I cannot begin to match the thoroughness of various others who have written about this atrocity. So for information about this let me direct you to Jaideep Hardikar and Sabrina Buckwalter at the Times; Shivam Vij has a post that links to several other places to find out more.
The brutality in Kherlanji took my breath away, as I imagine it did to many of you as well. What had this family done to deserve this ghastly end? What could possibly invite such cruelty? Nothing and nothing. Yet they were beaten, raped, mutilated and slaughtered by their neighbours in Kherlanji.
Yet I don't write this merely to tell you how appalled I was by this lynching. I write this because it dismays me that a substantial part of the outrage generated in the wake of Kherlanji is over ... whether a photograph of Priyanka, dead, should have been published. (For that matter, the rest of her family too).
Hold that thought while I tell you about Lige Daniels.
Put yourself in the town of Center, Texas on August 3 1920. I imagine you would have seen Lige. A small place, Center, then and now. That August day, if you were searching for Lige, you only needed to find the crowd. A large crowd, gathered to look up at Lige.
That's right, up. In a white shirt, torn pants and no shoes, his head tilted back sightlessly, this black teenager hung from the limb of a tree in Center.
Yes, Lige was lynched. Charged with killing an elderly white woman, he was in jail. About a thousand of Center's citizens smashed the door of the jail and took Lige to the tree where they lynched him. Then they strung him up.
Then they posed for photographs with his hanging body, and that photograph became a postcard that was sold and sent around the country as a souvenir of the gruesome event, and I offer you this description of that picture:
- Beneath him are a mass of white men, many looking at the camera and smiling. The camera catches one boy, possibly twelve or thirteen years old, looking up at the lynched sixteen year-old. His smile and glee at the scene are clear. It's probably the best fun he has had all that long, hot summer vacation from school.
You may ask, how do I know about Lige, and this picture of him? Because of Without Sanctuary. (Warning: Extremely disturbing photographs). This is, as James Allen writes, "a photo document of proof, an unearthing of crimes, of collective mass murder, of mass memory graves excavated from the American conscience."
Indeed, very disturbing photographs. Yet it is with their publication that we are reminded of, and comprehend, the true horror of this slice of American history; of this very human history. Of the horrible things we do to each other. Indeed, of how some of us even celebrate the horror by sending postcard souvenirs of it.
Whether in the US or in Kherlanji, looking at the photographs may be the only way we will understand the reality of these lynchings. (Indeed, I look forward to such a book about Indian lynchings).
We owe it to Priyanka, Roshan, Sudhir and Surekha -- for that matter, Lige Daniels too -- to understand.
(Last year, I wrote twice about one of those 5000 recorded lynchings in the US: The conspiracy angle and A tolerable load, really).
On a related note:
Right after this went up, someone (you know who you are) sent me email saying this comment about Kherlanji has appeared somewhere:
- The best way to assure action is for the 48 Dalit MLAs (out of a house of 288) and 8 Dalit MPs (out of 48) to take up this case. Isn't this why we have reserved constituencies? How about stalling parliament proceedings until the administration assures action? Isn't this the reason why Dr Ambedkar wanted reserved political representation for Dalits? If they keep quiet, then his other fear, that only a separate electorate will do for Dalits, will come true.
Where does one start, to answer this?
I mean, are these murders only to do with Dalits? Did Ambedkar agitate for "reserved political representation for Dalits" only so that those particular representatives must focus only on particular issues which need not concern the rest of us? If my neighbour is murdered, should I discern his caste, and then assume that the MLAs of that particular caste -- and only those MLAs -- should "take up" the case? Is that the "best way to assure action" against the murderers?