Darkness can never be fought with darkness, only light can dispel the enveloping shadows

As lynchings threaten to grow into a national epidemic, minority communities are learning to endure an intense sense of foreboding – a lurking, unnamed, unspoken fear. This is not simply the apprehension of discrimination, it is the danger of imminent violence, of being vulnerable to attack anywhere – on a public road, in a bus or train, in a marketplace, even in their homes. In tribal regions, Christian people feel a mounting dread. Dalits, who have so long lived with everyday violence and humiliation, are fearful of attacks for pursuing their caste vocation of skinning cows.

How culpable are we when our brothers and sisters are burned and lynched and we stand by? We need to interrogate the reasons for our silences, for our failures to speak out, and to intervene, when murderous hate is unleashed on innocent lives. We need our conscience to ache. We need it to be burdened intolerably.

To speak to our collective silences, we propose to embark, with as many comrades who wish to join, on a journey of shared suffering, of solidarity, of atonement and of love.

To speak to our collective silences, the Karwan e Mohabbat — a Caravan of Love — was crafted as a journey of atonement, solidarity, conscience and justice. In September 2017, the Karwan travelled to 8 states, meeting families hit by hate violence. It set out from Nagaon in Assam on 4 September 2017 and concluded its travels on 2 October 2017 in Porbandar, a small coastal town in Gujarat where Mohandas Gandhi was born 148 years ago.

During its travels, the Karwan bore witness to such intense and pervasive suffering and fear fashioned by hate violence, and such extensive state hostility to its most vulnerable citizens, that we resolved that the Karwan of love must continue its journey.

​Its journey must continue not just metaphorically but also literally.

In this journey, members of the Karwan would try to help undertake many initiatives. There are many important efforts by organizations and groups, and we would not like to duplicate any of these. We would instead like to support, strengthen and all these efforts, and to fill gaps if any and complement these various efforts.

Even during the month that we travelled, news filtered in of one Dalit boy lynched for watching a garba and two battered for sporting moustaches, a woman branded and killed for being a ‘witch’, continued police killings of Muslim youth, as also mob attacks in the name of the cow.

Until collectively all of us – we, the people of India — are able to bring an end to this, our Karwan cannot end its journey. We commit that every month, some of us will visit families in at least one state.

The members of the Karwan have resolved to chronicle — through books, films, photo exhibitions and public talks — the rise of hate and fear that we bore witness to during the Karwan, and will continue to do so as we continue to travel during the coming months. Many travellers of the Karwan have already begun to tell the stories they heard and saw, and plan to continue to do so, with pictures, videos and words. In order to inform and appeal to our sisters and brothers across the country, to care, to speak out, and to resist. We feel this is imperative to inform, stir and appeal to the public conscience.

We found during the Karwan that there are unfolding literally hundreds of hate crimes, of which only a small fraction are reported even in the local press. A tinier fraction of these find mention, even cursorily, in the national media. Even among these, only very few – like Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Hafiz Junaid – register in any enduring way in the national consciousness. We also found that the police often does not register these as hate crimes but road accidents, violations of cow protection laws, or the police firing in self-defence. Families, especially of Muslim victims, sometimes do not even try to register police complaints because they fear that if they complain that they were attacked for transporting cattle, the police would register crimes against them instead of the attackers and lynch mobs.

The ruling establishment, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and their supporters cling to their claim that these are random, stray incidents of statistically inconsequential numbers. The mainstream media has, with some shining exceptions, been complicit in official attempts to obscure the gravity and magnitude of hate violence.

There are important efforts, such as by the Hindustan Times, India Spend, Citizens against Hate, Citizens for Justice, Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and others to track hate crimes. We members of the Karwan would fully support these efforts, and where necessary try to contribute further to these with volunteers – students, lawyers, journalists, academics, activists – in every state affected by hate violence, to further help investigate and document as many hate crimes as we are able to identify and confirm.

There is a strong ethical commitment of the Karwan to ensure support to each of the families affected by hate violence. Human rights and humanitarian groups, both religious and secular, are extending such support to some families. The Karwan would come in only in cases where there are gaps.

There are four kinds of support that families require. The first is for legal justice. The second is for psycho-social care, to help them cope and deal with their suffering. The third is to access their entitlements, such as compensation from government, as well as other needs such as education, pensions and health-care. And the fourth is for other material needs, such as to rebuild their livelihoods, often destroyed due to the loss of a breadwinner and of livestock, or fear.

To assist the families for all of these, we hope to try to recruit two community justice and care volunteers to work with each family, and to train and support them in the fundamentals of law, entitlements and psycho-social counselling.

For a more systematic approach to legal justice from a state that is most often openly hostile to the victims and protective of the attackers, we hope that it will be possible to help support the constituting of loose human rights collectives in each of the states in which hate crimes are endemic.

There are already many fine initiatives to support some of the families, by organisations like the Human Rights Law Network, Citizens against Hate, NCDHR, PUCL, PUDR, and also some Muslim and Christian religious formations. By coming together with them, we would be able to gain strength, learn from each other, and ensure that no family is left out of the striving for justice.

​There is already also a larger initiative to try to constitute Aman Insaniyat Citizen Councils in as many districts as possible across the country, comprising women and men who are widely respected for their integrity – moral as well as financial — and commitment to constitutional values, particularly social and economic equality, secularism, caste and gender equity, labour rights and rationalism and the scientific temper. These citizen councils would respond as early as possible when there are any incidents of hate violence, or threats or mobilisation for such violence. They would be alert to any build-up, mobilisation and rumours that could lead to violence, moving the state and district administration to take necessary steps to prevent violence, refuting through the media and social media any false rumours that create hatred and suspicion. In the event of the break-out of any violence, they would have the responsibilities of organising fact-finding, oversight and encouraging just and comprehensive relief and rehabilitation, peace building and, as noted below, legal justice. They would also take a number of steps to advance communal harmony, and caste and gender equality, working closely with educational institutions, youth and women groups, trade unions, and other such social institutions, as well as local bodies.

There is an evil stalking our land, of hate and fear engineered by cynical politics. To fight these, to restore compassion and constitutional values to our country, not just this Caravan of Love, and many others, must continue their journeys, into India’s troubled interiors as much as into the shadows of our troubled hearts and minds.