destroy its creator. The world has changed a lot since the 1930s when Germany came under Nazi rule and the rest of the world watched it and what followed afterwards impotently till they were forced to act. Today, human rights violations even on a much smaller scale are hardly likely to be watched silently by the world and consider such violations to be the ‘internal affairs’ of a sovereign country which do not concern them.