Communal attacks

After teen is lynched on train, young men from his village are afraid of looking ‘too Muslim’

Faridabad’s Khandawli village is still trying to make sense of the brutal attack on Junaid and his brothers on Thursday evening.

“These are the rules of combat – if the men are bigger, if they outnumber you, the best solution is to run,” Krishna, 16, told his brother Balram.

“But Junaid and his brothers did try to run, bhai,”said Balram, 15. “Those men wouldn’t let them get off the train.”

Krishna fell silent. He had studied in the same class as Junaid in junior school, and the two became friends over their shared love of volleyball. After Junaid left Khandawli village in Faridabad, on the outskirts of Delhi, to study at a madrassa in Surat, they met less frequently, exchanging small talk when they did. But they still made sure to play at least one game of volleyball every year.

Last week, with Ramzan drawing to a close, Junaid came home from Surat. It was to be a special Eid. He and his brother Hashim had learnt to recite the Quran by heart, and as a reward, his parents had given them money to go to Old Delhi and buy themselves new clothes.

A few hours after Junaid, Hashim, their bother Shaqir, cousin Moeen, and friend Mohsin set out from home on Thursday, Krishna and the young men of Khandawli began to receive WhatsApp messages that showed Junaid’s stripped and bloodied corpse on a railway platform. The images of his body, and then a video of train’s compartment, drenched in blood, were forwarded without comment or explanation.

The men were only able to piece the story together once Junaid’s cousin, Shakeel, went to Delhi and called them to relay the news. As the boys were taking the train home in the evening from Delhi to Faridabad, an altercation over a seat had turned violent. A group of men had attacked Junaid and the others. Junaid suffered multiple stab wounds and died. Hashim and Shaqir were admitted to a hospital in New Delhi.

“If I had been on the EMU [Electrical Multiple Unit train], I would have taught those men a lesson,” Krishna said. “I’m not surprised the crowd didn’t help, a crowd is loyal to no one, especially when there is a knife involved.”

Neighbours gather outside Junaid's home in Khandawli in Faridabad on Friday. Photo credit: Ravi Choudhary/HT Photo
Neighbours gather outside Junaid's home in Khandawli in Faridabad on Friday. Photo credit: Ravi Choudhary/HT Photo

‘Anti-social elements’

On the eve of Eid, at the heart of the village, Junaid’s parents were separated from each other in their grief, each consumed with private regret at having sent their sons to the city. His mother, Saira, sat stunned with shock, silent in a dark, closed room full of wailing women. Men streamed into the mosque to see his father, Jalaluddin, discussing the health of his surviving sons, the lack of government response, and whether the police had made any progress in finding the criminals.

Outside these demarcated spaces of mourning, on street corners and charpais in the shade, there was confusion, anger and sadness among the young men of the village.

Surrounded by the sprawl of Faridabad, Khandawli is a mere hour away from the National Capital. Its residents, the majority of whom are Muslim, travel to Delhi every day to attend college and work as telecom engineers, tele-marketers, drivers, or sit in the offices of the Delhi Jal Board.

The New Delhi Metro’s violet line stops at Escorts Munjesar, a station few kilometres short of Ballabhgarh district, in which Khandawli is located. But for most residents of the village, the EMU is a cheaper option – tickets cost between Rs 10 to Rs 12, while a Metro ticket to Old Delhi from Escort Munjesar is Rs 50. This, the men reasoned, was probably why Junaid and his brothers had chosen to travel on the EMU to get to Old Delhi.

But the EMU’s cheap seats come at a price: the train has no reserved seats, is usually at least ten to 20 minutes late, and is crowded with the kind of people Khandawli’s residents described as “anti-social elements” from the neighbouring Palwal district – “Men who gamble, smoke and regularly abuse everyone,” said Shakeel, Junaid’s cousin.

He explained: “One time I took my younger sister on the EMU and realised how unsafe it was. After that I just started avoiding it altogether…maybe Junaid didn’t know, or maybe he forgot.”

Junaid’s brother Hashim, and his father, Jalaluddin. Photo credit: Ravi Choudhary/HT Photo
Junaid’s brother Hashim, and his father, Jalaluddin. Photo credit: Ravi Choudhary/HT Photo

The reason his brothers were attacked, Shakeel realised later, had nothing to do with a shortage of seats. It was only when Shakeel heard Hashim recount everything that he realised the fight was an “identity attack”.

“The men pulled his cap off his head and threw it on the floor, they pulled at Hashim’s beard, called them circumcised, cow-eaters, Pakistanis,” he said. “All words to attack our faith.”

On their way home to Khandawli, Junaid and his brothers had been carrying the new clothes, perfume and shoes they had bought in Old Delhi for Eid, but no beef. In fact, Hashim had made no mention of beef in his statement from the hospital, apart from recounting all the slurs the crowd had used against him and his brother.

Shakeel was still in shock at losing Junaid, when he first saw the news stories about what happened on the EMU. The story in the nation’s widest-read daily had transformed the violent assault and lynching of his brother into a scuffle over “beef” – as if that somehow justified his death.

"There's never been a communal incident in our village," said Ajaz, a 30-year-old resident of Khandawli. Photo credit: Nishita Jha
"There's never been a communal incident in our village," said Ajaz, a 30-year-old resident of Khandawli. Photo credit: Nishita Jha

‘Our murders have become routine’

In Khandawli, no one believes the news channels anymore.

“Who told you the man that killed Junaid was drunk?” the crowd demanded. “Which channel was it?”

Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter – Khandawli’s residents believe all forms of social media are more trustworthy than the news channels. In fact, they blame the mainstream news media for the rise in hate crimes against Muslims.

“We thought Times Now was keeping Arnab Goswami under control, but now they are even worse,” said Shabir Khan, a 32-year-old clerk. “No one does ground reporting anymore. All the channels want is to put beef on their ticker, call [Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson] Sambit Patra for a discussion and then move on to the next dead Muslim. The papers follow that same route.”

Said the murdered boy’s brother, Shakeel: “The man who killed my brother was not drunk. None of my brothers ever said anything about him being drunk. This is just something his lawyers are cooking up, and the media is running with the story, like they did about the rumours of beef.”

Mohammed Asruddin, a college student who was visiting home from Sonepat, asked why the media treated the murders of Muslims as exceptional events when they had actually become routine. “Has the media not noticed that there are Muslims being killed everyday?” Asruddin asked. “Why does no one link these deaths – Mohammed Akhlaq [who was lynched by a mob near the town of Dadri in Uttar Pradesh district in September 2015 after rumours that he had beef stored in his fridge], Pehlu Khan [a cattle trader who was beaten to death by a mob in Rajasthan in April], that boy in Jharkhand, the imam in Madhya Pradesh, now Junaid? Why don’t our names ever come on Narendra Modi’s Twitter, or his radio address?”

"The truth is, most of us have not been able to sleep since we saw the photographs of Junaid's body," said Mohammed Asruddin. "It is hard to think of celebrating Eid under the circumstances." Photo credit: Nishita Jha
"The truth is, most of us have not been able to sleep since we saw the photographs of Junaid's body," said Mohammed Asruddin. "It is hard to think of celebrating Eid under the circumstances." Photo credit: Nishita Jha

Words on the wall

Between the Metro stations of Old Faridabad and Escorts Munjesar, graffiti marks every metro pillar: “Jai Gurudev, turn vegetarian, give up eggs, meat and fish”, “Jai Gurudev, only animals eat animals”, “Jai Gurudev, save the cows”, “Jai Gurudev, make the cow our national animal”.

Khandawli’s residents say the graffiti has only appeared sometime in the last three years.

“Of course no one denies that there is Islamophobia in the world,” Shakeel said, dismissing the graffiti with a wave of his hand. “But not here, we are so close to Delhi, here no one has the time to think like this.”

Not everyone agreed. “Do you know what Negative Hinduism is?” Asruddin Khan asked, before going on to answer his own question: “Don’t worry, most Hindus don’t either – they don’t read their own books properly. It’s from MS Golwalker’s Bunch of Thoughts.”

When he first joined the Deen Bandhu Chhote Ram University of Science and Technology, Asruddin said he had heated debates on religion and politics with a classmate who wanted to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Much like young Junaid could recite the Quran verbatim, in college, Asruddin learnt Golwalker’s Bunch of Thoughts, a book explaining the RSS’s ideology by heart.

“Golwalker says ‘Some Hindus, are not Hindus not out of conviction, but out of reaction.’” Asruddin continued his mini-lecture, as young men gazed at him with a mixture of fascination and exasperation.

“In Bunch of Thoughts, RSS workers approach a Hindu leader demanding ban on cow slaughter. Their leader says: ‘What is the use of preventing the slaughter of useless cattle? Let them die.’ But then he agrees and says, okay, if you want my signature because Muslims are bent on cow-slaughter and we should make this an issue, I’ll give you my signature.’”

He went on: “What Golwalker tells us is that there are certain Hindus who protect the cow not because the cow is sacred to them, but because the Muslims kill it. This is Hinduism born out of reaction, a kind of ‘negative Hinduism’ It is in the RSS’s own book!”

Shabir Khan shook his head impatiently. “These are old ways of thinking,” he said. “Once the Metro comes here to Ballabhgarh, we will all be safer.”

Apart from the sites of public mourning, Khandawli village bore a deserted look after Junaid's death on the train. Photo credit: Nishita Jha
Apart from the sites of public mourning, Khandawli village bore a deserted look after Junaid's death on the train. Photo credit: Nishita Jha

Asruddin disagreed. On his daily Metro ride to Saket in South Delhi, he said he frequently got strange looks. People would refer to him as a “mullah” within earshot, refuse to share seats with him.

Since Junaid’s death, the boys in the village received worried phone calls every half hour, usually from elderly relatives dispensing advice: if someone slaps you, walk away. If someone tries to pick a fight, or insults you, just ignore them.

“Don’t lose your cool if someone comments on your cap or beard,” Shakeel’s mother told him, “I know you are hungry, and the weather is bad, but remember the point of your roza – it is restraint. Stay calm.”

Others, like Asad have been considering changing their appearance to look “less Muslim” – not wearing their skullcaps outside the village, or shaving off their beards, leaving the house as little as possible. Everyone looks uneasy when Asruddin points out that a simple “salaam” on the phone could give them away.

“That is how hate wins, isn’t it” Asruddin said. “They have managed to make anyone with a beard and a skull cap seem like the enemy. If I cannot wear what I want, pray in peace and go where I like, then how is this country independent?”

He took his beeping phone out of his pocket. On the line was his mother.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.