From Shambhu Lal To Padmavati: Hate Crime Is The New Normal In India

India has been long-plagued by poverty, inequality, growing rates of unemployment, widening gaps between a few rich Indians and the majority of the poor, and rural distress exacerbated by agrarian crises. It is now faced with other crises: rising cases of cow-vigilantism and hate crimes.

In an already-continuing series of hate crimes, one of the latest victims happens to be Afrazul Khan, a 47-year-old migrant laborer from Malda, West Bengal, who was working as a daily labourer in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. Apparently, his ‘crime’ was his faith and humble background.

The perpetrator, Shambu Lal Regar, was a semi-literate, on-and-off marble trader, who seems to have been struggling to make ends meet. He seems to have had an ingrained hatred for Muslims, which he developed after allegedly watching hate videos.

Regar’s instructions to his teenaged nephew to record the gruesome act marks his audacity. His rants about ‘love jihad’, ‘Islam’ and ‘Babri Masjid’ are some of the evidences that are, perhaps, enough to deduce that incidents of hate crimes have indeed become a new normal in Indian society.

What makes such incidents worse is the tendency of the predatory individuals or mobs to record their barbarity and then share them on social media – allegedly to draw plaudits from right-wing groups and to even create a pervasive fear, especially in the Muslim community. In this case, a social media commentator hailed the deranged killer in the following words: “Love jihadiyon saavdhan, jag utha hai Shambhulal Jai Shri Ram (Love jihadists, beware, for Shambhulal has risen)!”

In my opinion, these people share one thing in common: they believe that the perpetrator will easily get away with their actions as such perpetrators have previously also been given a free run – or worse, state protection. This is evident from the case of Pehlu Khan, who was killed by self-styled cow vigilantes in Alwar. The attackers were not detained and those who were arrested by the police are now out on bail.

These incidents have made a mockery of the Indian judiciary – and often allows the perpetrators of heinous crimes to enjoy unflinching impunity, often making the state complicit in their ill designs.

Imagined Grievances Versus The Real Ones

In my opinion, right-wing groups seem to have successfully created ‘imagined grievances’ in the minds of the people, either by fabricating or twisting historical facts. For example, they tend to believe that the Mughals ruled with an iron fist – and that they discriminated against Hindus, destroyed temples and built mosques on them. They have even swayed some media outlets to the extent of spreading hatred in society by poisoning the minds of people with anti-Muslim rhetoric, hate, and prejudice.

Some right-wing groups also cite the examples of Bangladesh and Pakistan where, they claim, Hindus are a persecuted minority and often subjected to cruelty. This, in my opinion, is a clear move to justify the reciprocal punishment of  Muslims in India. While there may be an iota of truth in these claims, pitting one group against the other or punishing innocent people is not justifiable, and goes against the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution.

All this happens at the cost of the ‘real issues’. Many poor Hindus raise the alarm bells against issues such as ‘love jihad’, beef consumption and the growing Muslim population. However, they overlook the ‘real issues’ such as growing unemployment, increasing number of farmer suicides in India, corruption, the crumbling healthcare system and the lack of quality education. This often results in a situation where a poor farmer (for instance) is too engrossed in anti-Muslim rhetoric to even ask for their basic amenities and a better quality of life.

The Padmavati Row

The memories of the Padmavati row are still fresh – especially the drama that ensued and the impunity with which a right-wing group issued threats to the film’s crew, including the lead actress, Deepika Padukone. Also, what’s relevant here is the sympathy the group got from the Rajasthan state government, which even banned the film  before the Censor Board’s decision.

What people are failing to understand is that all these incidents are distracting us from the issues which actually create consistent obstacles in our path to becoming a modern society with high-living standards, democratic values and a liberal ethos.

Hate crimes lead to the polarisation of the society, which may give an edge to those politicians whose primary concerns are to seize power (either by hook or crook) and to exploit the gullible Indian electorates.

Prayer For Justice

Hate crimes are against democratic values. They violate inviolable human rights – and lead to the polarisation of the society, cruelty and barbarism. The citizens should build a clear and unambiguous consensus against hate, mob justice and hooliganism. Besides, states should adopt a zero tolerance policy against the perpetrators of hate crimes. They should denounce and prosecute them swiftly.

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