Srinagar: The video of a Muslim labourer being casually hacked to death and then burnt by a Hindu zealot is too chilling to be imagined. And if you are a Muslim, it suddenly makes you deeply insecure about your place in India, even in a Muslim majority place like Kashmir. In the video which has since gone viral on social media, Shambhu Lal the killer brings an unsuspecting Afrazul to a secluded place, takes out the pickaxe and machete from his two-wheeler and attacks him from behind. Afrazul begs for mercy but Lal ignores his cries and brutally kills him. He brags about it in front of the camera and then returns to Afrazul’s half-dead body, pours oil on it and sets it alight.
More horrifying than the murder is the political and media silence over it. It didn’t become an issue in the ongoing Gujarat election. The ruling BJP whose ideology seems to have provoked it in the first place wasn’t expected to talk about it. The so called secular Congress was too scared to talk about it, lest doing so alienate large sections of its Hindu vote bank in the state. Instead, the electoral discourse went along the issues which had little to do with the Muslims. Similarly, except for a few publications, the murder doesn’t seem to have jolted the media into taking note. Afrazul, apparently because of his identity, hardly merited the loud prime time focus. Also the murder doesn’t seem to have outraged the public opinion.
What is disturbing is that India’s political discourse now accommodates and largely sanctions such actions and the statements by its politicians. It is horrifying that virtually anything that has to do with the Muslims can be fair game for a physical or a political assault. Rohingyas, the world’s most persecuted minority, are suspect for the self-same reason in the country. The union government has called for their forcible eviction for a fantasy charge of terrorism.
There is one more aspect to the unfolding state of affairs: it is the growing political consensus in India against Muslims, something that has made even the secular political parties scared to speak in favour of Muslims. And the parties like the BJP and its larger parivar which are the most vitriolic against Muslims stand to gain electorally. For example, in Gujarat when all else seems to have failed, the PM Modi has raked up Pakistan and a low-ranking Congress leader from J&K Salman Nizami to shore up his apparently beleaguered situation in the state. This distressing state of affairs has made the minorities and the vast secular population of the country deeply anxious. In a sense, Afrazul’s killing symbolises this troubling situation. Far from mobilizing political opinion against the ideology and the discourse that spawns products of hatred like Lal, the minority lynchings and murders seems to rally people around it. So why would things change. Instead, considering that spreading hate and perpetrating violence against Muslims is so productive for its champions, they will have little choice but to be at the receiving end of this violence. Tragically enough, there seems to be no way out of this situation. Here is hoping that the situation changes for the better in the near term. The harvest of hate will not only consume minorities but in time also the country.