Karbi Anglong lynching and its modern bases

Thursday, 25 February 2021



Karbi Anglong lynching and its modern bases

Abhinav Pankaj Borbora | June 16, 2018 17:34 hrs

A considerable amount of things have been already said and done regarding the unfortunate incident of mob violence in Karbi Anglong district. But such exercises remain superfluous unless a sustained attempt is made to determine the objective character of the instance of violence in question. Consequently, the afore-stated responses remain restricted within their narrow petty bourgeois confines and fail to appreciate the objective bases that produce such fratricidal antagonisms.


Popular narratives regarding the fatalistic act of violence has tended to read the incident through pre-modern political categories. Such a reading moves the issue over to a civilizational binary where ‘violence’ is consigned to the ‘uncivilised’ that practice modes of behaviour that could be called ‘barbaric.’ It is precisely at this preliminary juncture that the afore-stated exercises make an analytical error. It is instead necessary to acknowledge the modern bases that undergird lynching and other relatable forms of violence. With regard to the mob lynching in Karbi Anglong and in other areas as well, the natural reflex is to attribute a sense of primordially to such behaviour. Instead, the conflict in Karbi Anglong between the ‘locals’ and the ‘outsider’ should be situated within the larger political discourse that has been simmering in Assam since the 1960s and attained premium potency during the better half of the decade of 1980. Such a discourse is underpinned on the logic of ‘exclusivity’ that involves demarcating ‘purity’ by excluding the ‘dissimilar.’ And the logic of ‘exclusivity’ reproduces itself and its opposition at every level thereby exhibiting both cosmopolitan and local manifestations. The mob lynching in Karbi Anglong district, as well as other relatable incidents in the region, could be thus interpreted as the perverted outcome of a form of politics that is designed to produce the ‘other’ by conflating ‘difference’ with ‘suspect.’ 


What catalyses such mob-centric forms of violence can be understood in the context of a profound disenchantment with the modern state. Under democracy, the citizenry voluntarily obliges to the authority of the state because the latter undertakes to secure the life, liberty and estate of the former. This is a very Lockean understanding of the state. At this point, it is worth recalling that rumours about child-lifters were in wide circulation in the days immediately preceding the incident. Despite this, the district administration did very little to address the anxieties of the rural folk.  The immediate apathy of the administration coupled with pre-existing perceptions of discredibility associated with these agencies laid the ground for the further accentuation of these apprehensions. The mob in Karbi Anglong was but the empirical manifestation of tendencies of vigilantism stirred by a failing criminal justice system that is becoming increasingly incapable of inspiring confidence amongst the citizenry. It would however be inadequate to understand the failings of the state in itself. Rather, the indifference of the state could be seen in light of the emergence of a modern economic restructuring that has altered the priorities of the administration away from the multitude.  Grasping the interrelation between an apathetic state that has undergone a change of priorities under a neo liberal economic arrangement and the consequent rise in instances of vigilantism is integral to understanding not only the Karbi Anglong incident but any relatable case as well. 


Two dimensions have been examined till now. The tragic incident in Karbi Anglong needs to be understood on the basis on another dimension. 


The apprehension with regard to functioning of a group of child abductees in the Karbi Anglong region was disseminating through a medium that has attributes of advanced technology. The possession of such technology in turn presupposes a roughly middle-income financial threshold which itself is the outcome of modern economic relations. At this point it is important to properly situate Karbi Anglong and other similarly positioned regions in terms of their appropriate historical stage. A society that is passing through backward capitalism materially experiences incipient levels of financial mobility while structures of consciousness continue to remain feudal for a prolonged duration of time. This corresponds to a society that experiences a disjuncture between the level of expansion of purchasing power and the corresponding patterns of behaviour. Individuals in societies undergoing such a historical stage experience the afore-stated peculiarity even in terms of handling advanced technology. Such people, captivated as they are by the charms of science, generally fail to approximate the strength commanded by such mediums and their ability to ‘take a life of their own.’ This assertion is applicable not only with regard to people in the remote outback but also in relation to the regional metropolises. The death of the two individuals was thus partly brought about by the uncritical and irresponsible use of a modern technological medium. 


The lynching at Panjuri Village under Dokmoka police station as well as other similar incidents should be thus situated in the malaise of bourgeois modernity that is received uncritically. Pseudo political commentary and demonstrations that have surfaced in the aftermath of the incident fail to grasp such subtleties and hence remain hollow.  


(The author is a political commentator and runs the NGO “College Students’ Welfare Committee”)

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  • Anonymous

    Good point of view, but I disagree a bit. I guess we as a society have failed like always in the past. It's not about this incident only. Everyday in Assam such crime happens, even in State Capital Guwahati. So how do we get justice ? We are becoming our own enemy. We pay huge taxes, but people are busy stealing them. It's not only the government, every one of us are accountable. Everyone is more interested in filling their own stomach and stealing people's money. Wish all the money would have been put to the development of Assam, Assam could have such a wonderful and developed state. Nothing is going to change unless we change ourselves and stop blaming others. We need to first ask ourselves what have we contributed.