Last week fifteen-year-old Junaid was travelling back home with his three brothers on a train after completing some Eid shopping in the Indian capital of Delhi.
According to reports, the boys were asked to vacate their seats. When they refused, a mob rose and began beating the boys, stabbing them and even flinging them from the train. Junaid was killed.
In Narendra Modi’s India, public lynching has become a national sport.
The victims are usually Muslim or Dalit, two communities long forced to live on the margins of Indian society. The issue, ostensibly over cows with beef consumption now banned in 21 of 29 states across the country.
A lynching of a Muslim man in 2015 near Delhi over a rumour he ate beef, a public flogging and lynching of seven Dalit family members for skinning a dead cow in Gujarat last year, and the lynching of a man in April in Rajasthan for transporting cows in a truck are just some of some 17 cases of lynching over the past two years. This growing list does not include other forms of physical and verbal abuse and discrimination faced specifically by Muslims and Dalits.
Under Modi, the ruling-BJP government has looked to institute disproportionate measures such as life imprisonment and the death penalty for eating beef.
However, cow protection is mere symbolism in a state and society that is increasingly seeking to assert its Hindu identity - at the exclusion of India’s sizeable minorities. So when Junaid and his brothers were attacked, their attackers felt emboldened enough to call them “beef eaters” while hacking at them over seats in a train.
Junaid’s senseless murder raised less than a whimper in India. The young man who wanted to become an Imam is now just another footnote in the normalisation of project fascism and authoritarianism in India.
It is time for India to face up to a major, major problem.
As its PM condemns acts of terror around the world, he remains silent over the increase in attacks against minorities under his administration. Not even 140 characters of admonition from him or the ruling BJP party. And when members of his administration have spoken up, it has been with disdain to the victims.
For instance, when activist Zafar Hussein was lynched in June 2017 after he tried to prevent a group of men from taking photos of women defecating in public, Vasundhara Raje, the chief minister of Rajasthan, described his murder as “a demise”. Incidentally, the men who killed him were part of “Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) campaign, who look to shame people into using public toilets. Modi’s policies - geared towards Ambanis and Birlas and their version of the Guptas - literally denigrates the poor to have them “get with his agenda.”
And for this, the Indian mainstream media needs to accept blame. There is little interrogation or opposition to a developing theme of normalised fascism. If anything, the mainstream media is part of the ensemble. To criticise Modi’s India is to risk being labelled “anti-national” and to be charged with sedition.
Meanwhile, the increasingly authoritarian and fascist intolerance of the Hindu right, evidenced by lynchings, beatings and rampant jingoistic narratives that take offense to the slightest criticism of the Indian state, is underplayed in comparison. By sensationalising Muslim “barbarity”, and running campaigns of fake news, actions against the latter are therefore justified or “put into context.”
In so doing, in the unholy alliance of capital and repression - the usual spaces that are meant to question and critique - be it in academia or in the media - are being used to further this project.
While India has been long touted as a bastion of unity and diversity, lynching has come to represent the festering underbelly of a faux-secular democracy; the saltwater could only be kept down for that long.
In India, the collective conscious is done with the pretense of concern.
Under Modi, India has taken significant strides towards cementing itself as a majoritarian republic, where minorities are not citizens in a social compact with the state, but rather unwanted guests in a system that marginalises those who do not “fit in”.
This, despite the fact that the majority of Muslims chose to remain in India over Pakistan, the state created for Muslims. But not a day passes when they are asked to prove their loyalty to the nation. When India lost the Champions Trophy cricket final against Pakistan in mid-June, 15 Muslims were arrested for cheering for Pakistan. It turned out the police forced a man to make false claims against the community.
The sensationalist media attention given to triple talaq (or instant divorce, which bypasses customary Islamic rulings on divorce) or other issues such as “love jihad,” in which young Muslims are said to target non-Muslim girls, continues to depict and frame Muslims as the threat to India’s social fabric.
Across the country, there is a growing anxiety among Muslims; their existence tethering into a territory where being Muslim means more than it has ever meant before.
* Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.