On August 27, a video surfaced on social media showing a group of Hindu men ordering workers at a dosa stall in Mathura’s Vikas Market to remove the banners bearing the name of the establishment: Shrinath Dosa Corner. They ask one man why the stall had been named after a Hindu god.
“Remove it,” said the man recording the video, pointing to the banners. “Write your Allah’s name or [Prophet] Mohammad’s name, not Shrinath. A lot of Hindu brothers will think that this shop belongs to a Hindu.”
The Hindu men tugged down the posters, tore them and vandalised the stall as they chanted, “Krishna bhakt ab yudh karo, Mathura ko bhi shuddh karo.” Devotees of Krishna, be ready to fight and cleanse Mathura.
The video was widely shared, bring the attack to national attention.
After a first information report was lodged by Irfan, who runs the stall, Mathura police officials arrested one person, identified as Shrikant Sharma, reported the Indian Express,
The police claimed that Sharma was not associated with any political outfit. But The Print reported that he is the president of the Anntarashtriya Hindu Parishad, a faction of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and had claimed responsibility for the incident.
The video of the stall being vandalised was first uploaded on Facebook by a man who goes by the name of Devraj Pandit. A member of the Bajrang Dal, he works in a sari factory. Posting the video on August 18, the day of the incident, Pandit wrote that the stall vendors had been “taught a lesson”.
This is not the only assault video Pandit has uploaded on Facebook. On August 19, he published a video of an attack he conducted on a biryani vendor. In his text, he called for an ethnic “cleansing” of Muslims from India.
Pandit admitted to Scroll.in that he recorded a video of the assault on the dosa seller and was part of the group that led the attack. “We made this video so people in our society who are aware, get to know [of this],” he said over the phone. “We only put it on Facebook to tell everyone” about the attack.
He sounded triumphant about the crime. He claimed that the group tearing down the banners at the stall were acting like law enforcement officials. “It is like how an RTO [regional transport office] person stops a car to check the licence and policemen take a video as evidence,” said the 23-year-old man.
Both videos on Pandit’s page have hundreds of comments below them congratulating Pandit for the crimes.
Pandit said that the attack occurred after he and a Hindutva activist named Rakesh Mani Tripathi stopped at the market to eat as they returned from a civil court in the city where they had attended a hearing in a dispute about the land on which a mosque stands. Some Hindus claim it has been built over the birthplace of the Hindu deity Krishna.
While at Shrinath Dosa Corner, Pandit claimed he heard the vendors call each other by their names, revealing their Muslim identities.
“We only want to give our money to our Hindu brothers,” said Pandit. “We belong to the Brahmin community so we do not sit next to butcher homes and those who eat chicken. This corrupts our religion.”
He added: “Why should we eat from their hands?”
Spate of terror videos
The Mathura vandalism was part of a spate of incidents over the past few months in which working-class Muslims have been attacked while plying their trade. In many cases, videos of the crimes have been recorded and distributed by the perpetrators.
On August 22, a similar attack had taken place on another Muslim vendor in Indore: a bangle seller who was brutally assaulted by a group of Hindu men. On the next day, the police alleged that the man, identified as Tasleem Ali, had molested a minor and processed fake documents. He was booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
The attack on Ali was also recorded on video. In the video, two men dressed in saffron are seen extracting Ali’s stock of bangles from his bag, assaulting him and hurling communal slurs at him. The men called for others in the crowd to beat up the bangle-seller until Bhavesh Dangoriya intervened.
Dangoriya, a resident of the area in which the incident occurred, noticed the commotion as he was passing by. He tried to intervene. Passersby did not understand why the men were assaulting a bangle seller. “We were telling them to stop and some aunties were stopping them as well,” said the 21-year-old Dangoriya.
At the time, no one had made the claim that bangle seller had molested some women in the neighbourhood, Dangoriya said. “If there was something wrong then they should have called the police,” he said. “Lots of people were making videos [of the incident] that day.”
The wide reach of social media means that hate disseminated on WhatsApp, Facbook and the like easily encourages viewers to carry out similar, copycat acts. For instance, Pandit in Mathura told Scroll.in that he had been inspired by Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, the head priest of the Dasna Devi Temple in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh who has shot into the limelight for making bigoted statements about Muslims.
“He is my gurudev, I respect him,” said Pandit. “He is trying to save the Hindu dharam.” He discovered the priest on social media. “He is like my god,” he said. “Without him we are nothing.”
Pandit’s Facebook page has several posts praising Saraswati, including a selfie taken with the priest.
Saraswati has repeatedly called for the Muslim vendors and workers to be boycotted.
Saraswati was catapulted to fame by a billboard outside his temple stating that Muslims were barred from entering. This board came to national attention in March when Saraswati’s followers brutally attacked a teenaged Muslim boy who had drunk water from a tap in the temple premises. The incident was captured on video and was first uploaded on Instagram by a handle called Hindu Ekta Sangh.
As the video spread widely on social media, Saraswati’s following swelled. Several people rushed to the temple to support him.
But this is not the first time such hate crimes have been recorded by the perpetrators. Over the past few years, a spate of lynchings against Muslims have been recorded and shared on the internet by the attackers. Most of the videos are related to claims of cow slaughter, a communally sensitive issue, given the religious status of the animal in Hinduism.
Now, however, videos are being shot of attacks mostly on working-class Muslims doing their jobs.
“We are aware of the latest hate crimes because they are recorded by the perpetrators themselves,” journalist Samar Halarnkar wrote earlier this year on Scroll.in. “The notable feature of the daily perversions against India’s minorities is the absence of fear among these abusive, violent criminals. Outrage is minimal, as the videos go viral, and crimes are cheered on by a significant section of the middle class.”
Rajeev Yadav, general secretary of Rihai Manch, a Uttar Pradesh-based human rights advocacy group suggested in the current political climate, hate crimes are a shortcut to a political career. “If you commit a hate crime, you will become famous and be able to enter politics,” said Yadav. “This is why videos of hate crimes are shot and distributed by the accused himself. It is a career-advancement tool.”
The impact of these self-shot assault videos is significant, reaching people across the country in a matter of days. In Delhi’s Sangam Vihar neighbourhood, Scroll.in found that Muslim vendors in the markets were aware of the incidents of assault in Mathura and Indore.
However, at the same time, none of them were afraid that such incidents would take place in the capital given that the Bharatiya Janata Party is not in power in the city. They indicated that the support of the civic administration was essential for this sort of hate crime to have an impact.
“It is the capital, it is a city and [Chief Minister Arvind] Kejriwal is in power here,” said Mohammad Nayab, a 65-year-old fruit vendor who has been working in Delhi for over 20 years. “He [Kejriwal] does not support Hindutva.”
In fact, Nayab claimed that such attacks only took place in villages and small towns.
Other vendors said marketplaces were occupied by traders belonging to various faiths and that they depended on one another for their businesses to work.
“We are all working together and the only reason no one buys is because people do not have the money to spend,” said Mohammad Sohail, a poultry seller, who dispelled any concerns of a religious segregation between vendors. “In Delhi, people are safer from such incidents.”