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The Communalisation
of Public Spaces

2017-07-03

Brinda Karat

THE brutal lynching of three brothers travelling on a local train in the National Capital Region, leading to the death of 15 year old Junaid, has led to outrage across India. Citizens protests have been held in many cities. In many areas Eid was observed by wearing black bands as a mark of solidarity and sorrow against the lynchings. In Kandhauli the village where Junaid's family lives, each and every resident wore a black band. It is because of such anger that the Haryana government has been forced to declare compensation, though highly inadequate to the family.

But shamefully not a single minister or elected functionary has visited the family. This is the usual pattern we see in such cases. In the last two years there have been numerous hate crimes and lynchings mainly of members of the Muslim community but also of dalits and adivasis. There are several common features in the cases whether in the case of Md Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, or of the twelve year old and his uncle hanged to death in Latehar Jharkhand, or the brutal killing of Pehlu Khan in Ajmer Rajasthan, or the beating of four Dalit cattle skinners in Una, Gujarat or now in the case of Junaid.

 The first is the involvement of members of the Sangh Parivar and the campaign of hatred run by them that precedes the crimes. Across north India where the BJP is running state governments there are continuing campaigns on communal and divisive issues led by organisations belonging to the Sangh Parivar. The hate crimes are a result of such campaigns. The second is the deafening silence of the ruling party and the leaders of the central government and in some cases their outrageous statements in defence of the killings and the violence such as after the killing of Md. Akhlaq when the Haryana chief minister said the punishment for cow slaughter according to the vedas should be death. Is it any surprise then that in his state, communal criminals believe they have the license to target Muslims as beefeaters and lynch them in public. The third is the slow processes of justice and in some cases the subversion of justice. In Md. Akhlaq’s case, the family is faced with false charges against them. In the Latehar hangings, all the accused are out on bail. In Junaid's case, there is a conspiracy of silence among witnesses to protect the accused. I was part of a CPI(M) delegation that first visited the hospital to see Shakir, the injured brother and then the following day to travel to the village to meet the family of Junaid. The delegation comprised of CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and MP, Md. Salim, Surinder Malik, secretary of the Haryana committee, Asha Sharma secretariat  member of the Delhi committee and myself. 

We met the grieving parents Jalaluddin and Saira, the brothers and sister and neighbours and friends. Jalaluddin drives a taxi. His elder son Ismail runs a small eatery in the area. The income is low. The family is a very respected one in the village. The three boys were sent to a Madrassa in Surat, Gujarat. Saira, their mother used to teach the Koran to young girls in the village. The grieving father Jalaluddin was full of dignity when the delegation met him. He said he had no hatred or anger in his heart, only deep sorrow.                "Help me to get justice" that is all we want...I have lost my son, but let those guilty be punished so that no more sons are lost, let his death not go in vain.." 

In their small house, we met Saira, the mother. Just 46 years old, she sat there among the group of mourning women, her hand pressed closely against her chest as if to stop her heart from breaking. Her blue-grey eyes looked at us, through us, beyond us. The day before she had buried her most beloved son Junaid in the cemetery near the village.  He had been beaten and repeatedly stabbed. His bloodied body was thrown out of the train at a small station just before it reached Palwal.

Her elder son Shakir is in hospital grievously injured. He has three serious stab injuries. He was not in the group of four young men which had travelled to Delhi to shop for Eid. He had got an urgent call from a cousin who was with the group with the SOS that they were being attacked. Shakir rushed to the Ballabgarh police station to help but found that his brothers Junaid and Hashim and his cousins were not being allowed to leave the train. He desperately tried to get them off. Instead, the gang of criminals pulled him in and when he tried to protect Junaid he too was stabbed. He was soaked in his own blood and that of his beloved younger brother's when he was thrown out.

Saira’s third son Hashim escaped with two stab injuries. It was he who cradled his brother Junaid's body on the station platform while a crowd of people stood and stared, until the ambulance called by someone took them away to a local hospital.

Saira is inconsolable. When she speaks it is with great effort. Her voice enunciating each word slowly and clearly. She says " He (Junaid) had come home after a year after completing his Madrassa course in Surat, Gujarat. He was hafiz. It was a great time for him and for all of us a moment of pride. Along with his brother, he was going to celebrate his achievement on the auspicious occasion of Eid. I had given them Rs 1,500 to buy themselves new clothes. I curse myself. If I had not given them the money, he would have been here... He was on the Roza fast. All my sons are fasting. I keep thinking, he did not have a sip of water, I was waiting here to feed them, but I could not give him his last morsel. My son, my son..." She is weeping, someone offers her a drink of water. She refuses, she too is fasting.

The group of four young men had got onto the train at Sadar Bazar, Delhi. Seats were available for all of them. The compartment started filling up. A group of men got on at Okhla station. The harassment began then. Junaid got up to seat an elderly man. But as soon as Junaid stood up, the others in his group who were sitting down were abused and told to stand up as well. Hashim's skull cap was snatched off his head and stamped upon. His beard was pulled. The young man resisted. It was then that the beating started. They were abused in the most derogatory communal language. They were called "filthy beef-eaters who should be killed"   Their mothers and sisters were abused.

Shockingly, not a single passenger in that crowded compartment objected. On the contrary, many joined in. One of the group, Mohsin, a cousin, escaped and tried to pull the emergency chain but nothing happened. It was mob rule in that compartment. The stabbing started after the train pulled out of Ballabhgarh station and a young man was killed right there, in public, with shouts of abuse ringing in his ears.

It was not an aberration or a one-off incident by drunken louts. It was not a dispute about seats. There was not even the absurd pretext of beef-eating, they were all fasting. It was a crime completely and totally motivated by communal feelings, a crime of hate.

People in the village of Kandhauli told us of their experiences on local trains passing through these areas. They told us that Bhajan mandalis using battery-operated mics have converted many general compartments into exclusive religious zones. They spoke of aggressive and abusive comments made by some passengers when Muslim men enter the compartments. They said that harassment has become a common experience and there is fear and apprehension among young Muslim men when travelling this route. Several times, they said, complaints have been made to the police but have been ignored.

Security is non- existent, or else how could these men get on the train armed with big knives? The railway ministry cannot escape its accountability.

Across areas in and around the NCR region, organisations owing allegiance to the toxic communal ideology of the Sangh Parivar are spreading contempt, disrespect, hostility and hatred towards minority communities. The outcome is what happened that dreadful day on a local train travelling in the capital region of India.

Worse, these attackers, it is being established with one tragedy after another, are empowered by the lack of government action against them; they are emboldened by the support and patronage they get. Whether it is the criminal activities of so-called gau-rakshaks, the beef vigilantes, the love jihadis,  it is open season for all those who do not conform to the idea of the Hindu rashtra.

In this case what becomes clear is the increasing communalisation of public spaces. No one can be safe when mobs like the one in the train compartment incited by men who owe allegiance to the ideology of the Sangh Parivar take over  public roads,  stations, buses, trains. In this context the spontaneous protests against the lynching show the possibility of building wider and stronger resistance to the diabolical communal agenda of the Sangh Parivar. 

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