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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 1 New Delhi December 23, 2017 - Annual Number

Barbaric Throttling of India’s Dream and Voice in the Killing of Afrazul

Sunday 24 December 2017

by Arun Srivastava

It would be purely naive to believe the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, expressing grief at the brutal killing of the migrant labourer Mohammad Afrazul and saying that he was extremely pained at the heart-rending murder of the Muslim labourer in Rajasthan.

It is not that Afrazul, who was killed on December 6 by a Hindutva fanatic, was the first victim of such brutal and heinous crime being perpetrated against Love-Jihad. Ever since Modi came to power and occupied the chair of the Prime Minister the Hindu vigilantes have going berserk and turned violent. They indulge in criminal activities fearlessly.

Though on some occasions Modi had cautioned them to refrain from such activities, the vigilantes refused to listen to his counselling as this was purely an eyewash to deceive the people of the country. The appeal from Modi lacked sincerity and honesty. Through his actions at no point of time did he try to send the message that he was not the Prime Minister of “the Hindus of the entire nation†but the Prime Minister of the people of India.

There are two aspects of expressing concern associated with a killing. The first is to portray the grief and the second is to condemn the crime. Modi articulated his sorrow but refrained from using hard words to condemn the act and assure deterrent action against the culprit. He knew that his condemning the misdemeanour of the saffron activist of killing Afrazul and then burning him would alienate the Hindutva activists from him. Already some RSS activists and cadres are angry with him for pulling them up in public. They know that Modi did not mean what he said, but what they really desired was a golden silence on the part of Modi.

In the video of the killing, that has already become viral on social media, the saffron goon is seen declaring he killed Afrazul to save a woman from “Love-Jihad†and warning that anyone challenging the majority community would “meet the same fate†.

This was not for the first time that the Prime Minister maintained a deliberate silence on the killing of Afrazul. He did not utter a single word on the brutal assassination of Mohammed Akhlaq, Hafiz Junaid and Ummar Khan. This posture and approach of Modi makes it explicit that under his rule the Muslims are being targeted because of their faith and the government lauds those who nurture such thinking. It is worth mentioning that Akhlaq was lynched in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly storing beef in 2015. Junaid was killed on a train by a mob that hurled communal slurs at him. Ummar Khan was shot dead allegedly by cow vigilantes in Rajasthan in November.

From the Dadri lynching incident to the most recent one at Udupi in Karnataka, a look at ‘cow vigilantism’ across the country makes clear that every killing has a well-planned design and plot. If the killing of the three—Akhlaq, Junaid and Ummar—was gruesome, the brutal elimination of Afrazul was heinous. He was killed for no fault of his. The killing also portrays the mental frame of the Hindutva activists. For them India is probably a banana state where terror and violence rule.

The brutal killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri on September 28, 2015 by angry villagers highlighted the seriousness of mob attacks in the name of cow protection. The Dadri incident, however, was not the first. May 2015 saw Abdul Qureshi in Rajasthan meet his end after he was beaten brutally for selling meat. There is a unique feature of the attacks against Muslims in India. The vigilantes have been carrying out their murderous operations only in the States where the BJP is in power. This clearly manifests their sense of security; they are sure that the State Government was their protector as no law enforcing agency would lay its hand on them. Had it not been case, they would not have resorted to such large scale violence.

Ever since the Narendra Modi Government came to power in 2014, beef eating and cow protection have been the most highly debated topics across India. Cow vigilantism gained widespread media spotlight in September 2015 after a 60-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri for allegedly possessing beef. However, forensic reports later revealed that he had in fact possessed mutton, not beef.

Though Rajasthan has emerged as the rogue State where the criminals and vigilantes rule the roost, the situation in the southern States is no better. Since 2010, 78 cow-related hate crimes have been reported across India, 97 per cent of these after 2014. This massive rise in hate crimes in India, particularly in Rajasthan, is a matter of concern for civilian safety. Abbas who was travelling back home after buying bulls from Haryana was allegedly fired upon by the Gau Raksha Dal members on April 5, 2016. A month later, the CBI ordered a probe into his murder.

On April 1, 2017, Pehlu Khan and at least four others were injured when a mob attacked nearly 15 persons hailing from Haryana, while transporting cows in vehicles on the Behror highway in Alwar district, the police said. As many as 16 people were allegedly transporting 36 bovine animals illegally in six pick-up vans.

Afrazul was killed for allegedly having relations with a Hindu woman. What is of significance is that the marauder at no stage claimed that he had sexual relationship with the woman. Since he was a mason he must be meeting and interacting with a large number of people. Moreover during his stay in Rajasthan no such accusation was levelled against him. If he was a lecherous person that must have been noticed long back. It is indeed very difficult to hide such intentions.

The intention of the Hindutva goon became crystal-clear from the words he was uttering while killing Afrazul. The entire action plan was planned meticulously, purely with the aim of terrorising the Muslims. It would not be an exaggeration to say that such actions enjoyed the tacit support of the government. If the Prime Minister was really serious not to allow such incidents to repeat, then he should have asked the State governments to instruct their respective police forces to act decisively. Even the Home Minister was non-committal in giving assurance to the country, and particularly to the Muslims, that they are safe in India, their country. But that never happened. Though both the leaders never openly encouraged, they provided covert support by maintaining a passive silence. Their body language and their flaccid silence clearly conveyed the message that they firmly subscribe to the ideological line of their mentor, the RSS, that Muslims are not Indians.

In a normal manner Modi should have told the people, especially his Hindutva brigade, not to doubt the honesty of Muslims or call them Pakistanis. But that did not happen. He never counselled them nor rebuked them for their actions.

No doubt Afrazul represented the marginalised section of the Indian society. Marginalised people, or the proletariat, are always vulnerable. They are always subjected to tyrannies and feudal oppressions. But in the case of Afrazul it was not the marginalisation or any class element that provoked the marauder to kill him. Instead it was purely an act of communal violence.

Unfortunately the media presented Afrazul as the worst villain. According to the media, he was not a victim of reckless communal violence. The media describing Afrazul as a migrant labourer would not lessen the nature of the crime. Of course, it would to a great extent exonerate Modi and his government of targeting the Muslims.

Afrazul, a middle-aged migrant labourer from Malda in West Bengal, was subjected to unspeakable violence and then set on fire by the killer, who threatened that all those who carry out “Love-Jihad†will be punished. No one sought to validate the veracity of the fact. The mediamen covering the incident could have done this. But in such cases they prefer to follow in the footsteps of the babus of the Secretariat. For them, Raje’s press handout is the holy document which is above questioning and expressing doubt. Had it not been the case, Rajasthan would not have seen such a large number of Muslim killings.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the pathological hatred against Muslims that has been ingrained in the Indian media, especially the electronic media, by the RSS and BJP leaders do not allow them at all to see the horror Muslims are subjected to by the nationalist and Hindutva vigilantes. What is really a matter of abject shame is that the media has been deliberately painting the Muslims as perpetrators of crime and as Hindu hater pro-Pakistanis. In recent months some Hindus too have been arrested for supporting the Muslim terrorists. Now will these vigilantes feel ashamed at being Hindus?

Though there has been a common perception of the media being Centrist in outlook and character, its real face of being feudal and communal surfaced only after the BJP came to power. We had noticed in the seventies how the media played down the attack and oppression of the landed gentry and their militia on the Dalits and Harijans. Instead of presenting the real reasons behind the gruesome killings, the most candid example had been the Belchi massacre which was presented as a war between two criminals; they have been giving a nasty criminal turn. Their narratives always served the class interest of the feudal lords.

In recent times every action of the BJP and Modi Government was described as a major boost to nationalism. It is really a matter of shame that any criticism of the BJP’s or RSS’s slogan of ultra-nationalism was described by the media as anti-national and pro-Pakistani. The worst has been the stance and attitude of some of the TV channels. It cannot be denied that they served the interest of the BJP-RSS and performed the task of being the vanguard of their model of Hinduism and Hindutva. Recall the manner in which an anchor of a TV channel would try to force his words in the mouth of the representatives of other parties and accuse them of being anti-national.

There is no doubt that the threat is aimed at the minority community to which Afrazul belonged. The alleged murderer, Shambhulal Regar, though has been arrested, there is little doubt that the police will eventually release him as had happened in some other cases; the guilty were not prosecuted notwithstanding the police having enough evidence. This is, of course, not the first time that a member of the minority community has been killed on specious grounds. In Rajasthan alone, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power, there have been at least seven known lynchings since 2015, including that of the dairy farmer, Pehlu Khan. The men accused of lynching him were let off.

It is quite intriguing why the marauder recorded the entire operation and uploaded the video on the internet. This he did without any fear that the clip might be used as evidence against him. This simply underlines the damn care attitude of such elements towards the police. They are aware that the police under Modi rule is on their side and obviously no power on earth could harm them. These killings are of extra-judicial nature. Obviously Modi and the Rajasthan Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje, have actively connived in the killing as they did not condemn the murders and direct the police to act decisively.

Afrazul had a wife and three daughters in Bengal. Now under the existing backdrop would Modi and Raje come forward to adopt these four heads? His wife’s version is quite important: “He was the breadwinner of our family. God knows how I will be able to deal with the situation now. I am unable to do any work due to my physical condition.â€

It is a matter of utter shame that Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has been found to dilute the nature of crime and it was with this aim that he denied that the killing was a case of Love-Jihad while in the video the murderer openly claims it. It is really disgusting that Naqvi was trying to protect the image of the party. Addressing a general body meeting of the Maulana Azad Education Foundation he claimed that “some sick people†were trying to disturb the communal harmony prevailing in society. He had a sermon for the protestors: “crimes should not be clubbed with religion†. Instead of asking his goons to refrain from such activities, he was asking the people not to object to such inhumane butcheries. Significantly, the Inspector General of Udaipur, Anand Srivastava, said the accused was also seen shouting at the victim in the video. “An investigation is on and the matter is being probed for further details,†he added. The killer, Shambhulal Regar, seen with an axe in the video claimed that he will punish all those engaged in “Love-Jihad†.

Meanwhile this brutal assassination has unnerved the people from the Christian community as well. Some church leaders have alleged that Right-wing Hindu groups are behind the attacks and have expressed fears that they have been emboldened after the election victory last year of the Hindu nationalist BJP, led by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

It is quite interesting to note that Modi, who is not tired of claiming that former US President Barack Obama was his friend, has not cared to follow the latter’s advice. Just ahead of stepping down Obama spoke against religious intolerance in India during a visit to the country, saying that India’s future success would depend on it, not splintering along religious lines. His remarks were widely reported and picked up by the Opposition parties to attack the government and its perceived lack of action. But these did not have any impact on Modi as he refrained from initiating measures to put a stop to such incidents.

Obama, the first African American President of the US, said he had emphasised the need for religious tolerance and the right to practice one’s own faith during closed door talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his trip to India in 2015. Asked about Modi’s response when he emphasised the need for religious tolerance and the right to practice one’s own faith, Obama said he would not like to share the details.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]gmail.com

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