With three Muslim men beaten and made to chant Jai Shri Ram in the central Maharashtra city of Aurangabad, the slogan has now been forced on Muslims nine times since Narendra Modi’s government was re-elected two months ago, according to Hate Crime Watch, a FactChecker database that tracks violence motivated by religious bias.
From 2009 to date, there have been 13 incidents – all since 2016 – in which Muslim victims were forced to chant Jai Shri Ram, the database showed.
The most recent attacks in India’s richest state, by gross state domestic product, occurred over three days in Aurangabad, a tourist district where 30% of the population is Muslim.
On July 19, in the Aurangabad neighbourhood of Muzaffarnagar, a mob of at least 10 men attacked 27-year-old Imran Ismail Patel, a waiter at a hotel who was returning home from work on his motorcycle. The men allegedly took away the keys to Patel’s motorbike and forced him to chant Jai Shri Ram.
Two days later, on July 21, less than 5 km away at Azad Chowk, four men, now arrested, threatened 23-year-old Sheikh Amer and his 26-year-old friend Sheikh Naser with a beating, if they did not chant Jai Shri Ram. They did but were beaten anyway, Amer said in a first information report filed with the CIDCO police station the next day.
Amer has now complained to the district magistrate that the Aurangabad police have taken away his mobile phone – essential to his job as a food-delivery man for Zomato – and are pressuring him to water down his original statement.
With these cases, Maharashtra – set to go to the state assembly elections in three months – has now recorded three hate crimes motivated by religious bias this year, bringing the nationwide count to 23, according to Hate Crime Watch data.
On June 22, cab driver Faisal Usman Khan was beaten and forced to chant Jai Shri Ram by some men passing by, as he tried to fix his car in the Western Maharashtra town of Diva in Thane district.
Over a decade to 2019, Hate Crime Watch has recorded 300 hate crimes motivated by religious bias. Of 23 hate crimes recorded nationwide this year, Muslims, 14% of the population, were victims in 82.6% of cases; Christians, 2% of the country’s population, were victims in 4.3% of cases; and Hindus, 79.8% of the population, were victims in 13% of cases.
Up to 92% – that is, 276 cases of a total of 300 – hate crimes were reported after May 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party first came to power.
About 89% – that is, 16 cases of a total of 18 – hate crimes motivated by religious bias in Maharashtra from 2009 to date were reported after May 2014, when the BJP came to power at the Centre and then the state. Muslims, 11.5% of the population, were victims in 50% of hate crimes.
In the July 21 case, victims Amer and Naser alleged they were accosted by a group of four men riding in a Hyundai Creta in Azad Chowk. The driver of the vehicle called them over to him and forced them to chant Jai Shri Ram, the victims said in their FIR to the CIDCO police against unknown persons. They obeyed but were beaten anyway, they said.
FactChecker has a copy of this FIR, which also mentions the license plate number of the vehicle used by the group. The crime was caught on CCTV cameras installed nearby, India Today reported on July 22.
Now, Amer has alleged that the police are trying to deny the attack.
“After I filed an FIR, [the police] arrested four culprits and later released them on bail,” he said in his letter to the Aurangabad magistrate. “From the next day, the police started harassing me. They are threatening me, my relatives and my friends for changing the statement and making a compromise in the case.”
Amer said that police officers called him and his friends Naser and Sheikh Nizamuddeen – not present at the time but someone Naser was in touch with – and asked them to record a statement in Marathi.
“Despite telling them that I don’t know Marathi, police prepared a statement in Marathi and forced us to sign,” Amer’s letter said. “We signed out of fear.”
Amer wrote that CIDCO police station officers wanted him to now say that he filed the original FIR after being urged by his brother and friends and that the attack he described had not taken place.
“They also threatened me that if I don’t do it, they will frame me in some other case and put me in jail,” Amer wrote.
The CIDCO police station-in-charge Ashok Giri said there was “just an argument” between the four suspects, who were in a car, and Amer, who he said “later denied the allegations [that he was forced to chant Jai Shri Ram] he had made earlier”.
Giri said it was possible his colleagues at the cyber-crime department had taken Amer’s phone “for investigation”.
Asked about Amer’s allegation that he was being pressured to change his statement, deputy commissioner of police Rahul Khade said: “Right now, an inquiry is going on, and if someone asks, we will send the report detailing his version and police’s action. We can’t say anything without authentication, and in this situation, we can’t take action against anybody.”
In the July 19 case in Muzaffarnagar, Aurangabad, Patel was beaten by 10 men even after he chanted Jai Shri Ram, Outlook reported on July 22. A local couple intervened and rescued Patel.
Patel filed an FIR at the Begumpura police station. Four men, including 21-year-old GV Sonawane, who had a criminal record, were arrested on charges of unlawful assembly, voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful restraint and intentional insult or provocation.
Aurangabad Police increased security in the district but “tried to play down the incident”, which they said was not “communal”, India Today reported on July 22.
“The case is being investigated and I would appeal people to maintain peace and not fall for rumours,” Police Commissioner Chiranjeevi Prasad told ANI on July 22.
This article first appeared on FactChecker, a publication of IndiaSpend.