Is it possible in a country where Hindu majoritarianism reigns supreme that Hindus can be killed at will and a section of society can indulge in widespread intimidation of members of the majority community?
A frenzied mob barreling through the streets of a major city to the shrill rant of “sar tan se juda” (beheading) is a reprehensive spectacle that challenges the tenets of non-violence and democracy, makes mockery of law and order and brings to the fore the dangerous threat of rabid religious extremism.
Nupur Sharma apologised for her words uttered in late May that are regarded by many to have hurt the Muslim community. The BJP suspended her and now the matter is sub-judice. Whether Nupur Sharma committed a crime or not is the for courts of the land to decide. Additionally, whether supporting her is tantamount to a crime in itself or not is also for the law of the land to adjudicate. You and I are common citizens subject to the rules and regulations of civil society and cannot be the unilateral arbitrators of justice.
Nevertheless, some sections of the citizenry decided to take law into their own hands and cast themselves as judge, jury and executioner. In an ugly blitzkrieg of hate and lawlessness unleashed across the country they have killed several Hindus in cold blood, intimidated many more and rioted on the streets.
On 28 June 2022, in an act of depravity and extreme xenophobia, a Hindu tailor in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district was beheaded with a cleaver in broad daylight in a bustling market by a pretend customer while his accomplice fearlessly recorded the event. Later the two assailants uploaded two videos on social media: one depicting the barbaric beheading and another threatening the Prime Minister of the country.
Seven days earlier on 21 June, Umesh Kolhe—a 54-year-old chemist from Amravati (Maharashtra) was stabbed to death allegedly over the same matter; his killing, which was prematurely ascribed to robbery, initially failed to garner public attention. Details unearthed later and arrests of the alleged murderers confirmed the religious undertones of the crime.
There have been several other allegedly related killings and it appears to continue.
Complementing these gruesome murders is a climate of fear being spread by unruly mobs roaming the streets as these registered FIRs indicate:
* June 10: a 24-year-old waiter from Aurangabad district is threatened by a crowd of 15 outside his home; later on, that night he is physically assaulted.
* June 14: again, in Aurangabad district, a saloon owner is threatened and his shop pelted with stones by a mob of 10-15 persons.
* June 13: in Thane, a 34-year-old lecturer complains of a crowd of 50-60 persons who had gathered outside his home and hurled abuses at his relatives.
* June 13: in Bhoiwada police (Thane) an FIR is registered against a mob of 100-odd people for riot, issuing threats and causing hurt against a 20-year-old engineering student.
Other cases of intimidation have also been reported in Nagpur city (June 15), Amravati city (June 22), Yavatmal (July 4) and Nanded (July 7)
The timeline of these incidents and their widespread locations indicate that these are not isolated or spontaneous acts but a systematic coordinated effort to exploit the situation, spread terror and assert an illegitimate religious dominance over society; a scary picture that takes us back to medieval times.
Like other protests that we have seen over the last few years, this is another attempt to keep the pot boiling and create anarchy and chaos in the country.
The current lawlessness has to great extent been fuelled and encouraged by a pseudo-liberal thought process which has irresponsibly propagated the blatantly false notions of Hindu majoritarianism and minority victimisation since the BJP and Modi were voted into power in 2014 by hyping up normal criminal aberrations of a society.
Is it possible in a country where Hindu majoritarianism reigns supreme that Hindus can be killed at will and a section of society indulge in widespread intimidation of members of the majority community? Can minorities run riot through the streets to the cries of “sar tan se juda” (beheading) in a country ruled by a party that has been repeatedly compared to the Nazis?
The answer is evident. These outrageous lies that have been propagated with disastrous consequences for our country must be called out.
India is a pluralistic country where multiple religions coexist side by side. For harmony to prevail, each of these religions must show a healthy respect for each other and exhibit a certain degree of restraint. So far there has not been a single act of killing of non-Hindus by Hindus invoking blasphemy.
This is not to say that religious insult should be tolerated. No. But in cases of discordance or alleged insult to one another’s religion (apt to occur in such a diverse country) the need to defer to the law of the land is paramount to avoid a state of anarchy where fratricidal killings become the norm rather than the exception.
The condemnation of this violence emanating from the wider Muslim community needs to be forceful to convince. Muslim leaders from across the political and religious spectrum must be forthright and unequivocal in their censure to ensure that their rank-and-file fall in line and conform to the tenets of a secular democracy.
The effect of this mob frenzy on free speech cannot be overlooked. Extremely disturbing is the fact that none of these victims were the primary accused; they were bystanders who merely expressed an opinion. In the realm of blasphemy even harmless comments or reflex forwards of social media items can be maliciously projected as acts of religious offence to drum up protest, intimidate individuals and even commit murder. This can have a chilling effect on free speech and is already evident in public debate and newspaper columns.
The government, both local and central cannot take shelter under the adage that the law will take its own course. The government must act promptly and forcefully, tasking fast track courts with the matter. Alleged murderers and those openly threatening murder must be brought to book and penalized to the fullest extent of the law (increasing the quantum of punishment) so that it acts as a deterrent.
Murder, intimidation and religious xenophobia have no place in a civilized society.
This is an explosive situation which has far reaching implications for our democratic society, our secular principles and the concept of free speech. We ignore this threat at our own peril.