ON June 26, Muslims of Khandawli VILlage in Faridabad district of Haryana, on the outskirts of New Delhi were in no mood to celebrate Ramzan, or Eid. Sounds of wailing filled the narrow streets of the village. Women gathered around a shell-shocked Saira, whose 16-year-old son, Junaid Khan, had been brutally murdered on a train from Delhi bound for Mathura. The men offered prayers wearing black armbands in protest.
What provided the trigger for the attack on the teenager was not clear. Reports said that it was over an argument over sharing of a seat on a crowded train that resulted in the skirmish. But Junaid’s family and friends maintain that it was Junaid’s skull cap and his brothers’ beards, which gave away their religious identity, that led to the attack. The assaulters pulled Junaid’s cap and stamped on it, and even tried to pull the beards of his siblings. They told them they deserved to die. According to the family, other passengers on the train egged on the assaulters, saying maas khate hai, maaro inko (they eat meat, kill them).
Rabiya, the eldest of Saira’s seven children, said the cap was a symbol of identity and dignity for Muslims and stamping on it was the highest form of insult. The siblings were educated in religious scriptures and Junaid was a hafiz , he had recited the entire Quran, which he had learned by heart, during Ramzan.
“There were 200 people in that bogie. Not a single one came to the defence of my children,” Junaid’s father, Jalaluddin, said. Junaid’s brothers, Hashim and Shaqir, survived the murderous assault. Junaid died on the platform. Shaqir, who, according to Rabiya, suffered 18 stab wounds, is recuperating in a Delhi hospital. His wife was in a state of shock and unable to speak. She spent her time tending to her one-year-old daughter and three-year-old son. “The brothers were returning after shopping for Eid celebrations. Shaqir’s wife was waiting for him to bring clothes for the children,” Rabiya said.
The predominantly Muslim village was grim. It has coexisted with the surrounding Hindu-majority villages for decades. Both Hindu and Muslim festivals used to be celebrated with gaiety until the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the Centre three years ago. Taunting in public places became common and it started disrupting the harmony. Parents were worried about their children’s safety. Mohammad Ali Jaan removed his children from a good school in Ballabgarh and enrolled them in a local school in Khandawli. “Their education will suffer, but at least they’ll be safe,” he told Frontline .
Jalaluddin, a taxi driver, said: “ Yeh sarkar soyi hui hai, usko jagane ke liye pehna hai (this government is sleeping, I have worn the black band to wake it).”
While lynching of Dalits and Muslims has been a recurring phenomenon for decades, it has increased in frequency and intensity since May 2014, when Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre.
The Sangh Parivar furthered its strategy of communal polarisation with its hold on power at the Centre. This found further traction in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh election. By installing a Hindu hardliner, Yogi Adityanath, as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the Sangh Parivar attempted to perpetuate the communal polarisation, thereby discarding all pretences about the proclaimed agenda of the government at the Centre and in the State. Instances of lynching have risen in recent times, with more than 20 cases reported in the first six months of this year.
Cow-related violence Collating information around gautankwad, or cow terrorism, the data journalism portal Indiaspend.com analysed cow-related violence over a period of eight years. It found that of the 63 attacks reported during these years, 61, or 97 per cent, were reported after May 2014. Half the cases were reported from BJP-ruled States and 86 per cent of the victims were Muslims. In all, 124 people were injured in the attacks, which took place in 19 States. What is unsettling was that around 52 per cent of the attacks were based on rumours. On June 7, Ainul Ansari was attacked by a mob in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, on the pretext that he was carrying beef for an Iftar party. Although he survived the attack, it was a grim reminder of what happened to Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, in 2015 on the basis of rumours that he had stored beef in his refrigerator. In May, two traders were assaulted in Malegaon, Maharashtra, for storing beef.
In most of these cases, videos showing the attackers using the foulest of language while beating the victims have gone viral on social media. Pehlu Khan, a cattle trader from Haryana, was brutally killed on April 1 in Rajasthan following rumours that he was transporting cows for slaughter. Some construction workers from Delhi were lynched in North Dinajpur in West Bengal following rumours that they were cattle thieves. The villagers said they killed cattle thieves as the police had reportedly told them to “take care of such petty matters themselves” and not bother them. Similarly, in Assam, cattle traders Abu Hanifa and Riazuddin Ali were killed for allegedly stealing cattle. According to Indiaspend, in 5 per cent of these attacks, there were no reports of the attackers being arrested. In 13 attacks (21 per cent), the police registered cases against the victims/survivors. The absence of any punishment to the murderers seems to have emboldened others to lynch with impunity.
The frequency of such attacks and the State’s silence over them have made it impossible to view them as isolated and spontaneous instances of mob violence. The attacks appeared to be a part of a well-calibrated plan of extermination, many observers said, akin to a slow genocide. It also served to create a fear psychosis in the minds of Muslims. The barbarous nature of the attacks was becoming intense with every passing day and the assaulters were no longer required to justify their actions. From accusing Muslims of slaughtering cows, storing beef, and breaking the law, to attacking them for wearing a skull cap, cultural and religious animosity towards the community has indeed increased.
In February 2016, a policeman, Yusuf Sheikh, was beaten up and paraded through the streets of Pangaon in Latur district of Maharashtra for doing his duty. He was made to hold a saffron flag and chant jai bhawani . In Pratapgarh, Rajasthan, Zafar Hussain was killed when he objected to civic officials working under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan campaign taking pictures of women defecating in the open. In May this year, Munna Ansari of Ranchi (Jharkhand) was beaten up on rumours of being a “child-lifter”. In May again, Ghulam Mohammad of Bulandshahr (Uttar Pradesh) was killed for allegedly “helping” an inter-faith couple. The incidents reveal that no matter what the perceived crime is, Hindutva elements view a Muslim as an accused and instead of approaching the law and order authorities for justice they resort to mob violence.
The tacit approval of the ruling party by way of silence on the lynching incidents was encouraging the elements to resort to violent acts. In fact, BJP leaders expressed more outrage over the slaughter of cows than acts of murder by cow terrorists. When the Centre notified a Bill in May banning the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets, members of the Kerala Youth Congress slaughtered a calf in protest. Politicians, especially those belonging to the BJP, immediately condemned the act.
Two instances, in Rajasthan and Odisha, showed that even government functionaries could not escape the wrath of gau rakshak s (cow protectors). The Southern Railways’ initiative to earn revenues worth Rs.2.65 crore by transporting cows was spoilt by cow vigilantes in Bhubaneswar. The Kochuveli-Guwahati Express left Salem on May 23. When it reached Bhubaneswar, en route a government dairy farm in Meghalaya, a mob of around 25 people barged into the station and pulled the cattle out. They viciously attacked the two dairy department staff, the veterinarian and the station manager and the train driver although the officials had valid documents with them.
On June 12, officials of the Tamil Nadu Animal Husbandry Department sustained grievous injuries when they were attacked by around 50 cow vigilantes in Barmer, Rajasthan. They were transporting cows bought in Jaisalmer and had valid documents in support of their purchase. The mob attacked the driver and cleaner of the van and assaulted the policemen who tried to stop them. They tried to set fire to the trucks and blocked the highway.
Instances of BJP cadres violating the law have been increasing. They occupy seats on trains without buying tickets and behave in an unruly manner, sporting saffron gamchha s. Ticket collectors do not confront them for fear of being attacked. In Bulandshahr, a BJP leader, Pramod Lodhi, and his men reportedly misbehaved with a policewoman when she pulled them up for violating traffic rules.
Spontaneous protests Junaid’s murder on the eve of Eid shook civil society out of its slumber. A spontaneous call on social media with the hashtag #notinmyname by film-maker Saba Dewan led to mass demonstrations in almost 20 towns and cities across the country. From students to factory workers to professionals to housewives, thousands of people took part in the gatherings to condemn the mass atrocities on the minorities and hold the government accountable. The protests invited a fair share of criticism over its use of the hashtag. An online petition addressed to Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP leader, was initiated as a critique of the protests. It further nuanced the debate, gave a call to stand by Muslim brothers and sisters, and called for a regime change with the hashtag, “BJP should go”.
“These are organised crimes against the minorities, both Dalits and Muslims under the fundamentalist regime. Mainstream media names these hate crime as ‘mob rule’. The use of term ‘mob rule’ is systematically used to deviate and normalise state-supported violence against the minorities. It is years of indoctrination and preparation of the systematic massacre of the minorities, Dalits, and Tribal. BJP rule protects its goons who are trained and indoctrinated with the fundamentalists, supremacist ideology that envisions ‘Hindu Nation’,” it said.
A day after the protests, the Prime Minister was forced to make a statement at Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad: “Killing people in the name of gau bhakti (cow worship) is not acceptable. No person in this nation has the right to take the law into his or her own hands.” He defended cow protection as valid activity, but reiterated that violence was not the solution to any problem. Last year, too, Modi made a statement against fake gau rakshak s who engaged in anti-national activities by night. The spate of lynchings this year shows that the Prime Minister’s statement has failed to act as a deterrent.