Just under a fortnight after Muslim labourer Mohammad Afrazul was hacked to death and burnt in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand town on December 6 and a gruesome video of the crime went viral, the spotlight has shifted from the murder to a protest rally held by Muslims on December 8 in nearby Udaipur.
In addition to having a teenager record the crime, Shambhulal Regar, the man who was arrested for the murder on December 7, also shot several videos after the murder in which he expresses his hate for Muslims.
But people in the area say that an unsettling process is underway. “It appears that videos of the brutal crime committed by Shambhulal are slowly getting erased from the memories of those who are now putting the blame for the ongoing unrest on the Muslim rally,” said Mohammad Rafique, a resident of Rajsamand and secretary of the Anjuman peace-keeping committee in the district.
The unrest Rafique referred to occured on December 14 in Udaipur, when a group of young men, largely associated with Hindutva groups, battled with the police outside the district court, during which one of the protestors climbed on top of the main gateway to the court’s premises and waved a saffron flag.
Several participants of the December 14 protest told Scroll.in that their protest was a reaction to the rally organised by Muslims the previous week.
Even Regar’s family seems to be using the December 8 protest as a diversion. “What my brother has done has left the entire family in a trauma,” said Lokesh Regar, 30, the accused man’s brother. “But the case would not have become a political issue if Muslims in Udaipur had refrained from holding a rally and releasing its video. The rally’s participants chanted slogans against Hindu groups. Why would they not react?”
Nirmal Regar, 33, another brother, added: “Our brother was not a member of any [Hindutva] group nor was he under the influence of any of them. The incident came as a shock for the entire family and the video [of the protest by Muslims] which was widely circulated through WhatsApp has added to our troubles.”
Both brothers, their sister, and Shambhulal Regar’s wife and children live in Regar mohalla, a locality in Rajsamand inhabited by around 600 families of the Dalit community. While Lokesh Regar runs a small furniture shop, Nirmal Regar works as a technician in a pathology laboratory in the town. Most members of the family have been confined to their homes since news of the murder first emerged. Both brothers say they have not been to work since their older brother was arrested. There is a strong police presence in the area.
Social media fire
Following the murder, local authorities had shut down the internet in Rajsamand. Internet services resumed on December 9 but were blocked again on December 13. That day, orders prohibiting the assembly of more than four people in an area, as well as an internet shutdown were imposed in neighbouring Udaipur district too. The December 14 protest in Udaipur city, 60 km away from Rajsamand, took place despite these prohibitory orders.
Lokesh Regar said that the video of the rally held by Muslim groups was widely shared on social media between December 9 and December 12.
The one-minute-thirty-seven-seconds-long video, which this reporter has seen, shows a group of around 100 men near Chetak Circle in Udaipur shouting slogans such as “Hindustan hamara hai [India is ours],” “Narendra Modi hai hai [Down with Narendra Modi],” “Shiv Sena hai hai [Down with Shiv Sena],” “Bajrang Dal hai hai [Down with Bajrang Dal],” “Hindustan mein rehna hoga, Allah-o-Akbar kehna hoga [To live in India, you will have to chant ‘Allah is great’],” “Hindustan ka ek hi raja, mera Khwaja, mera Khwaja [Hindustan’s only ruler is my Supreme Lord],” and “Bhagwa atankwaad band karo [Stop saffron terrorism].”
Hindu protesters with whom Scroll.in spoke on Friday said that the slogans chanted during the December 8 rally insulted their community. But two of that rally’s organisers – Mohammad Khalil and Munawwar Ashraf Khan – said that they were not meant to hurt Hindu sentiments.
Khalil, a former Bharatiya Janata Party municipal councillor who is now the president of the Anjuman committee in Udaipur, admitted that all the slogans audible in the video clip were chanted at the protest, but added that they were not aimed at hurting religious sentiments. “It seems some miscreants have deliberately misinterpreted the slogans to cause unrest between Hindus and Muslims,” he said.
Khan, a lawyer, said that the slogans were not communal in nature. “It was a natural reaction to a brutal crime against a Muslim,” he said. He admitted to having heard all the slogans at the protest, except for one – “Hindustan mein rehna hoga, Allah-o-Akbar kehna hoga.”
Both said that the rally covered the 600-odd metres between the District Collector’s office and Chetak Circle in Udaipur, and they did not personally know every individual who participated.
Fear in Rajsamand, Udaipur
In Rajsamand too, the video of the December 8 protest was the talk of the town. The brutal crime has been relegated to the background.
“The media is not showing the true picture,” claimed Mohit Sharma, a resident of Rajsamand who owns an eatery in Dhoinda, the area where around 150 migrant labourers from West Bengal’s Malda district lived until they fled out of fear after the murder. The victim also lived here.
In one of the videos Regar recorded, he said that he killed Afrazul to save a woman from “love jihad”, a conspiracy theory floated by Hindutva groups accusing Muslim men of marrying Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam. The woman in question told the Indian Express: “In 2010, I went to West Bengal with one Mohammed Bablu Sheikh…We lived there for more than two years. I returned to Rajasthan in 2013 on my own. It’s a lie that Regar brought me back.”
Sharma added: “The woman…is actually lying and many residents in the city know that. Also, the Muslims have not left any opportunity to make the issue communal. The video of the Muslim rally is the main cause of unrest.”
Babu Lal Kumawat, a resident of Rajsmand who owns a tea kiosk in Dhoinda, asked why despite several alleged incidents of love jihad across the country only this particular one had caused unrest. “Why did the Muslims have to hold a rally and circulate videos?” he said. “The situation, which had been brought under control, again got disrupted by that.”
While Sharma had the video on his phone and had seen it, Kumawat said that he had heard about it from other local residents who had viewed it.
But Rafique said that the December 8 rally was just being used to suppress the crime and intimidate members of the Muslim community in Udaipur. “Muslims living in the town are in a state of severe fear and anxiety,” he said. “Rumours are doing the rounds. On Friday, there was a rumour about a dead cow being found and the situation got tense within an hour.”
Khan added that the Muslim community in the city was apprehensive following Thursday’s unrest. “Tension has gripped the Muslims localities,” he said. “Our families are in a constant fear. And the fear gets augmented whenever they see groups of men marching through our colonies, cursing Muslims.”
‘Vested interests to blame’
On Friday evening, another protest was held in Udaipur, outside the district collectorate. It was largely attended by members of Hindutva groups such as the Bajrang Dal, and held to demand the immediate release of all protestors arrested after the previous day’s action outside the district court. However, no violence was reported during the protest and no one was detained by the police.
Devendra Sachdeva, a resident of Udaipur who owns a shop outside the Paltan ki Mazjid in Chetak Circle, blamed the events of the past few days on vested interests. “No Hindu will ever benefit from a tense environment,” said Sachdeva. “There are mischief mongers from both communities who benefit by fanning a fire. I have been working outside this mosque since 1996 and no Muslim person has ever misbehaved with me. How can they suddenly become our enemies?”
But Rajendra Singh Panwar, the Udaipur district coordinator for the Bajrang Dal who was part of the December 14 protest, disagreed. “Why should Hindus be tense at all?” he said. “It was the Muslims who made it a communal issue by organising a rally and chanting anti-India slogans. They should be concerned.”