Why Everyone Needs to Watch Lynch Nation
The documentary film takes us through the tales of several families, each torn apart by the rabid violence propagated by ‘Gau Rakshaks’
“15 days before the incident, they had threatened us. They came to our house in a car. Seven or eight people came and sat inside our house. They told us: If you continue with cattle trade, we will kill you.”
Saira Bivi’s chilling testimony sets the tone for Lynch Nation, the first-of-its-kind documentary film that explores rising hate crimes in India, all in the name of cows. Saira is the widow of Mazlum Ansari, a 32-year-old cattle trader from the Latehar district of Jharkhand who along with 15-year-old Imteyaz Khan, was lynched by a group of ‘Gau Rakshaks’ (cow ‘vigilantes’) in March, 2016. While the cops claimed this incident was one of loot, the two bodies that were found hanging from a tree in the Balumath forest, along with the aforementioned declaration tell a different story — one that India has witnessed as a trend in the last four years.
Lynch Nation, directed by journalists Ashfaque EJ, Shaheen Ahmed and Furqan Faridi, takes us through the tales of several families, each torn apart by the rabid violence propagated by ‘Gau Rakshaks’. It is violence that goes unchecked — sometimes it even receives adulation from ministers and members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — and it is violence that has very little to do with a Hindu man’s reverence for cows; bovines are just an excuse to oppress Muslims and Dalits in a nation whose government, even if ever-so-subtly, aspires to achieve the dystopian dream of “Hindu Rashtra”.
The 43-minute documentary, that took more than a year to create and was entirely crowdfunded, takes us through the lives of Saira Bivi, Maryam Khatoon (wife of Alimuddin Akhtar, who was lynched in the Ramgarh District of Jharkhand in 2017 for allegedly carrying cow meat), Jan Mohammad (brother of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was beaten to death on suspicion of consuming beef in 2015), Najma Khatun (mother of Imteyaz Khan, who was lynched along with Mazlum in 2016), Shakir and Hasim (brothers of Junaid Khan, who was brutally lynched and stabbed to death on a train in 2017) and many more. Their grief, their shock, their helplessness and their disappointment — in both the State and community — makes one see beyond the clinically cold facts of news reports. Despite a peek into the lives of families destroyed by bigotry, the film never feels voyeuristic. The people in the film stand tall and tell their stories. It is sensitive and powerful.
But will Lynch Nation be a story everyone gets to witness? Telling stories of the marginalised in India’s present political climate is almost asking for trouble. Activist and former student leader Umar Khalid feels, “Despite the obvious dangers of screening something like this, there are always those who will stand and protect the truth. And a film. when it’s part of a movement — and this is very much part of a social movement for justice and dignity — I think there are enough people who will ensure security to them.” He adds that while there is no real reason for anyone to be antagonised by this film, it speaks volumes of Indian society’s vulgarity if the pain of others offends the majority.
Speaking truth to power is not an easy task, yet the filmmakers through their treatment of grief and anguish do so effectively. The documentary, which will hopefully find its way into the discourse, whether through screenings at academic and liberal institutes or through online streaming, is one we all need to watch. Not because we don’t know how communally charged India is right now, or how tacit the State is in these acts of hatred. But because we need to be reminded that Junaid Khan, Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, Imteyaz Khan, are not statistics; they were real people who became victims of a violent machinery that feeds off of apathy. The film ends with Saira Bivi talking about how much her heart yearns for her husband Mazlum. When the lights came back on after the credits roll, a quick scan around the room only confirmed the power of these heartfelt conversations: many were wiping tears.