The hate crime involving the murder of a migrant laborer named Mohammed Afrazul, 47, has garnered national attention. Afrazul was from Malda in West Bengal; he was hacked and then burnt alive in Rajasthan over an alleged affair. The accused made his nephew film the killing and then went on to rant about love jihad and Islam. After the video of the attack was uploaded on social media, it got widespread condemnation from leaders of several political parties. The accused and his nephew were taken into custody.
Mohammed Afrazul's brutal killing in Rajasthan should shame us all; if the sickening hate behind it does not disturb our conscience, nothing will. For a moment, let's forget our political differences, and think of humanity alone. Where are we headed?— Sanjay Jha (@JhaSanjay) December 11, 2017
We strongly condemn the heinous killing of a labourer from Bengal in Rajasthan. How can people be so inhuman. Sad— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) December 7, 2017
Not being able to finish school, Afrazul chose to move to Rajasthan along with his father and a few others from his village in West Bengal. He worked as a daily wage laborer saving money to get his siblings educated and pay for their weddings; his elder brother referring to him as the ‘hero of the family’. An ex-gratia amount of 5 lakh will be given to the family of Afrazul. He leaves behind his wife and three daughters. The family plans to the Kolkata High court in hopes of transferring the case to West Bengal as they are afraid of their safety in Rajasthan. The investigation is on-going but the political implications especially when it comes to religion can be inflammatory as The Hindu editorial points out; cases like these should be swiftly prosecuted and explicitly denounced – “While Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje condemned the murder, saying the case should be prosecuted swiftly, the opposition has embedded the crime in the larger majoritarian rhetoric of the Sangh Parivar”. “Irrespective of whether the murder was the work of an isolated and unsound mind or a deliberate conspiracy, it is important that the political discourse around it be responsible and responsive to the insecurity among migrant workers, especially those who are Muslims”. “Such crimes pose a very stiff challenge in a democratic society. They may be isolated; they may be the handiwork of individuals acting on their own, but by positioning one group (religious, racial, ethnic, gender) against another, the impact of these crimes spills into the wider community”. This is the fourth such hate crime in Rajasthan in nine months. However, the recent pattern is not new and has spanned over years. This time the alleged motive was love jihad, before it was killing a meat seller; the patter proves a disturbing series of hate crimes in the state. In 2015, Abdul Ghaffar Qureshi, owner of a meat shop was lynched by a mob of angry villagers assuming he might start selling beef. In April of this year, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer accused of smuggling cattle, was killed by a mob on the national highway in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. In early November, the body of Ummar Khan, a dairy farmer was found on the railway tracks after he was taking cows in a pick-up truck to his village after purchasing them. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi criticized the Prime Minister for his silence on the killing, saying that Modi only comments on ‘mandir and masjid’ issues. The Indian Express editorial stated that the Rajasthan government is complicit for fostering an enabling climate for vigilantism and hate crimes – “It is evident that an enabling climate for violence against Muslims now prevails in the state. Vigilante groups organized around cow protection or caste and community pride seems to have a free, unchecked run”. “They have repeatedly challenged the individual’s rights to religion, free speech and expressions guaranteed by the Constitution and have got away with it. Ministers and legislators have been openly advocating the rewriting of history and school books to suit the Hindutva view”. “The state markets itself as a leading tourist destination and its capital, Jaipur, projects its soft power by hosting art, music and dance and literature festivals. The rising tide of hate, and the climate of impunity in the state, makes a mockery of those claims”. Earlier this year, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, in an op-ed for the Times of India vehemently defended her party stating that the notion that anybody or any political party supports lynching is prejudice. She claimed that a “false narrative about mob violence being driven by political blessings”. This time, she condemned the crime saying, “This is a deplorable act which needs to be condemned in strongest possible terms”. Days after the incident, the murder of Mohammed Afrazul is being hailed in messages doing the rounds of some WhatsApp groups locally, including one in which BJP MP from Rajsamand Hariom Singh Rathore and MLA Kiran Maheshwari are members. The group was created by Prem Mali who claims to be BJP worker. The Times of India editorial pointed out the ideology at work when one person thinks religious superiority trumps the law- “The killer is no deranged lone wolf, any more than an Islamic State attacker is one – he is inspired by a murderous ideology. The concept of love jihad makes sense only to those who think religious communities must be kept separate and those who fear and hate Muslims”. “This is a nation of many diversities that mingle together, where no community order can override individual rights. If the government does not take exemplary action now, with results to show, it makes its complicity abundantly clear”. The pattern emerging over the past year in Rajasthan is troubling. Certain sections, whether they are the fringe or aren’t, feel entitled to carry out murders against Muslims; for selling meat or marrying a person of another religion, in most cases someone who is Hindu. Religious tension is nothing new, and there have been worse occurrences in the past. The past year or two however have shown in stark detail how isolated incidents happening in fairly regular frequencies are furthering the divide. During a protest following the murder, Delhi University professor said in part, “It is incumbent upon Hindus now to choose various platforms in their capacities to say you can't murder Muslims in our name”.
More columns by Varun Sukumar