The lynching of Muhammad Afrozul – a labourer from West Bengal – by a hate-filled man in Rajasthan, and the subsequent filming of the horrendous crime on a cell phone can’t be brushed aside as a routine criminal act. While it is just another stark reminder of the pathological hatred against Muslims on the rise in India, it also symbolizes the extent of emboldening of bigots in post 2014-India.
Mohammad Afrazul (47), a migrant labourer from West Bengal, and a father of three daughters had been working in Rajasthan for past two decades. He was hacked and then burnt alive. The main accused, Shambhulal Regar, even roped in his 14-year-old nephew to film the killing – an act only those with reach to power corridors can only imagine.
The State Police Chief has called it a “brutal crime” and even claimed that the accused was not a “normal human being”. But the videos of the gruesome murder, as well as the killer’s speech trying to justify the heinous act, point to a deep-rooted conspiracy being hatched against Muslims. The statements made by the killer in the video are similar to those made by the members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, clearly suggesting where the killer is getting his inspiration from. Through his statements, Regar also deflated the police chief’s remark that he is a crazy person.
Prohibitory orders were imposed in Udaipur and Rajsamand after right wing activists rallied to support the killer. Vitriolic speeches were made during these speeches, according to news reports. They also said that Rs 3 lakh were deposited into the bank account of Shambulal Regar’s wife by 516 people, clearly pointing out towards the presence of a conspiracy – also pointed out by the niece of Afrozul.
Regar bringing up the bogey of ‘love jihad’ and threatening Muslims by saying that “this is what will happen to you if you do ‘love jihad’ in our country” came just weeks after the courts and India’s premier investigating agency NIA tried to separate an adult woman, Hadiya from her rightful husband.
24-year-old Akhila converted to Islam and took a new name, Hadiya, and married to a Muslim Shafin Jahan. Her father, an ex-serviceman and an atheist, upset with her conversion filed a police complaint. Kerala High Court annulled her marriage calling it ‘sham’. Her husband moved the Supreme Court against the annulling of their marriage, stoking debates on the jurisdiction and power of the courts in the personal lives of adults.
While the young woman minced no words in expressing her desire to be with her rightful husband and keep her faith, the law seem to have failed to honour her personal freedom and instead, treated her like a chattel. Hadiya vehemently discredited these allegations and said she chose Islam voluntarily along with her marriage.
A group of social organizations said that the killing of Afrozul was the fourth in past nine months. In April this year, a cattle trader Pehlu Khan was stopped and assaulted by self-styled cow vigilantes who claimed that he was illegally transporting cattle. Khan had even told them that he had the required permit. However, Khan, along with five other men was ruthlessly beaten by the vigilantes. He was admitted to a district hospital where he died two days later.
The clean chit to the accused in Pehlu Khan’s lynching and the rally in support of Afrozul’s killer shows that right-wing mobs are roaming around and killing innocent people with impunity. “Since 2010, 78 cow-related hate crimes have been reported across India, 97 per cent of these after 2014,” reported IndiaSpend, an online portal that builds on data to report on and analyse a wide range of issues.
Not only have the killings seen a spurt, but the impunity is encouraging the killers to carry out the gory crimes without any fear. Instead of hiding his identity, Regar was flaunting it on social media. That kind of impunity won’t come unless rulers embolden you. Several top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have publicly bragged about the killings. Regar just followed one of them.
In a similar encouragement for these crimes, the body of Ravi Sisodia, accused of killing Mohammad Akhlaq over allegations of killing and eating cow in 2015 in Dadri area of Uttar Pradesh, was wrapped in the Indian National flag. Sisodia had died of a lung infection in 2016.
The undertones of draping him in the national flag was very well understood by people like Regar, who chose to carry forward the legacy of Sisodias! Now, nationalism was a tool to kill. The silence of the political leaders on the growing peril of lynching across India was also seen as an endorsement of the fanatical ideology, especially at the time of elections when it conveniently polarizes the voters.
This giant leap taken by this country from setting the guilty free to rewarding them looks like a “new right” for “new India” where Hindutva politics has unleashed its ugly face.