The Bulandshahr Seven: Who Are Our Heroes and What Does That Say About Us?

Politics

The Bulandshahr Seven: Who Are Our Heroes and What Does That Say About Us?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Keeping track of the horrific cases of lynching that, by now, are a regular part of our national news cycle is getting harder. From incidents of cow vigilantism to those where religious chants like “Jai Shri Ram” are wielded as weapons, the idea of a fellow citizen being assaulted or killed by an angry mob, while still ghastly, is no longer an anomaly. But last December came a case that stood out from the rest. 

In Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr, the discovery of a herd of cow carcasses in a forest incited a violent gaurakshak protest, which included members of the BJP’s local Yuva Morcha and other right-wing groups like the Bajrang Dal. When Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and his team arrived on the scene to deal with the chaos, he found a mob of around 400 people gathered. They threw stones and chased his car into a field, before stealing his own service revolver and shooting him dead. 

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BJP member Sakshi Maharaj, who advocates for death penalty as punishment for cow slaughter made headlines in June when he visited rape-accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in jail.

Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

With the murder of a policeman, many wondered whether Bulandshahr would finally force the hand of the state government — led by CM Yogi Adityanath — to crack down on violent gaurakshaks. But mere days after the police officer was killed, the UP government announced their first priority would be investigating the death of the cattle. 

The message coming from the top could not be clearer: Your ability to draw votes trumps your criminal record every time. We’ve had tainted netas in power for as long as we can remember, with nearly half of our Lok Sabha representatives having criminal cases against them. Successive governments and parties have gone out of their way to gloss over these lumpen elements within their ranks. But what has changed in the last couple of years? 

The Bulandshahr case has taken our national acceptance of criminals to a new low. When seven of the Bulandshahr accused – including a BJP youth leaderwere released on bail last weekend, they were warmly welcomed by their community with garlands and joyful cries of “Jai Shri Ram!” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai!” Supporters greeted them like celebrities, hugging them and clicking selfies.  

When did we go from making shamefaced excuses for the accused criminals who represent us and run our country, to openly hero-worshipping murder-accused like the Bulandshahr seven? Their supporters do not even pretend to care about the death of Singh, a police officer whose only mistake was getting caught up in a vigilante mob. To add insult to injury, the martyred policeman was investigating another high-profile lynching case before he was transferred. By now, we’ve grown accustomed to pin-drop silence from powers that be, and the myriad ways they try to trivialise these issues. But their silence is now being considered as a stamp of approval, only emboldening those who have no respect for the law or fear of consequences. 

But perhaps – as the Bulandshahr garlanding shows – the BJP, a party of the people, can hardly be blamed for reflecting the reality on the ground.

Look at UP Deputy CM KP Maurya’s response to the outcry over the bail release. He brushed off public concerns, refusing any responsibility in the matter. “If supporters of people who have been released from jail welcome them, the government and BJP have nothing to do with it,” he said. He went on to accuse the Opposition of making a mountain out of a molehill. 

It’s a convenient attempt to ignore the administration’s wholehearted adoption of gau raksha, as well as other Hindutva causes. Clearly, Singh was seen, if not as an enemy to the gauraksha cause, then at least a necessary casualty of it.

The villagers who were celebrating the return of the Bulandshahr accused are only playing follow the leader. Union Minister Jayant Sinha last year garlanded eight accused of a lynching in Ramgarh, which saw a meat trader killed by a mob, including a local BJP leader. CM Adityanath held a rally in April where 16 of the 19 accused in the 2015 Dadri lynching were in attendance, with one party worker’s son getting a front row seat. 

But this hero worship is not restricted to cow vigilantism. BJP member Sakshi Maharaj, who advocates for death penalty as punishment for cow slaughter — and has no fewer than 34 criminal cases registered against him, with charges ranging from murder and rape to dacoity — made headlines in June when he visited rape-accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in jail. Despite the murky charges of rape and murder against him, and claims that he has been suspended from the party for over a year, Sengar was featured in recent Independence Day ads by the BJP. Is it any surprise, then, that the Bajrang Dal and VHP put up posters with festival wishes on behalf of the Bulandshahr accused only weeks after the lynching?

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From incidents of cow vigilantism to those where religious chants like “Jai Shri Ram” are wielded as weapons, the idea of a fellow citizen being assaulted or killed by an angry mob is no longer an anomaly.

Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

However, the BJP is only upping a game that the Congress has long played. Kamal Nath, an accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, has been an old gun in the party. In fact, despite his murky past he was made chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, a validation from his party. He took oath as CM, a day after his party member Sajjan Kumar was sentenced to life imprisonment in a case related to the 1984 riots, and who continued to be a part of the Congress, winning elections, his political career untouched throughout the ignominious trial. Fellow party member Jagdish Tytler, also named as one of the rioters, later held a Union Minister post, and remained an MP up until 2009. 

The BJP, like other parties, has long given up any pretence of rejecting criminals within its cadre. Instead, they’ve embraced our national propensity to treat them with far more reverence than everyday law-abiding citizens. These are the people who have time and again been systematically shielded by the party, fielded for its top positions, and plastered proudly across its campaign posters. But perhaps – as the Bulandshahr garlanding shows – the BJP, a party of the people, can hardly be blamed for reflecting the reality on the ground. In the India of today, those accused of murder, lynching, rape, or terrorisism can count on being rewarded with the status of national hero — so long as they adhere to the right ideology.

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