A union minister in Jharkhand meets eight men accused of lynching a Muslim trader in Ramgarh last year. The eight convicts, who are currently out on bail, get a warm felicitation from the minister who garlands them, offers them sweets and poses for a picture. On the same day, another union minister in Bihar meets Bajrang Dal and Vishva Hindu Parishad workers who were arrested for rioting during Ram Navami last year. The minister enquired about their well-being and slammed the authorities for ‘targeting the activists’.
The two union ministers in question here are the minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha and State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Giriraj Singh. Sinha’s shocking conduct invited outrage from all quarters with his father Yashwant Sinha, a veteran ex-BJP leader and former union minister, categorically disapproving his son’s act.
The accused, who were honoured by Jayant Sinha, were convicted by a fast-track court last year. They had allegedly dragged a 55-year-old Muslim meat trader out of his car and beaten him to death on the suspicion of transporting beef. But Sinha responded to the criticism by saying that he was just following the law as he didn’t support the ‘misgivings’ of the fast-track court judgment.
While Sinha is in his full right to seek the intervention of Jharkhand High Court in the case, nothing justifies his act of garlanding those accused of beating a man to death in full public, especially when the entire country is witnessing an epidemic of horrific incidents of mob justice.
Equally deplorable is his colleague Giriraj Singh’s act to visit Nawada jail and meet those who have been accused of rioting. After the meeting, Singh told the media that the VHP and Bajrang Dal activists have been wrongly framed. In his bid to ensure what he termed as ‘social harmony’, Singh also said that the Bihar state government has a mindset of suppressing Hindus.
His statements, however, hardly come as a surprise since he has always been in the news only for stoking controversy. Be it making communal statements on Hindus and Muslims or making sexist remarks against women, Singh has been doing it all.
Showing solidarity with those accused of mob lynching isn’t a new phenomenon. In 2016, union minister of culture, Dr Mahesh Sharma had done something similar when he attended the funeral of Dadri lynching accused Ravi Sisodia in Uttar Pradesh’s Bishara village. Sisodia was one of the accused who had lynched a 55-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq on the suspicion of possessing beef. He had died in jail due to renal and respiratory failure, a claim which his family members and villagers never agreed.
Sisodia was cremated as a ‘martyr’ and his body was draped in tricolour, an act which put a slain mob lynching accused on par with the security personnel who die on duty. For a party like BJP, which champions the cause of self-proclaimed nationalism, how justified was it to send its senior leader to the funeral where a mob lynching accused is treated as a martyr?
Although Sharma had also met the victim’s family and had appealed for peace and harmony, he lost his locus standi on the issue when he called Dadri lynching an ‘accident’. A 55-year-old Muslim man getting beaten to death over beef consumption rumours by a mob is not an accident. It is a cold-blooded murder.
As per the country’s legal system, every accused is innocent until proven guilty by the court of law. However, cosying up to those accused of heinous crimes for motives that are brazenly communal and political completely shatters the idea of justice for the victims. It, in a way, normalises the brutality that should have ideally shaken the conscience of the society as a whole. There have been instances where rallies were organised in support of those accused of raping and killing a minor. There have also been instances where solidarity campaigns were organised for a man who posted a video of him killing another on the suspicion of Love Jihad.
The ministers need to realise that law takes its own course and that they cannot play judge by taking it into their own hands.