When 17-year-old Junaid bought new clothes and was travelling home with his two brothers Hasib, 21, and Shakir, 23, to celebrate Eid with his family, images of previous such celebrations must have crossed his mind as he looked out of the window of his Delhi-Mathura train as it hurtled across the countryside towards his home in Khandawali village to his home in Faridabad district of Haryana. He would never ever have imagined that on the eve of Eid he would be stabbed a dozen times and left to bleed to death. And, that too for no ostensible reason. Junaid also would have never thought that it is possible that hundreds of people who had witnessed it in a crowded train and station would not come forward as witnesses so that the guilty can be punished. But that is the new India which we are seeing where murder of Muslims in the open is normal. And okay. It does not even get the Prime Minister to say that this is not permissible and the guilty will be severely punished.
It takes days for a Union Minister to condemn the killing. He does it only after he realizes that there are hundreds of his voters on the streets protesting in the capital of India under full media glare shouting out that the murders are not being done in their name.
This was not the India we knew or wanted to be part of. This was not the politics that millions of people wanted when they voted the BJP to power. They thought that under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the country would surge ahead economically, stamp out inflation, create jobs for the educated, root out corruption that was eating out the vitals of Indian polity and society and whip out a new dream of a new India we were fantasizing about after seeing a collapse of governance under the Congress. It was time for change. But, is this the change we wanted?
Junaid is now being passed over by Modi bhakts as a one-off incident and nothing so serious should be read into it. But truth be told, this is only the last one we know. There have been a string of murders of innocents who are all Muslims in the garb of how they were transporting cows for slaughter when they were not, consuming beef which was really some other meat and for other petty excuses. No wonder there is a pall of not only grief, but fear that hangs over Muslim houses.
Attacks on minorities seem to have become the norm. All over India, numerous Muslims have been attacked by mobs that choose to accept rumours and whatsapp messages for the truth and go around killing innocents who they suspect have consumed beef. Mohammad Akhlaq was resting when a mob invaded his Dadri home in Delhi’s backyard in Dadri and lynched him to death as they suspected he had stored beef at home. This was in September 2015. The murders have been very brutal. Mohammed was first bludgeoned with a sewing machine and then his body was dragged across the street to be dumped.
In another case, 16-year-old Zahid Rasool Bhat who was in the tenth standard, succumbed to injuries sustained during a petrol bomb attack on the truck he was riding in Udhampur, by a mob that suspected him of transporting beef in October the same year. Zahid was the first member of his family who had managed to reach the portals of a high school.
Elsewhere, many others have been killed in the name of cow protection in Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Assam. Think about it. Would you ever have thought of something like this happening in a state like Assam? Or even Uttar Pradesh which has a huge Muslim population? One does not know when and where mobocracy is going to take over. The emboldened mobs now know that they will not be punished. As we have seen, there are no witnesses to the crime. No one killed Junaid.
It is this reality that should worry all of us. Where are we heading to as a society? Hinduism has survived down the ages only because of its inherent strengths of being a deep holistic philosophy and not a radical religion. Tolerance was the fulcrum that made it strong enough to withstand numerous ravages down the centuries. But today, we have been affected by an opacity that should worry us. We do not see the lynching of an innocent Muslim boy as something we need to stand up and stop. Or be a witness to ensure that such crimes do not occur again. How can there be no witnesses in a crowded railway station where Junaid’s body was flung out with his two seriously injured brothers?
Delhi based documentary film maker Sabiha Farhat, who attended protest meetings at Jantar Mantar, said: “Indian Muslims have always been let down by politicians , maulanas and Muslim League and this is proven by the socio economic conditions that the community is in. But what is happening now is that Muslims have been let down by their friends, neighbours, colleagues, bosses, juniors, passengers, helpers ...everyone. There is total dehumanisation of Muslims. It is as if Muslims are not humans, they are some stray, diseased animals who need to be eliminated lest they contaminate rest of the society. The mob lynchings are normalised in the name of religion. I have heard too many justifications of mob lynchings to counter. If this is Hindutva then what is murder?”
Adds Kubra Fatima, a Pune based student: “Labelling these incidents as isolated is cold and callous as it takes away the fact that a human life has been lost in a religious frenzy. We have reached a stage where we question the forensic results of meat that shows that it was not that of a cow or how someone was actually murdered because of his or her religion.”
Communal polarization helped the BJP dig in deep roots in Gujarat. It found that it works in Uttar Pradesh-the Muzaffarnagar riots were responsible for the division of votes that helped the BJP in the polls. Polarization again helped in Assam where the issue of Bangladeshi migrants creating demographic changes was underlined. Kerala which has always seen communal peace is now witnessing communal divisions as the BJP targets south India. A party that is confident and has a vision for India as they claim should be using good governance as a tool to win and not isolating and attacking minorities.
Well-known Delhi based author Mariam Karim Ahlawat told Indian Currents: "My greatest fear is that the people who attack and lynch others are not sane of mind. They are unstable. It is not normal for a person who isn’t a habituated killer to suddenly be able to batter another human being to death! This frenzy, this perverted insanity, which is evident in other areas such as gang-rape cum murder and road rage, is symptomatic of a mental instability in the population. Today it may be Muslims; tomorrow it will be someone else. The desire to pound to death another human being is an abnormal desire in an apparently civilized society."
As there is no law in the Indian Penal Code that deals with lynching, it is easy for the oppressor to get away. There is no easy answer on why our lawmakers have not thought of it as lynching has been going on for as long as one can remember in cases of women who are branded witches. In the absence of a codified law, it becomes difficult to deliver justice and those who are among the blood thirsty mobs targeting minorities know this.
We have watched with horror in the last few years how our public institutions are being systematically eroded and destroyed and how points of view are being thrust on them. Of how right wingers are being appointed in crucial positions which have educational, social and cultural ramifications. The space for open discourse is rapidly shrinking and if you think differently from the powers that be, you are either branded anti-national or are attacked physically or trolled on social media. We are told how to think and what to not have on our plate for dinner. If you are in love with someone from another religion, watch out as your life is in peril. Are the danger signals for the future not fluttering violently in the wind? Or are some of us looking the other way to pretend that other’s imaginations are running wild?
But, there is a faint ray of hope.
Celebrated documentary film maker Saba Dewan triggered off a social media campaign on Facebook against the lynching of Junaid. It led to protest marches in around twenty major cities and towns across India. Muslim teenager has spawned a powerful online campaign, leading to protest marches being held in five cities across the country. Holding placards screaming, “Not in My Name”, protesters tried to underline that there are many in India who do not approve of the mobocracy running riot killing innocents in the name of religion. Dewan said that the campaign aimed to “reclaim the Constitution" and "resist the onslaught" on the right to life and equality. Says Mumbai based marketing consultant Josraj Arakkal: “'We Indians adhere to the core value- ‘Sarva Dharma, Sama Bhaav’. What is happening today is such a shame. I think a 'not in my name' campaign is just a beginning of a public show of anger but it might not be enough to get our society cured of this cancer of intolerance that is spreading. We have to take responsibility for what is happening in the country. Sorry, Junaid. As a society, we have let you down.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom which tracks religious freedom worldwide, pointed out in a report that religious minorities in India were exposed to "derogatory" comments by leaders of the ruling BJP as well as "violent attacks and forced conversions by the RSS and VHP" since the Modi government took over in 2014. It said that Hindu nationalist groups were offering monetary inducements to Muslims and Christians for converting to Hinduism.
The report said that religious minorities in India frequently accused RSS, VHP and other Hindu nationalist groups and individuals of intolerance, discrimination and violence against them. It said that local police seldom provided protection to the minorities, refusing to file complaints and rarely investigating them.
The report pointed out that prosecution and trial of communal cases was slow in India. "The Indian courts are still adjudicating cases stemming from large-scale Hindu-Muslim communal violence in Uttar Pradesh in 2013 and in Gujarat in 2002," it said.
Eid will never be the same again for Jalauddin and his family. Some memories refuse to go away. He may want time to heal his mental trauma of having lived to see the day his son Junaid was murdered. His murder will always cast a long ominous shadow on Eid every year.
(The writer is a senior Delhi based journalist. He was formerly an Associate Editor of India Today. He got the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism.)(Published on 03th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 27)