Print edition : January 19, 2018

Policemen and Special Task Force personnel on guard in front of a mosque at Hussaini crossing, Rajsamand. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Mohammad Afrazul.

Shambhu Lal Regar, who killed Mohammad Afrazul.

Police in action against demonstrators at a rally taken out despite the surcharged atmosphere that prevailed in Udaipur on December 14. Photo: PTI

Gulbahar Bibi (second from right), the widow of Mohammad Afrazul, with their three daughters at Kaliachawk in West Bengal. Photo: Soumya Das

The entrance to the Regar colony, where Shambhu Lal’s family lives. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

The rented house in Doyinda Kasbah in Rajsamand where Afrazul lived along with other workers. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Civil rights activists staging a demonstration at Gandhi Circle in Jaipur on December 8, 2017, demanding Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s resignation over the brutal murder of Mohammad Afrazul. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

The series of attacks on Muslims in Rajasthan, including the latest one, the murder of a migrant worker in Rajsamand, have created a climate of fear and anxiety in the minority community.

“You know, the atmosphere in Mewar was different earlier. We have seen some good times. Ab sukoon khatam ho gaya hai [There is no peace of mind now],” said 77-year-old Manzoor Hussain Haji, sitting cross-legged at the Hussaini mosque crossing in Rajsamand town. Haji did not spell it out, but his anxiety was palpable. He was referring to the recent brutal murder of a migrant worker in Rajsamand and the insecurity that minorities have begun to feel in Rajasthan. Personnel of the Rajasthan Police and black-uniformed members of the Special Task Force sat on vigil near buildings and residential areas of minorities.

On December 6, Shambhu Lal Regar hacked to death Mohammad Afrazul, a labourer from Malda in West Bengal, in broad daylight. It was a premeditated murder. He lured Afrazul on the pretext of having some work for him at a construction site. As Afrazul moved towards the site, Regar struck him from behind and then repeatedly hacked at him until he died. He then burnt the body and got the entire act videographed with the help of his nephew, a schoolgoing minor. Rajsamand had never witnessed such barbarity in recent times. The video, shot on a phone, was uploaded and widely circulated. Even small children seem to have seen it. Not stopping at murder, Regar justified his action, citing the attack as a reprisal for “love jehad”. He warned that all love jehadis would meet a similar fate.

“It is impossible to see the video. It is a heartless murder. I felt angry. I cannot imagine anyone doing such a thing,” said Madhavi Kumawat, a student from Doyinda Kasbah, the locality where Afrazul stayed with a group of fellow Bengali labourers. “They say that these Bengali labourers used to kidnap local girls and take them to Bengal. It is all nonsense.” A neighbour of Afrazul told Frontline that he was a “good man who kept to himself”. No woman was ever seen visiting the rented house where he lived. “His landlord is a Brahmin. He wouldn’t have given his house on rent to these men if they were indulging in such activities. Ten of them used to stay in one house. They cooked rice,” said the neighbour, requesting anonymity. All the migrants have left the kasbah. “They observe a 40-day mourning. Maybe they might return, maybe not. Things are not normal. This was a very bad thing to happen,” she added.

Was this a random killing or was there a motive? Was Regar deranged or was he influenced by the malignant discourse on minorities and driven to kill an innocent man who pleaded for his life all the while? These were some of the questions that were thrown up in the aftermath of the incident. Regar definitely seemed influenced by hate speeches against minorities and the propaganda surrounding love jehad, a term Hindutva groups use to allege that Muslim men lure Hindu girls with marriage with the ultimate objective of converting them.

Frontline learnt that the victim of the alleged love jehad, a young girl, was someone he knew, but it transpires that she had developed affection for one of the Bengali workers. Police sources said that Regar was on the lookout for another worker, also from the minority community, who had taken the girl with him to West Bengal, partly on her volition. She was from the same community as Regar and lived in “Regar Mohalla”, the locality inhabited by members of the Regar caste, a subgroup in the Scheduled Caste category.

“I don’t want to recall all that now. I went to Bengal in 2010. This man Shambhu Lal Regar and others are using me as an excuse. I returned on my own. He may have taken money from my mother to bring me back, but I did not return with him. My reputation is being ruined by all this,” the girl told Frontline. In her early twenties, she worked in a beauty parlour, while her mother was a construction worker. The element of coercion seemed to be distinctly missing from her narrative.

“This was a shocking incident aimed at vitiating the atmosphere. Clearly, the man was brainwashed and tutored. The girl has repeatedly denied being involved with Shambhu Lal Regar. We have formed a multi-community peace committee here in view of the prevailing tense atmosphere,” said Shakuntala Pamecha, founder and head of Mahila Manch, a Rajsamand-based women’s organisation.

Meanwhile, the gruesome video went viral on social media. A day or two after the murder, almost everyone all over the country had seen the unedited version. On December 8, organisations representing the minority community took out a protest march in Udaipur city. Around 3,000 Muslims marched peacefully, submitting a memorandum to the District Collector and demanding that action be taken against the accused. Not a stone was thrown. Within 24 hours, a message appeared mysteriously on social media that a mosque had been set on fire. The administration swung into action and shut down Internet services. “We were clear. No one will be allowed to take the law into his or her own hands,” Bishnu Charan Mullick, District Collector, told Frontline. He played an audio recording in which he had issued a warning to people not to fall prey to rumours.

Things were still simmering when Hindu outfits called for a rally in Udaipur and Rajsamand on December 14 in support of Regar. Funds also started pouring into a bank account held by Regar’s family. The account was later frozen by the administration. The administration also declined permission for the “support rally” in both the districts, imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144, and shut down Internet and mobile services. Interestingly, despite these precautionary measures and the imposition of Section 144, Hindu outfits assembled in various parts of Udaipur city, congregated near the Sessions Court premises where one of the protesters climbed up the roof and installed a flag with a Hindu religious symbol on the building.

Shockingly, several lawyers also supported this protest. There was a clash between the police and the protesters during which policepersons, including senior officials, sustained injuries. The police had earlier detained some leaders in Jaipur; some of them had given the call for the protest and circulated vituperative and communal videos on the Internet. “One Updesh Rana, who was detained in Jaipur, has many Facebook followers. Cases have been registered against him and two others, Kanhaiyalal Bagru and Lakhanpal Rana, for spreading hate messages. They also gave a call to their followers to assemble in Udaipur on December 25,” Rajendra Prasad Goyal, Udaipur Superintendent of Police told Frontline. He added that the situation was “peaceful”.

Protesters violate Section 144

Yet, the situation was far from normal. As the police arrested and detained more than 200 persons for the incident in Udaipur on December 14, there was a demand from Hindu outfits to arrest members of the minority community who had allegedly raised inflammatory slogans on December 8. “It was clearly an afterthought. Had the police found anything objectionable in what some may have said, they would have booked them then and there. It was only after cases were registered against those who violated Section 144 that a demand to arrest members of our community began. And, shockingly, the police obliged them. They took into custody 10 of our people,” said Haji Mohammad Baksh, president of the Muslim Mahasangh.

The Hindu outfits accused minority community members of raising “anti-national slogans”. A young banker, Mohammad Zuber Khan, told Frontline that the Hindu outfits had always raised slogans like “ Hindustan mein rehna hoga to Jai Shri Ram kehna hoga” (If you want to live in Hindustan, you have to chant Jai Shri Ram), but they had never been booked for such utterances. He accepted that it was possible that some youths may have raised slogans but said they were not inflammatory. “We feel genuinely anxious, scared and upset by what is happening. Things have never been like this before,” he said.

The rumour that a mosque had been burnt was circulated by non-Muslims, and the community was thankful to the administration for taking preventive measures. “We would like the government to ask these outfits what they want. It is not possible to live like this in fear, day in and day out. Kul mila ke rajniti bahut gandi chal rahi hai [politics has become very dirty],” said Mohammad Siddiqui, secretary of the Muslim Mahasangh. A “peace” rally called by the Left parties and to be led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was not allowed to proceed. “It was shocking to see lawyers participating in the protests on December 14 despite prohibitory orders,” said Rajesh Singhvi, former corporator and district committee member of the CPI(M).

Rumour mills were active despite the measures taken by the administration. There were rumours that a Hindu outfit was going to organise a protest rally on December 25, Christmas day. Though no organised protest took place, young men on bikes assembled at various places, including Chetak Circle, a prominent landmark in Udaipur. The purpose was to intimidate the minority community. Bike-borne youths accosted three young men who had gone for a photo shoot near a scenic site, asked their names, and beat them up.

Four autorickshaws were vandalised and Isaq Mohammad, one of the drivers, was grievously hurt. “I have been an autorickshaw driver for the last 25 years and use the same route every day. Never did I even dream that I would be attacked in my own city. In all these years, I have never had an argument with anyone. They could identify me [as a Muslim] as I had a beard. One of them tried to stab me with a glass shard from my own autorickshaw. It was then that I realised that they intended to kill or injure me. I ran for my life. Today is the third day after the attack and I have not earned a single rupee,” he told Frontline. The same day in Gogunda tehsil, Hindu outfits disrupted a prayer meeting in a missionary-run school, alleging that conversions were taking place. In Vagpura, near Rajsamand, someone installed an idol in a graveyard, leading to tensions. Hindu outfits took out a rally in Kakroli tehsil, forcing shops to shut down. “Things are far from normal. Many rumours are floating around. People are creating a wedge between the locals and ‘outsiders’,” said Susheela, a social activist from Mahila Manch.

The Regar colony

Caste-based segregation in residential areas of urban centres is becoming a common phenomenon, dividing people and communities even more. Mixed populations are becoming rarer by the day. The Regar colony in Rajsamand town is one such caste-specific colony where the Regars live. It is difficult to find caste Hindus living here. Shambhu Lal Regar lived in one of the many lanes of the colony with three brothers. His parents are in Gujarat where they work as stonecutters. Money is not easy to come by.

There are also two mentally disabled children in the family, one of whom is Shambhu’s daughter. She had accompanied him along with her teenaged cousin that fateful day. For the last one year, Shambhu has had no work, his family said. “He watched a lot of news on television. Of course, he knew about love jehad, especially the case involving the Kerala girl and the other instance in Kolkata. Shayad uska dimaag ghoom gaya [maybe he got mad after seeing such reports],” conjectured Sonia, his sister. Her son, who videographed the murder, will be tried under juvenile law.

“We have no idea what happened. He looked pretty normal that day also. My son had an NCC class, so Shambhu offered to take him to school. How was I to know what would happen next? When he went to Bengal to get that girl back, none of us knew about it. He said the Bengalis were threatening him, so he changed his SIM card,” said Sonia. On asking why he took interest in the case, the women in the household said that he was asked to do so by the girl’s mother. But they also said that there was another instance of one of the girls from their community eloping with a Muslim. “That was 10 years ago. Her family told her to go away. The matter was hushed up. Then three girls were taken to Bengal. The police got them back. We stopped renting out homes to Muslims thereafter,” Prakash, Shambhu Lal Regar’s brother-in-law, said.

None of this was confirmed as true by either police sources or other individuals Frontline spoke to. Ram Lal Regar, Shambhu Lal’s father, mostly stayed in Anand district in Gujarat. “How else will the family eat if I do not work? There is not much work here. The wage rates are also low. I have no idea how this happened. There are small children to feed. The police have frozen the bank account where people had put in money,” he told Frontline, weeping. Even though the Regars belong to the Scheduled Castes, there are hardly any of them in government employment.

Located around 63 kilometres from Udaipur and known for the famous Nathdwara temple, Rajsamand district, according to the Rajasthan government’s portal, is the largest marble-producing area in the country. The marble trade is controlled by the local people, a significant number of whom are Muslims. As in other parts of the country, migrants constitute a good proportion of the working population in the district.

“Bihar ka labour na aaye to kaam kaise chalega. Biharis mehnti hotey hai [If Biharis do not come, how will work get done? They are very hard-working],” Prakash told Frontline.

Yet, the feeling vis-a-vis migrants has now undergone a change. People Frontline spoke to related stray instances of migrants getting into trouble over “women” issues. The local people did not like “their women” mixing with the Biharis or the Bengalis. Vested interests are exploiting local tensions to further their agendas, economic and social, as in the case of Shambhu Lal Regar.

Wall of suspicion

A wall of suspicion is now in place. Migrants are seen as troublemakers. “There has always been a Hindu-Muslim issue here. But this was too much. Had it been a local person who was killed, who knows what the repercussion would have been?” a local preacher told Frontline. There has been a spate of attacks on minorities in the State, beginning with dairy owner Pehlu Khan’s lynching by cow vigilantes on April 1 this year. It is for the same reason that members of the Muslim community do not see Afrazul’s murder as a random, isolated attack. With the Assembly elections scheduled for later this year, and the main opposition Congress party ambivalent about taking on Hindutva outfits in the State, the sense of growing trepidation and anxiety appears justified, and with good reason.

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