Did you see those pictures of a saree-wearing effigy hanging from a high wire in Belagavi? Looked disturbingly real, didn’t it? It is scary. They have even put a face on it, a picture of Nupur Sharma, the BJP spokesperson who is now persona non grata, has multiple bounties on her head and it is suddenly in vogue in the secular, democratic republic to announce that she should be beheaded.
It looks surreal, doesn’t it? It is terrifying if you think about it. That is what a lot of people want to do to a woman, a lone woman whose words they did not like. As we have been conditioned to think and behave, we stare at the picture for a few seconds, then we tell ourselves, “Nah, this is India, not Afghanistan or Syria, such things cannot happen here”.
There is some truth to it. Yes, such things do happen in Afghanistan. Not long after they grabbed power in 2021, the Taliban started hanging bodies from cranes. Those images were scary too. They were viral. They had even hanged a body from a helicopter. Not effigies, actual people murdered and hanged in the public to make a spectacle out of the murder, to send a message.
In Herat, Afghanistan, they were not effigies. They were actual people. 4 men accused of ‘kidnappings’ were first killed and then hanged in the public. Scary things happening in distant, war-torn countries, aren’t they?
The thing is, while this article is being written, as of now, there are thousands of people running wild all over India demanding that they want to see the real Nupur Sharma hanged, beheaded, limbs chopped off and worse. Many of them would like to see her raped first. That scary effigy is a declaration of intention.
Just yesterday, a mosque in Jammu blared from loudspeakers that Nupur Sharma should be beheaded. It also announced that Hindus, since they ‘drink cow urine’, are not fit to be considered on par with Muslims.
Yesterday, a large mob also protested in Howrah, demanding the beheading of Nupur Sharma.
Delhi’s Jama Masjid, UP’s Saharanpur, Prayagraj, Jharkhand’s Ranchi and many other places are currently witnessing large mobs announcing that they want to see the real Nupur Sharma hanged or beheaded. For over a week now, Maulanas, religious leaders and politicians have openly announced that Nupur Sharma does not deserve to live. The State is silent. A few arrests here and there for breaking law and order, and some FIRs for spewing religious hatred have been done. But is that enough?
“Still, it is just an effigy, let us not overthink.” We trust the State. We think that since we have a government, a secular, democratic, and modern government at that, we should be ok. That effigy will never be a real corpse. We live in a functional democracy with functional law and order system.
Have we forgotten the faces of Palghar Sadhus already?
Kalpavrukshagiri Maharaj was 70 years old. With his frail hands, he had pleaded to a police officer, and with his old, lined face, he had smiled, in hope that the power of the State, present before him in the form of several uniformed police officers, would protect him from the bloodthirsty mob. He was proven wrong within seconds. The police watched while the mob beat him and his associate to death, and kept beating their dead bodies.
Palghar incident was 2 years ago. The State failed. Ruling party leaders never so much as spoke for them. Sparing UP CM Yogi Adityanath, no prominent leader ever mentioned, offered condolences or expressed sadness for them. Kalpavrukshagiri Maharaj died believing that the State would come to his rescue.
The State has been failing quite frequently, even with all the might of modern technology, an overwhelming mandate to rule the country, force, and information available at their service.
Lakhbir Singh probably wasn’t literate or aware enough to believe that he would be rescued. While his dismembered body lay in a pool of his own blood, his eyes widened in shock. He kept trying to speak, making gestures. Probably he was pleading to be rescued, to be helped, or to be given some water.
Lakhbir’s assaulters had also made a spectacle out of his murder. They danced around his brutalised body brandishing their swords. They had no fear of the State.
Just like the unnamed corpses of Herat, Lakhbir was tied up to the scaffolding of a police barricade, left there for everyone to see.
The State had watched while for months, people threatened to kill and chop the PM, rapes were reported, traffic was halted and policemen were attacked in the name of farmers’ protests. The State had watched while the Tricolour was thrown from its place in the Red Fort and a yellow flag was placed.
Since the State’s humiliation and weakening were for all to see, the whole world had watched when dozens of police officials were swept down from the tall walls of the Red Fort. The State gave up before anarchists. Symbols of democracy were defiled on the very day the Republic celebrates its Constitution.
Images are powerful. Images last in memory. Images tell stories. Unfortunately for us, there have been too many images to tell the story of a State’s weakening, of its helplessness before the mob. When the State weakens, the resulting power vacuum welcomes anarchists, fanatics and monsters. Lawlessness spreads like a pandemic. Despair breeds like locusts.
Fanaticism is a slippery slope. Anarchy is a bleak place, law and order cease to exist there. It does not matter which God the fanatics pray to, which book they take orders from, or which toolkit the anarchists follow. It is only the might of the State that can prevent a populace from the threat of fanaticism and lawlessness. When that State’s power fails to prevent lawlessness, fanaticism rises. Human depravity takes over and men become monsters. From that point, it only takes a short time for effigies to become actual bodies.