In the 17th meeting of United Nations Human Rights Council, the issue of rise in hate crimes against and mob lynchings of Muslims and dalits in India was raised. While Prime Minster Narendra Modi stated that the minorities will be protected, the incidents of lynching are on the rise. A Muslim youth, Tabrez Ansari, was tied to the pole, beaten mercilessly and was asked to say Jai Shri Ram (Hail Lord Ram). Another Muslim, Hafiz Mohammad Haldar, was thrown from a train; Faizul Usman, a taxi driver, was beaten up near Mumbai. The list is long and continues to extend.
The response of the State is best exemplified by the prime minster himself. In his statement, he chose to dilute the gravity of the crime and focused on how Jharkhand (where Ansari was killed) being defamed due to such incidents. The lax attitude of the state is visible in most of the cases. Meanwhile, many meetings were organised nationwide in which the Muslim community along with others protested against these incidents. In Meerut, police lodged a complaint against hundreds of youth who were sloganeering and protesting against such incidents in a peaceful manner.
These incidents, particularly lynching of Tabrez Ansari, have drawn attention from across the world. Michael Pompeo, US Secretary of State, called for speaking in favour of religious freedom. India’s rank in the index of religious freedom and security of minorities has been slipping during the last few years.
The incidents of lynchings or hate crimes are scattered, but the pattern is very clear. The Muslims are caught hold of in matters related to petty crimes or under some other pretext; the mob gathers and resorts to beatings, and asking the victims to say Jai Shree Ram. In many instances, the trigger has also been a rumour or allegation regarding cow slaughter. Minorities, who were simply transporting cattle from one place to another, have also been targeted, using similar accusations.
The violence and the mob aggression are not just spontaneous at one level. These actions have been possible due to two basic processes which have gone unchecked. At the core of this process is the spread of the misconceptions about Muslims and also Christians, to an extent. These misconceptions have been actively instilled, and relate to Islam being a “foreign” religion. However, the truth is that Islam has been part of the religious diversity of this land for centuries. As such, religions do not have national boundaries. But the Muslim kings have been projected as aggressive temple destroyers, who spread their religion here by force. The matter of fact is that Islam spread mainly due to interaction of Arab traders in Malabar Coast and later, many embraced Islam to escape the caste tyranny. Muslims are also held responsible for the tragedy of Partition, while in fact, it was a multi-factorial process, with the central role played by the British, who wanted to have a base in South Asia for the political and economic ambitions.
There is a long and expanding list of these misconceptions, which, by now, has become part of the “social common sense”. On a regular basis, events are given an anti-Muslim slant – be it the issue of Azan or the land required for burying the dead, be it the poverty of large section of Muslims (Sachar Committee report) or be it the promotion of Al Qaeda and its progeny to control the oil wells of West Asia by the dominant hegemonic global powers. In sum and substance, the “social common sense” demonising Muslims has become a ‘thinkable thought’. The majority of the accused in most of the cases belong to the deprived sections of the society, while instigators may be sitting in their well-off homes.
A sort of consensus has been manufactured against the Muslim community. This phenomenon has been assisted by a few social groups where the battles between Hindu-Muslim kings are given a religious slant, and the young impressionistic minds are fed with anti-Muslim hatred. The added element is to bring Pakistan into the discussion. Ultra-nationalism thrives on creation of an enemy’s image. Pakistan has been made the scapegoat and that in turn becomes the mechanism to target Indian Muslims. All in all today, the Muslim community has been made the target of identity-related emotive issues.
Today, the communal violence finds its roots often in beef-related violence, and now any pretext of some crime [like a petty theft] is the precipitating point for a series of violent actions. The slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has been given a twist, and the most common way of greeting in large parts of North India has been endowed with an aggressive political slant.
While each of the incidents can be discussed in detail, the base of the ‘Hate crimes’ remains communalised social common sense. During the freedom movement, M K Gandhi, the father of the nation, drew out the integrative aspects of all the communities, and they could fight against British rule shoulder to shoulder. The process has been reversed by the sectarian streams and diverse religious communities have been filled with hatred, rendering them incompatible with concept of fraternity, a part of Preamble of our Constitution. While, on the one hand, the minorities need to be made to feel secure; the foundation of hate, the social misconceptions against them, need to be combated.
The issues faced by the Indian society are related to material existence, health and education. The divisive politics, masquerading in the name of religion has to be undone. We have a gigantic task at hand – uniting the nation – which is a prerequisite for peace and progress.