Karwan e Mohabbat is a tiny lamp lit in a tempest of hate. A small but audacious effort to offer a garland of empathy across many parts of our troubled land. Individuals, organisations and social movements are collaborating in this journey of atonement, solidarity, healing, conscience and justice with people living with hate violence.
Its purpose is to respond, amidst rising hate crimes and lynching, to the everyday fear of Muslims, Dalits and Christians, and the worrying silences of the majority. We wish to publicly declare that we stand with our Muslim, Dalit and Christian sisters and brothers in this hour of gathering darkness. But the expedition is also a call of conscience to India’s majority.
Our journey began from Assam on September 4, 2017, visiting two families in Nagaon whose teenaged sons had been dubbed cow thieves and lynched, their bodies brutalised. We passed through Jharkhand and Karnataka before gathering again in Tilak Vihar, the colony of widows from the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage, in Delhi on September 11. In this second phase of the Karwan, all participants travelled together in a bus to western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The Karwan visited over 50 families who had lost loved ones to hate lynching, caste violence, targeted attacks by police, and witch-hunting. We sought from them forgiveness on behalf of all of us for what they have suffered, tried to assure them that they were not alone in their torment, and offered atonement and solidarity. For each family, we also tried to assess how they were coping and what they needed for livelihood, psycho-social care and the pursuit of justice.
The Karwan included a wonderful team of chroniclers – writers, poets, photographers, videographers – who recorded, in words, pictures and videos, what they saw and heard as they travelled. Some communicated their experiences in real time, others will write books, make films and install photo exhibitions. The purpose is to share with fellow Indians the fear, hate and injustice with which people are forced to live, and through this to make a call of conscience.
After the Karwan met with the families, we also held public meetings – aman sabhas – on the themes of love and solidarity. We also tried to form Aman Insaniyat Citizen Samitis of local persons committed to supporting the families for justice and livelihoods, and promoting amity, goodwill, and peace in the larger community.
Has the Karwan accomplished anything? We agonise, we do not know. None of the humsafars, or fellow travellers, have been left untouched by this odyssey. Of this we are sure. They would continue to carry, in their souls, the painful stories they heard. We realised that the stories of Mohammed Akhlaq,Pehlu Khan and Hafiz Junaid are not exceptional. Hundreds of hate attacks are taking place around the country today; they are rarely reported and even more rarely stir our conscience.
Of one thing the humsafars are sure: their travels did offer precious solace to more than 50 families we met across India that were struggling, often alone, with the consequences of incredible hate and colossal state injustice. This alone made the voyage of love worth its while.
A long way to go
But we found a worrying lack of remorse in the majority communities where hate violence against minorities and the Dalits had unfolded. At moments like when the Karwan was stoned by an angry mob that did not want us to pay a floral tribute to Pehlu Khan where he was lynched in Rajasthan, we felt the Karwan needed to do much more to appeal to the conscience of the majority communities in many of the areas we visited.
Still, we took heart that not just stones and footwear were thrown at us, but also rose petals in so many places that we visited, by ordinary people who joined the Karwan of love. There was a great response to our call for crowd funding, and the Karwan was entirely resourced by individual contributions. In that sense, each of the contributors also joined the Karwan. We started with no money. In a month, more than 200 people contributed Rs 20 lakh for the Karwan. Large numbers turned out for the peace meetings and to greet the Karwan, even when it was travelling late and arrived at night.
In concrete terms, the Karwan now plans to call upon volunteers from across the country – students, journalists, lawyers – to help establish a dedicated cell for tracking hate crimes by non-state vigilantes and state officials. The number of hate crimes we know of, reported in the national press, is a tiny fraction of hate attacks we found had taken place in every state that we visited.
We 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 journey – to inform and appeal to the public conscience. Many humsafars 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 our sisters and brothers across the country and to appeal them to care, to speak out, to resist.
We are deeply committed to ensuring, in coordination with other groups, support to each of the families affected by hate violence that the Karwan visited, including for legal justice, psycho-social care and livelihood support. We have also resolved to help establish with other groups systems of rapid and long-term response to hate crimes in states where these are endemic. This would include establishing Aman Insaniyat Citizen Councils, and where needed human rights collectives.
Later this year, the Karwan will visit Mhow to pay tribute to BR Ambedkar for leading the writing of India’s Constitution, and to be mindful of his caution that the core of democracy and our Constitution is fraternity. It is fraternity that is most under attack in India today, and this is the central theme of the Karwan.
The Karwan is also a small tribute to Gandhi’s last and finest months. A million people had died in Hindu-Muslim riots, yet he bravely walked alone in Noakhali for love and peace even as the entire country was engulfed in hate and being ripped apart. Therefore, the next destination of the Karwan will be Gandhi’s birthplace, on October 2, to recall his lifelong belief in Hindu-Muslim unity, and his courageous call for love and harmony. Our call is “Chalo Porbandar #HumSabGandhi”.
The Karwan will not end there. Its members will continue to journey to old and new sites of hate violence, with the same objectives of solidarity, atonement, justice and love. It has much work to do. For justice and healing of the families whose lives we touched. To chronicle our troubled times of engineered and pervasive hate. And to find ways to fight this, bravely and resolutely, with solidarity, with justice and with love.
This is the first article in a series on Karwan e Mohabbat, a civil society initiative to reach out to the victims of communal, caste and gender violence across India.