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5 Public Anger, Violence, and the Legacy of Decolonization in India Nandana Dutta On July 22, 2014, The Hindu Kolkata Edition carried a front-page story titled “Manipuri Man Beaten to Death.” The incident took place in the early morning at Kotla Mubarakpur in South Delhi. The 29-year-old man, Akha Salouni, from the Northeastern state of Manipur, was returning with two others in an autorickshaw from a visit to a friend’s house. They were attacked by five or six young men who came in a white Hyundai Verna. The two friends managed to get away but from a distance watched Akha being beaten to death. The Hindu reported that the attack was “unprovoked” and in a later report (July 24, 2014) added that there was an exchange of “heated words.” It would be easy to find incidents of this nature on any day in any Indian newspaper (local newspapers in the Northeast reported it, as did news channels ), whether because of a proactive media or because of the frequency with which they occur. This chapter is interested in a particular form of public violence—lynching —that has become commonplace in contemporary India. Studying this violence requires, this chapter proposes, that it be located against the backdrop of forms of agency that emerged within India’s understanding and perception of the rule of law and the preindependence form of self-rule known as swaraj. India has demonstrated several of the worst forms of violence in its public life, but for obvious reasons the commonest and most widely reported in the media have been riot- and terrorism-related incidents. India’s postindependence history is drenched in the blood of communal violence that has often taken the form of riots. The Hindustan Times archives lists among such incidents in recent history: the Ahmedabad riots (1969); the Delhi riots following the assassination of Indira Gandhi (1984), which lasted for Public Anger, Violence, and the Legacy of Decolonization in India 127 fifteen days; Meerut riots (1987) lasting for two months; the one-month-long Bhagalpur riots (1989); the Mumbai riots (1992); and the Gujarat/Godhra violence of 2002.1 The most horrific and unforgettable episode is, of course, the 1948 violence following the Partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan. And terrorist incidents have taken lives several times in recent memory. Individual instances of rape and murder, as in the 2012 gang rape of the young woman in Delhi, now known famously as the Nirbhaya case, have been rising. Other forms of violence have also emerged in postindependence India. These include the increasingly common mass suicides of farmers in the face of crop failures in several of India’s states and the peculiar drama of public self-immolation or doing harm to oneself that comes out of the modes of protest of the Independence movement. Recent prominent cases of self-immolation include that of Rajiv Goswami over the Mandal commission decision on reservations to India’s minorities (June 24, 1990) and that of Pranab Boro in the case of protests over the issue of land rights spearheaded by the Kisan Mukti Sangram Samiti (February 24, 2014). The latter died the same day from the burns sustained; the former died in 2004 at the age of 33 of complications resulting from severe burns. The dramatic nature of riots, the incidents of terrorist violence, and these other attention-grabbing episodes have created the frame for understanding violence and, alongside the assumptions about nonviolence as a feature of Indian society that has been a favorite if utterly erroneous interpretation, have served to blank out of the mindscape the more innocuous and interpersonal forms of violence. Other countries in South Asia have shown a similar turn to violence, though local factors may vary. News of lynching frequently comes from Pakistan (the infamous Sialkot lynching of two young men in full view of the police on August 15, 2010, reported widely);2 there is a clear statement of lynching being the “order of the day” during the Civil War between Sinhalas and Tamils in Sri Lanka;3 from Bangladesh, we have statistics claiming that between 2009 and 2013, there were 686 cases of public lynching.4 These are all nations with strong indigenous sociocultural systems that have experienced colonial rule, and violence has often stemmed from notions of “honor” and from religious and ethnic divides that have become clearer as a result of colonial policies. While this chapter is conscious of violence in these other South...


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