By Amitabh Ranjan
Zahid Ahmad, Mohammad Akhlaq, Mazloon Ansari, Pehlu Khan are only a few names who were lynched by mobs in different places. They ring a bell because they were killed during the recent past. Before them, many others have met their end in a similar fashion. They were killed by a mob, a mass of people indistinguishable from each other in their desire for collective retribution. Since everyone was guilty, in effect, no one is guilty. The distribution of guilt amongst the crowd dilutes it. The guilt is neutered, disembodied. There lies a secret though. And it is disturbing when you get to it. They were actually killed at the hands of persons whose names and faces are known. "They are the ones we grow up with. We celebrate their joyous births, take morning walks with them, share meals, attend their functions and host them in our homes. They are us."
India's ethos of tolerance is also one of tolerance towards violence. The genesis of the collective violence that claimed lives mentioned above lies deep into our past. That is what Aparna Vaidik unravels in her incisive take on how we let our silence lynch our souls. Prompted by a seemingly innocuous question from one of her students, Vaidik takes you through a storehouse of her personal memories, into her bygone, trying to unlock mysteries, sifting through history and myths, trying to find answers to the ebb and flow of the present-day India. It is as much a quest to understand history and its accompanying myths as it is to understand herself, her inheritance that she will bequeath to her son.
Those who indulge in violence have not always been the rulers or the police, or the army but also our silence. Our looking away from inconvenient truths, our blindness to our own social privileges and our ability to pass off our unearned privileges as merit make us either remain silent or glorify non-violence as our essence.
While we grow up, generations before us have grown in exactly the same way, listening to and reading myths, being wowed by the exploits of heroes and sacrifices of the 'Other', we have been hitherto blind to a role myths have played in shaping our collective conscience, almost surreptitiously. They have normalised violence and made it invisible in various forms-pejorative naming, erasure of personhood, disembodying of Barbareek, robbing Eklavya's thumb, asking Karna for his body armour. All these have been made in the name of maintaining the order of things. The apotheosis of a member of the subaltern always followed his subservience to his 'superior'. And this superior-inferior construct was the handiwork of a Brahmanical order which thrived on the myth of Aryan superiority, patriarchy and caste divisions.
This is India's history of blood justice, shrouded and concealed in religious myths. This is the inheritance of the author's son. Of us. Inheritance by definition is not of our choosing. But while we are tethered to it, we are no way bound by it. We are free to own part of it, discard some of it, to celebrate or be indifferent to it, or even fight it out. Our inheritance will be what we want it to be. And, therein, lies hope. This is a must read at a time when the inheritance of violence is out in full view rather than hidden. It will stir you out of your reverie, out of a false sense of peace and security. And, hopefully, provoke you to jettison some of it.
A former journalist, Amitabh Ranjan teaches at Patna Women's College
My Son's Inheritance: A Secret History of Lynching and Blood Justice in India
Pp 192, Rs 499