This photograph of two murdered teens should disturb an India that has normalised hate

Revulsion fatigue is evident, although cow-related hate crimes have risen 10-fold since 2014.

Take a close look at the photograph. I know it is disturbing, but you should be disturbed. It is not a photograph you will see on the front pages of newspapers and on your television screens, not because it is disturbing but because it does not matter very much in modern India if two young Muslim men are lynched for no other reason than the fact that they were transporting cows.

The skinny teenagers were Anwar Hussein and Nazrul Sheikh, and once the life was beaten out of them on August 27, the police deposited their bodies at a rural hospital in the town of Dhupgiri in North Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district. They were both 19 years old. Hussein was Assamese and Sheikh Bengali. They had bought seven cattle and were stopped by villagers supposedly agitated by recent incidents of cattle-rustling when they lost their way. The mob demanded Rs 50,000 for safe passage, and when the teens said they did not have so much money, they were beaten to death, The Hindu reported.

It is easy to be disturbed in India these days, particularly if you notice how readily Indians will beat, maim and kill in the name of the gentle cow and Hinduism, a religion once known for its liberal, accommodating philosophy. You may not have heard of Hussein and Sheikh, but it is likely you have heard of Gauri Lankesh, the crusading anti-Hindutva journalist who was shot dead in Bengaluru on Tuesday. We do not know who killed Lankesh, whom I had known for 25 years, but while many believe the murderers came from the growing ranks of India’s intolerant people, that is not yet clear. The death of crusaders like Lankesh is particularly unsettling because it is so close to home, and the national attention her murder received is no less than it should be, whatever the reason.

But away from that national spotlight, India is clearly sliding into not just intolerance but murderous intolerance and fading memory, made worse because each dawn – instead of bringing hope – normalises the hate that lies beneath. That is why the killing of Hussein and Sheikh, whose deaths should have become an issue of national debate in a normal democracy, registered as no more than numbers on a database that we maintain at It records bovine-related violence, and as the table below reveals, there has been an exponential rise in such hate crimes.

There were three incidents in 2014, the year Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party won India. Nine months into 2017, such hate crimes have risen more than 10-fold. The police do not register such crimes as stemming from hate because India does not categorise them as such, so there is no official record available.

The coming of the night

As with the deaths of Hussein and Sheikh, there are many incidents that have faded into the night of dying memory. Any society that lives with such a growing tide of hate crime is vulnerable to outrage and revulsion fatigue. That fatigue has settled deeply on India. You may recognise some names on the database, such as Mohammed Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Junaid Khan, because they briefly came to national attention. As the number of crimes rises, the attention fades.

So, Hussein and Sheikh are statistics, regarded with as little interest as we might a road accident. This is why it is important we remember, as the former bureaucrat Harsh Mander wants us to with his caravan of love, Karwan-e-Mohabbat, now winding its way across the scenes of hate crimes and homes of victims – almost all Muslim and some Dalit – that India would rather forget. Mander and his small band of wanderers recall in detail the brutality of some crimes, as they did last week in describing how two young Muslims were not just murdered but mutilated while being put to death in Nagaon, Assam, on April 30.

“We had a heart-rending meeting with the families of two cousins Riyaz and Abu Hanif who were lynched in Nagaon,” wrote Mander in his first dispatch from their travels. “They were both teenagers fishing in a nearby non-Muslim village, where on the rumour that they were cow thieves, they were lynched to death by a mob, who also badly mutilated their bodies. Their parents are still inconsolable that their eldest sons were killed by their neighbours, and with such cruelty.”

His subsequent dispatches from other lynching sites reveal disquietingly similar patterns of what he calls “communal rationalisations” by villagers and former friends, often known to the victims all their lives. In Giridh, Jharkhand, he tells us of Usman Ansari, an old man who still lives in fear and hiding, the bones in his hand still crushed, the scalp still bearing wounds of the day his neighbours beat him into unconsciousness, took him for dead and set his home on fire on June 28. He is alive only because a young district collector accompanied by the police stopped the mob from setting him on fire. Ansari was unconscious for eight days and stayed in hospital for months.

Usman Ansari, who was beaten by a Hindu lynch mob, taken for dead and his house burned down, at an undisclosed location in Jharkhand. He was rescued by the police just as he was about to be burned. (Credit: John Dayal)
Usman Ansari, who was beaten by a Hindu lynch mob, taken for dead and his house burned down, at an undisclosed location in Jharkhand. He was rescued by the police just as he was about to be burned. (Credit: John Dayal)

At a village meeting, Mander and his travelling companions faced the same hostility they did in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, at the former home of Mohammed Akhlaq. “Our arguments appealing to justice, and to even elementary humanity, only led to anger and hostility... no compassion, no contrition of any kind,” wrote Mander on day three.

There was some contrition evident from older residents at their next stop in Ramgarh, Jharkhand, where coal trader Amiluddin Ansari was done to death on a busy street on June 27, the lynch mob laughing as the bloodied man pleaded for mercy as the life was beaten out of him, “as though this was a sport, a reality television show or a video game”. Mander recalls how town elders agreed they should not have remained silent after Ansari’s murder.

As neighbour turns on neighbour, lynch mobs get pleasure from their cowardly, vicious work and the majority of Hindus stays silent, it is evident that India would rather overlook – or ignore – the things it should never forget.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.