A picture says a thousand words. The one trending this week – of a man, who later claimed to be a minor, brandishing a gun and shooting at a Jamia Millia Islamia student, Shadab Najar, peacefully participating in an anti Citizenship Amendment Act with a row of policemen in the background watching the scene – says a lot. The set of photographs and videos related to the incident portray the crux of what is happening in India today. A quick read of the chronology of the incident is a sign of the times.
The Jamia shooter began live-streaming on his facebook page he operated with the username ‘Rambhakt Gopal’, hours before he took out his pistol and shot. He posted several videos of walking along with the anti-CAA rally – selfie videos and videos of the Jamia students rally. His posts alternating with videos and messages: ‘Shaheen Bagh ka khel khatm’, ‘This revenge is for Chandan bhai.’ (This is said to be a reference to Chandan Gupta, a right-wing activist of Hindu Raksha Dal who was killed in communal clashes in Uttar Pradesh’s Kasganj in 2018.) Other messages said: ‘Call mat kro’, ‘I am the only Hindu here’, ‘There is no Hindu media here,’ ‘Azadi de raha hun’, ‘Do minute mein chod raha hun.’ The profile was later taken off by the facebook after the incident.
A video that surfaced later shows him brandishing the pistol and shouting words alleged to be “tumhein azadi chahiye” and “yeh lo azadi” as he shoots while the police is watching in a row, just metres behind him. One cop casually walks behind him without taking out his weapon. The rest stand back, some resting casually on their batons touching the ground in a walking-stick position (as if watching some game), others have their hands in pockets, one is on the phone and another is making a video of the shooter from behind. Media teams on the side have their cameras in ready position and are heard shouting: “he has a gun”. According to this video, the shooter brandished the gun for atleast 13 seconds before he fired, stumbled back and is immediately caught by the cop walking behind him, effortlessly.
Other pictures that surfaced are of an unarmed Shadab facing him as the shooter fired at him, of him being helped by his friends and one at the hospital where a posse of policemen stand and watch, refusing to lift the barricades as the injured jumps over the row of barricades to get to the hospital.
What does this all signify? The set of pictures and videos raise uncomfortable questions at the macro and micro level.
At the micro-level, the facebook streaming is a quick reminder of the Christchurch hate killings last year. While the Australian man driven by Islamophobia was able to shoot down at least 51 people coming out of a mosque, he seemed to have been a lone operator, the Jamia shooter appears to be guided by the same hate but a deeper scrutiny of his messages appear to suggest that he is addressing someone aware of his messages. “I am the only Hindu here”. “Koi Hindu Media nahin hai yahan”. “Azadi de raha hun”. “Bas do minute mein chod raha hun”. Who was he addressing and informing of the minute to minute detail when he began livestreaming, three hours before the shooting. Who is he telling “Call Mat Kro”. Which ‘Hindu media’ was he referring to? We now know of at least one channel where its star-anchor, who claims to be the self-personification of the nation, chose that evening to add his twist to the shoot-out calling it the case of ‘a radicalized young man provoked by 40 days of anti-CAA protests’ and making an impassioned appeal to ‘stop provoking India’ with a set of more distortions like Jamia students armed with weapons.
While the police claims to have followed the protocol by not opening fire at the shooter in a crowded place and of their inability to prevent the incident that happened in ‘split of a second’, video-footage and photographs suggest that this is not entirely true. The cops watched as the shooter emerged with the gun for at least 13 seconds. If the protocols demanded that no weapons needed to be used to disarm such an attacker in a crowded place, did it also demand a spectacle of casually standing policemen, hands in pockets or on their phones when confronted with such a situation? After the shooting, the shooter effortlessly falls into the arms of the cop who was walking towards him and does not appear to be a case of “police over-powering the shooter” as is made out to be. Also, there is no word on the investigations about the shooter’s association with Bajrang Dal, as claimed on his facebook page. Also, none on where he got the money to procure a gun.
According to the police, preliminary findings have revealed that he has claimed he acted alone, that he bought the gun for Rs 10,000 and that his school mark-sheet shows him as a 17 year old minor, a matter that would be further investigated with bone ossification test. Interestingly, much before the police began peddling the ‘minor’ theory, a well-known news agency, ANI, which off-late has begun revealing a right-wing bias, took only a few hours to scoop out his class 10th mark-sheet from Jewar High School in Uttar Pradesh, at a time when he hadn’t even been identified other than by his facebook page which was silent on his ‘student status’. The police complacency at AIIMS in removing barricades to allow Shadab to get access to the hospital after inflicting injury during the shoot-out also merits an explanation but so far remains evasive.
While a case of “attempt to murder” has been registered against him, the entire back-drop in which he appears to have committed the act has been lost into oblivion. His ‘minor status’ is being conveniently used to put out of glaze grave questions related to the incident. If he is a ‘minor’ with no source of income, whose parents say they did not give him money; then the question arises who funded him? A news report pointed out that the country-made pistol of the kind he was using is usually priced between Rs 2500 and Rs 4000. He has admitted to having attended rallies and programs of Bajrang Dal. But whether the Hindu militant outfit had a role in radicalizing and brain-washing him enough to create terror in public is not a matter of investigation. The incident came a few days after BJP parliamentarian and junior finance minister Anurag Thakur raised the slogan of “Shoot-down the traitors” at an election rally in Delhi. But this is also not a matter of investigation.
What makes this affair stink more is that while the Jamia shooter is being treated as a minor committing an ordinary crime, several anti-CAA protesters have been charged with sedition merely for making speeches or leading peaceful marches. Even more bizarre, a school headmistress and the parent of one student have been arrested by the Karnataka police in Bidar district, in a sedition case registered against the school management for alleged involvement in staging a drama opposing CAA.
On the larger canvas, this one incident is a reflection of the dangerous cult of hate that this country is grappling with in the present moment. Fed on Islamophobia through regular replay of propaganda by Hindu right-wing organisations, even government functionaries including the prime minister himself who speaks in terms of “identify them by the clothes they wear” and their loyalist media, a fully-prepared machinery is continuously drilling in a misplaced sense of Hindu victimhood and inspiring hatred against the ‘Other’, particularly the Muslims. The CAA is a racist act that makes religion the ground of granting citizenship in the name of saving the persecuted people from the neighbourhood. Not to forget the constant role of the police in siding with the Hindu-right. While in Jamia and Aligarh Muslim University in December, the police went on a rampage against students, in many areas of Uttar Pradesh and in JNU, they stood as mute spectators as goons unleashed terror. The Jamia shoot-out is yet another episode in that series. The government and its many cohorts are on an over-drive to inspire hatred in multiple ways. This in no way dilutes the competitive threat of religious radicalization among the other minorities but when those in power, entrusted with the task of leading the nation with exemplary morality and uprightness in ensuring equality and preserving secular, democratic ethos become patrons of inciting hatred, the threat is far graver.
The Jamia shoot-out reminds us how young teenagers, men and women are being constantly fed on a diet of lies, distortions and hate and being turned into dehumanized robots. That this incident should have taken place on the day of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom, the man who tirelessly fought this cult of hatred, is not only tragic; it also suggests that there may be methodical madness in what is being witnessed by some in horror and some in celebratory mode. A sad indicator of the dangerous times!