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Islam and Politics ( 22 Dec 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Making Sense of Afrazul’s Lynching


By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

22 December 2017

It was mind numbing to watch those visuals. A man armed with an axe, attacking another from behind, chopping him up and putting his body on fire. To top it all, it was all filmed by a fourteen-year-old. The fact that the camera did not shake in this teenager’s hand is perhaps a pointer to the larger dystopia in which we are entering. The boy’s firm hold of the camera is a signifier of the death of the generation of innocence. The act of killing was done for the camera. It was a performance. Afrazul was to be killed for the consumption of those images and the underlying message behind it which makes Afrazul incidental to the plot. Any Muslim would have easily replaced him. But a labourer from Bengal, a poor Muslim was an easy target as he would not have deep roots within the city or the locality. Nationalism, after all, picks up the most vulnerable to make statements of valour and bravery.

There were systematic attempts to portray the act as the vile expression of a demented mind. Who would do such a thing, we were asked. However, the ‘disturbed mind’ theory is a diversionary tactic as it later turned out that Shambhulal Raigar did not exhibit any such behaviour in the past. Then there were attempts not to see this as another example of Muslim lynching. Humanity died, proclaimed many a headline conveniently forgetting that the human who was killed had a name and a religion. Convenience also plays a part in glossing over the fact that Muslims have been lynched with rather agonizing yet monotonous regularity, particularly in the state of Rajasthan where the Chief Minister has at one time been a liberal herself.

 What also got lost in the din was the more ominous fact that those accused of similar crimes in the same state today walk free. Impunity is a culture which is promoted by state complicity. In this case, it is absolutely clear that the motive and purpose behind the public act of murder was to send across a message. Two different sets of constituencies were being addressed here: the fanatic Hindus who despite their proclaimed vegetarianism bay for the blood of Muslims and secondly to the Muslims who were being told to ‘behave’ themselves.

For a person who lost his livelihood due to demonetization, the fury he unleashed on Afrazul that day was not without a method. Making prior and post videos of the incident and then circulating it widely points to a deeper problem. And that means that Afrazul was minor to the whole scheme; the point was to paint an entire community as guilty of engaging in love-jihad and therefore the proposed punishment was not just for Afrazul but for the entire community. In a way, the entire community has been marked out by the Hindu fanatics as deserving of such a fate when they cross a line. It matters little whether Afrazul was engaged in some kind of love jihad or not, what matters is the perception that has been created among a section of Hindus against the Muslim community. Fuelled by absolute hatred coupled with fantastic ideas with no material basis at all, this discourse about Muslims has many takers. One can only see the many voices which have emerged to save the accused to get to the sense that something within our society is deeply rotten.

Shambhulal Raigar did this horrible enactment on the 6th of December and this symbolism cannot just be a coincidence. We all know that the mosque got demolished on 6th December and that is celebrated as Shaurya divas (victory day) by Hindu nationalists. What fitting tribute to the memory of that victory than to kill a Muslim? Of course, the similarity does not end there. Like the Babri mosque which stood in a forlorn state, Afrazul was also alone in the city, cut out from his roots and community network. What is also worth mentioning is that 6th of December is also the day of empowerment for millions of Indian Dalits. Nationalist Hinduism has always tried to appropriate the Dalits within the broader Hindu fold. We saw this in the case of Babri demolition, in Gujarat and now in Rajasthan. For the average Dalit, this gives them the opportunity of acceptance within the Hindu social order.

Those who talk about Dalit Muslim identity always gloss over the fact that there has been a slow Hinduisation of various Dalit castes. On the other hand, it is also true that Muslims, by and large, including low caste Muslims have shunned the Dalits because of their deep-rooted prejudice and casteist attitudes. In the absence of a dialogic relationship between Muslims and Dalits, the nationalist Hindus have worked hard to bring the Dalits into their fold and infuse them with nationalist ideas. Generally, no one should have a problem with nationalism. However, the peculiar variety of our kind of nationalism has only translated into being synonymous with anti-Muslim ideas and practices. The average Dalit today is as rabid anti-Muslim as one would expect anyone under the influence of Hindu nationalist ideology.

What is most distressing was the attempt on part of the media to portray it as the handiwork of some abnormal mind. There was hardly any talk in terms of how an ideology which manufactures hates against Muslims can be responsible for this. There was no discussion on how this was a targeted killing of a Muslim. And there was no discussion on how this kind of killing would go on until the killers or potential killers are assured of immunity. There are credible reports that some Hindu nationalists are collecting money to be donated to Shambhulal’s family and there are others who are readying themselves for legal support. What it tells us that the virus of hate runs deep within a section of Hindu society and that they largely see this as a justified act of revenge.

There has been an outpouring of grief on the social media and elsewhere for Afrazul. However, they are nowhere close to what we witnessed in other cases. It is sad but true that we live in times when Muslim lives matter less than other lives. Those who organised protests against the lynching of Afrazul were also not convinced that this has to be talked about as a specific hate crime against Muslim identity. As if to appear politically correct, they insert another line in their campaign—all lives matter. This meant that the protest was not specifically about Muslims being lynched but also about others meeting the same fate.

Let me add a caveat here. I am not saying that one should not protest against all kinds of lynching and other forms of oppression. But in a context where Muslim lives have become precarious for the precise reason of being Muslim; then the protest against Afrazul’s killing should have made this statement boldly. In trying a balancing act, these protests have only reduced the depraved ideological gravity of this targeted killing. It was also a little rich that some of these protests were organised by those who had defended the killings of Muslims in Nandigram and Singur. If Hindu nationalism has to resurrect itself on dismembered bodies of Muslims, then it is Muslims themselves who should be at the forefront of protesting against this barbaric dystopia for it is the Muslim alone who can feel the pain of being Muslim in India today.  

Arshad Alam is a columnist


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