With Hindu nationalism on the rise in India in recent years, the country is seeing an alarming rising in mob violence. A series of lynchings, targeting Muslims and Dalits have taken place across the country, spreading fear among already marginalised communities.
As Bismillah Geelani reports, a nationwide campaign is now growing, seeking an end to the violence.
At New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar square, more than 2000 people are transfixed, as artist Maya Krishna Rao performs a powerful monologue. Her words tap into the rising mood of intolerance sweeping across India.
Behind her, a large Indian map is filled with red spots, showing all the places that people have been murdered by mobs in the past two years.
Audience members, like University Professor Malini Sharma, carry placards that declare: ‘Not in My Name.’
“We want these killings to stop and we want you to know that the reason we are gathered here today is that if you think our silence is giving you a license we are telling you it is not in our name, you don’t have a license to carry on with this impunity and breakdown of law and order,” Sharma passionately declared.
Similar events are taking place in cities around India and abroad. People from all walks of life are using poetry, plays and music to express their outrage at mounting violence.
The protests follow the brutal murder of 16-year old Muslim boy Junaid, in the northern state of Haryana last month.
Junaid was on a train, returning home with his two brothers after Eid shopping in Delhi, when they were attacked by a mob.
Junaid’s elder brother Hashim narrowly escaped being killed, and recounts the horrific experience. “About 25 people boarded the train at a station,” he remembered.
“The train was jam-packed and they started pushing their way into the compartment. When they saw us they rudely pushed us aside. I objected and told them to behave. They got angry and started abusing us."
He continued, "They said you are Muslims, you eat beef, you are anti-national, and you are Pakistani. They removed my cap and stomped on it. One of them tried to pull my beard. When I tried to stop him they all attacked us, first with kicks and punches and then with knives.”
Nobody came to their rescue.
“The other passengers didn’t help at all. In fact, many of them shoved us back toward the attackers saying ‘Kill them, kill these Muslims’’ he said, reliving the trauma.
The three brothers were then thrown out of the train. Junaid died on the spot.
Their third brother, Shakir remains in a critical condition.
Junaid is the 20th Muslim to be killed at the hands of a mob in the last 3 years.
Mob violence is not new to India. But it has grown at an alarming rate since the Hindu Nationalist Bhratiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.
In most cases, the attacks are carried out by cow vigilante groups, which have mushroomed across India in recent years.
Claiming to protect the Hindu holy animal, cow vigilante groups -or Gaurakhshaks- operate with absolute impunity, attacking cattle traders, dairy farmers, butchers and even ordinary Muslims for alleged cow slaughter and beef eating.
Hindus worship cows. In most Indian states, the slaughter of cows is illegal, and can carry a penalty of life imprisonment.
When the Hindu Nationalist Party BJP, came to power, they quickly strengthened laws against cow slaughter. Many believe cow vigilante groups enjoy tacit approval from the BJP government, and say that is the main reason behind the rise in mob violence.
“The reality is that an atmosphere has been created in this country over the past 36 months whereby the life of an animal is more important that the life of an individual,” stated Manish Tiwari, spokesperson for the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress.
“A lynching is not a common murder A lynching is a message to the community that look, we can treat you in this manner, we can film it with impunity, we can circulate it around the country in order to create an atmosphere of terror and fear because we feel indemnified that ultimately nothing will happen to us,” he continued, “and this is precisely what has been happening.”
The government however denies complicity, and has condemned the killings. Ravi Shankar Prasda is Law Minister. “What happened in Haryana is extremely painful and reprehensible,” Prasda stated.
“We condemn it and we have initiated action, including announcing a reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators. Our government is not going to tolerate this violence in the name of cow protection.”
The ongoing protests have also forced Prime Minister Modi to break his long held silence on the killings. But just a few hours after the Prime Minister censured cow vigilante groups, another Muslim man was killed in the Eastern state of Jharkhand, allegedly carrying beef in his vehicle.
The organizers of the ‘Not in my name’ campaign are demanding a law against mob lynching. They’re also pushing the government to crack down on cow vigilante groups, and force them to disband.