When a group of Delhi-based youngsters heard about the lynching of 16-year-old Junaid Khan, who had been attacked by a mob that allegedly hurled communal slurs at him on a Mathura-bound train on June 22, 2017, they decided to channel their shock and dismay into a documentary. Khan’s killing was just one of many instances of mob violence in India since 2015, largely targetting minorities. Shaheen Ahmed, Ashfaque EJ, Furqan Faridi and Vishu Sejwal decided to document these cases in their film Lynch Nation.
The film was premiered in Delhi in November and was screened at the New York University on Friday. Next up is a screening in Kolkata as part of the South Asian Short Film Festival (March 18-31).
“This film should be treated as a conversation-starter on mob lynchings in India,” Ashfaque told Scroll.in. The 42-minute film travels to the homes of Junaid Khan, Pehlu Khan, Umar Khan, Alimuddin Ansari, Mohammed Akhlaq and other victims of mob violence in recent years – most of them involving cow-protection vigilantes or gau rakshaks – and spoke to their families. They also travelled to Una, where a video of four Dalit men being stripped and beaten up by goons for skinning a dead cow sparked protests across the state.
The film’s focus is to “listen and document what the families of lynching victims go through, and not let them be reduced to numbers and statistics”, Faridi and Ahmed said. The documentary also tries to examine the impact of the violence and loss on the families of victims and their legal struggles in seeking justice.
Ashfaque, Faridi, and Sejwal are journalists by profession and this is their first film. Ahmed is a freelance filmmaker. To make Lynch Nation, they approached their friends and family members to help them with funds. The group, with basic equipment in hand, then travelled to the places where incidents of mob violence had been reported, including Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri, Faridabad and Nuh in Haryana, Alwar in Rajasthan and Ramgarh in Jharkhand.
The filmmakers were initially hesitant to speak to the families of victims, afraid they would reopen their wounds. “But once we contacted the families, we realised that they wanted to talk to people about their ongoing struggles despite suffering terrible losses,” the directors said.
What particularly disturbed the filmmakers was the political patronage to perpetrators of mob violence – many of them part of right-wing fundamentalist groups. While the Bharatiya Janata Party government has failed to strongly condemn these incidents, in some cases, leaders have even spoken up in support of the accused.
The directors said they found similarities between the spate of lynchings in India and the mob violence in the United States of America after slavery was abolished in 1863, many of them led by the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Citing the example of Lawrence Beitler’s photograph of lynching victims Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith surrounded by cheering mobs, Ashfaque said, “Here also we felt that we were enjoying those lynch videos through newsrooms and mobile phones. We all were reduced to that inert crowd who enjoyed the show. So we were left with no option but to do something.”