The reason for the attack, as is usual these days, was trivial – an argument over a seat on a train. The victims, as they usually are these days, were Muslim, in this case three brothers on their way home from Delhi after Eid shopping to the holy city of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday. The argument quickly escalated, as is usual these days in North India, into the religious identity of the three brothers.
A beard was pulled, the brothers and two friends were slapped and they were taunted for being beef eaters, Shabir, 23, told the Indian Express from a hospital bed. Abuse alternated with slaps until, finally, according to the first information report filed by the police, the group of 10 to 12 young Hindu men pulled out knives and stabbed the brothers and their friends. Onlookers did not intervene, but, as is usual these days, they took photos. One photo reveals a railway compartment drenched in blood. In another, 15-year-old Junaid, his callow, smooth face cradled in his brother’s lap as he lies on the platform floor of a railway station in Haryana, is dying.
India’s descent into primeval bloodletting is disturbing. This is not just because the victims are usually minorities, overwhelmingly Muslim and Dalit, reason enough to be disturbed. The spate of lynchings, almost all reported after Narendra Modi rose to power in 2014, barely registers now on the mass media, elicts little attention from the government and does not move the majority or the nation’s collective conscience.
On the day Junaid died in his brother’s arms, there was another lynching to the north, and this time the Right-wing Hindu reaction was strong – a Muslim police officer was stripped and beaten to death by a Muslim mob outside a Srinagar mosque. The murder shocked even separatists in a land brutalised by death, and they did not hesitate to say so.
On the Hindu Right, the lynching of Deputy Superintendent Mohammed Ayub Pandith was no more than a virtual stick to beat liberals:
Of course, Paresh Rawal, a Padma Shri winner and member of Parliament, had nothing to say about Junaid’s murder and has never said anything about the others that preceded it.
The lynching of minorities in North India have been marked by silence from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules all the northern states except Punjab and Delhi. The only reaction to the killing last week of a Muslim man, beaten to death by officials because he tried to stop them from photographing women defecating, came from Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who acknowledged the “demise” but little else:
Junaid’s death was met with silence from the BJP, its chief ministers and other party politicians, a common reaction. Last month, when BJP politicians were outraged over the public slaughter of a calf by Congress workers in Kerala, Alt News, a liberal news site, checked the timelines of 100 BJP politicians to see what they had said about the murder of Pehlu Khan, a 55-year-old dairy farmer who was lynched for transporting cattle in April. Not one of the 100 had reacted.
It now appears Narendra Modi’s government wants to ignore even gentle symbols of multiculturalism that involve Islam. A day after Junaid’s lynching, not one BJP minister showed up at the president’s traditional iftar at Rashtrapati Bhavan. If such regressive messaging strengthens the party’s Hindu vote bank, then Hinduism is clearly not the accommodating faith it used to be.
So elated were many on the Hindu Right by the Srinagar lynching that in the anxiousness to demonise Muslims and Kashmiris – it was the first such lynching death in the Valley – they refused to even recognise that, elsewhere, Hindus had killed yet another Muslim. This is how film-maker Ashoke Pandit reacted to the news of Junaid’s death:
Others turned a similar deaf ear to the lynching in Haryana:
The attempt to create an equivalence about these lynchings is revealing. Instead of recognising that a sickness is spreading through Hindu society, the silence grows, revealing how most Hindus – instead of standing up and saying this must not happen in our name – either choose to be ignorant, find justifications or are complicit. Many have few qualms in saying this is what Muslims deserve.
The lynchings themselves have become part of what is now known as the normalisation of hatred, the process of becoming immune or deadened to atrocity because there is so much of it. The creation of the new normal is well underway among those in India’s Hindu Right, which barely reacts to the killing of Muslims, or, if they do, find an equivalence, however bizarre:
No more unity in diversity
But this is not just about the conservative Hindu Right. What is not in evidence among most Hindus is condemnation, sympathy for those lynched or public expressions of unity with minorities. The old slogan “unity in diversity” is dead, and even Opposition politicians rarely react, obviously for fear of offending Hindu sentiment, which means it is possible that the visceral hatred of Muslims made public by the spate of lynchings is spreading.
In the United Kingdom, days after a series of terrorist attacks by Muslim terrorists, the British last week made it a point to gather in public and show solidarity with Muslims who died in an attack by a white man, who drove his van into them as they emerged from a mosque. The attack on Muslims, said Prime Minister Theresa May, a conservative, was “every bit as sickening” as other terrorist outrages.
The difference between India and other democracies is that the majority and its elected leaders in countries hit by terrorist attacks and growing anti-Muslim sentiment are quick to distinguish between Islamic terrorists and the vast majority of Muslims who lead ordinary, peaceful lives. Most of India – except Kashmir – has been free of Islamist terror attacks for some years, but the insecurity among Muslims caused by the silence of the government and the majority over the lynchings is not hard to discern. Conversations with Muslims reveal fear, alarm and a growing pressure to prove what they already are – Indian.
Back in Haryana, a BJP-ruled state where attacks by cow terrorists have never elicited official reaction or public outrage, police chief BS Sandhu had this to say about Junaid’s death: “This was a clash between two groups which resulted in the death of one person. We have already arrested one of the accused. Others too will be arrested.” He refused to acknowledge the role of religion, or that the attackers were Hindu and the victims Muslim. But that is not unusual these days.