I am reflecting on the brutal beating death that occurred in India this past week, where a crowd of mostly uniformed students gathered in outrage over the rape of a young woman and several broke into the jail where the accused was being held, dragged him out to the street, stripped him naked, and beat him to death before police could rescue him.
All in the name of justice.
This sounds all too reminiscent of lynchings that were common in the U.S. South not that many years ago and coincides in many ways with the most infamous moment in history of the town where we have our Texas home, Sherman. In the 1930’s, a black man was accused by a white woman of raping her and during his trial a mob gathered in the streets outside the courthouse demanding his release. When the county officials refused, the courthouse was stormed and the accused was hurried into a vault for safekeeping. Shortly afterward, the courthouse was set on fire and as flames consumed the building, the man – trapped in the vault – died. However, that was still not enough for the mob. After the flames were extinguished, his body was dragged from the vault, pulled through the streets of town by a chain attached to a car, then hanged from a tree. That night, African-American businesses all over town were set on fire, along with several homes of black citizens. Much of the African-American population moved out-of-town that very night and the black business district never recovered from such a massive display of hate. Even now, 80 years after that event, there is a paucity of African-American owned businesses in the downtown area.
In each case, the alleged rapists were members of a minority group; in India, the accused was an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant and in the United States, an African-American. In both cases, social tensions were running high; in India, there has been a recent proposed ban on Bangladeshi immigrants entering the country, in the United States, this was during the time of Jim Crow. In both cases, these mob scenes were motivated by an alleged violent act towards a woman. According to a recent Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of the G20, the United States ranks in sixth place as the best place to be a woman (primarily due to polarized views on affordable healthcare and reproductive rights), while India comes in dead last. Ironically, news coverage of the mob behavior in India was focused not on the unjust death of the alleged rapist, but rather on the groundswell among India’s young people to stop violence towards women. While I believe it is critical that India seize any opportunity to highlight the massive injustice perpetrated upon its female population, I do not believe it is appropriate to allow a mob mentality to shape that reform.
This brings me to what truly puzzles me – the justification of torture and killing in the name of truth and justice.
Whether or not these men were guilty is not the point, but rather that hatred ruled the day fueled by righteous indignation. The court system was deemed unworthy of doling out the correct penalty or was, perhaps, considered too slow to provide a satisfying result. Instead, people decided that vigilante justice was more suitable and joined in the frenzy to witness the destruction of a fellow human being before their very eyes. Those same people – decent citizens who suddenly found themselves caught up in mob mind – must surely go on to live out their days with those horrific images forever seared in their consciousness.
Surely there were many back in the ‘30’s in Texas – and are today in that northern city of India – who wish fervently they had not joined those mobs; that they had not participated in an act that was nothing short of murder. I hope and pray this is the case. Our fight for human rights depends on it.