The outrageous incident on March 19 at the Jhansi railway station where four legitimate travellers were forced out of the train by vigilantes is the new nadir in India’s slide into the abyss of lawlessness and bigotry. This is not just a case of four women getting heckled by rowdy men, which is a miserable, everyday reflection of our patriarchy. This is about a few Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activists, who have no business to examine travel documents or personal identification of fellow travellers, arrogating to themselves the powers of the State with the railway employees and the police obsequiously obeying them.
Two nuns of the Delhi-based Congregation of the Sacred Heart were accompanying two 19-year-old students or postulants en route home to Rourkela in Odisha after they had completed their course. The two teenagers were hoping to don the habit soon. But the ABVP workers travelling from Rishikesh to Jhansi insisted that the nuns were ‘taking’ the two youngsters to get them converted. According to news reports, the vigilantes called in the police and forced the women to get down at Jhansi, their own destination, where the women were kept at the Government Railway Police station till 11 pm. Had it not been for the local St Jude Church, the travellers would have had to spend the night at the railway police station because of the assumption made by some Hindutva hotheads. They were let off after the parents confirmed that the youngsters were born Christians, and resumed their journey the next morning. Is this the new Indian normal? Have our constitutional rights of freedom of life, movement, speech and religion been withdrawn? Will the State machinery act according to the assumptions and prejudices of political activists?
It is heartening to note that Home Minister Amit Shah, while campaigning for former Union minister KJ Alphons at a Christian-dominated constituency in Kerala, assured that the government of Uttar Pradesh will bring the culprits to justice. BJP’s attempt to grow beyond the cow belt should make it more representative, and accountable towards minorities and their rights as citizens of this country.