‘What is your name?’ ‘Asif’, the fourteen-year-old says. ‘What is your father’s name?’ ‘Habib’. ‘What are you doing in this temple? ‘I came here to drink water’. In this moment of betrayal, Shringi Nandan Yadav pounds on the young boy, hurling verbal abuses at him and beating him black and blue. The scene of this hate crime was recorded in Dasna, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh in March of 2021, on the behest of the caretaker of the temple, Shringi Nandan Yadav who asked another caretaker to videotape him and Asif. The video of the crime was initially circulated among the right-wing pages of social media. The celebrations were evident in the comment section of the viral video, people applauding at Shringi Nandan Yadav and his hate crime, he was a warrior, brave enough to beat a young Muslim boy for drinking water from the temple premises.
On 15 May, another scene from the same playbook opened in Mewat, Haryana where another Asif was subjected to the heinous culture of militant nationalism. Asif Khan, a young Muslim in his early twenties was travelling with Rashid (31) and Wasif (22) in a car to get medications. On the way back, they were stopped by a group of Hindu vigilantes, forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’, and lynched. The other two accomplices of Asif were lucky enough to escape; while Rashid remains in critical care, Asif himself, a young gym trainer, did not live to tell his story. He was found lynched to death and his body was recovered from Nangli, a village on the outskirts of Sonha, Haryana. The wound on his face mirrors the tyranny of the State which is quiet, and quieter are the viewers who saw the shrouded body of Asif with his face etched with multiple bruises on their screens.
In the prior case of Asif being beaten for entering a temple, there were no minute discrepancies that could be picked up and balled together into a balancing act to equate both the sides of the oppressor and the oppressed. Asif was ‘drinking’ water and not even ‘stealing’ it, prime evidence was the video of the hate crime committed by Shringi Nandan Yadav himself. As petty as it may come across, there were no details that were missed or overlooked. It was an ‘action’ committed in proper consciousness of both the assailant and the witness at hand, both of them partook in the act. But the list of accused would be incomplete if the parties responsible for disregarding these hate crimes, and thereby, propelling them in the coming times are not brought to the surface.
This hate crime was one piece in the larger chain of events where the lines between the State and the religion of the State have been blurred in India. The site of hate against a minority community in India is projected on the whole terrain of the country, centrally in the Hindi belt. After the Dasna incident, some thousand kilometres away, seventeen members of a Hindu group in Jharkhand took the life off of Mubarak Khan, a twenty-seven-year-old Muslim man – lynching him to death. Mubarak means congratulations in Urdu, a shared language between India and Pakistan, two countries partitioned in the year 1947 – the new dawn brought dusk for the minorities on both side of the border. While the Partition grieved on both sides, primarily a specific class; the knowledge production on the east side of the border was peculiarly built to advance a religious bias but with a cover of secularism. The only difference that we have today is not the onset of a new politics based on anti-minority and anti-marginalized premises but rather it is a stronger, fluent, and relevant version of the already existing historical design.
The idea of a Hindu Rashtra is neither a recent project nor a secret of the past, it has been espoused for decades from the national leaders in the Parliament to the war cries in the streets. A clear example is the mob lynching of Muslims and Dalits on the ‘alleged’ charges of consuming beef and cow slaughter, existing since the pre-partitioned India. In fact, with a Constitution in power, legal interventions were passed in the Parliament and made into ‘laws’ for protecting those who committed the crime in ‘good faith’. This culture of impunity and State-sanctioned violence is at its peak in the consecutive second win of a right-wing nationalist party, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Committing a crime as a service to one religion is a service to the entire nation. It is rewarded to silence Muslims under the cacophony of a Brahminical ruling which has yielded political power almost continuously from the inception of India as an independent country.
This project has re-established the idea of one single nation in a state, forced together akin to the model of Nazi Germany or present China trampling Uyghur Muslims inside the concentration camps forecasting it as a ‘re-education’ scheme. With these clear projections of this grand historical lie in light, still, the limited condemnation of the national project has been built around the idea of a juxtaposed ‘Hindutva Rashtra’. The essence of both these projects is the same yet there is a contrast in invoking them on the varied scales of support and opposition, reflecting the fear attached in questioning the majority from the position of a minority community – the unsaid illegal differentiation of legal citizenship on the ground as de facto and de jure.
With hate crimes against Muslims knitted in the daily paraphernalia, the shocking temperament of the masses is proof of the amnesia when it comes to regard the value of Muslim lives. To put it fairly, the reaction of the majority community to seeing their own men invoking wrath on a minority group has a repetitive pattern of shock now. The ‘response’ activism is not even ‘reactionary’, it exists, first, to fill the void of any ‘response’ and second, to escape responsibilities; this is where the boundaries of activism are set. Every new hate crime against Muslims is an event that is followed with apologies from the community of the criminal and so is their guilt-projection, which seems to be deliberately centred on the failure of the country as a whole. This overtly simplistic understanding of the lawlessness takes action to line all those from the factions of the oppressed and the oppressor on the same plane. So, not only it attempts to erase the stark relations of power politics at play, but it also adulterates the ‘accountability’ required at the moment – leaving behind another addition to an ever-increasing pile of hate crimes with no just legal intervention in place.
‘Sorry Asif’ as a hashtag trended on digital media for the fourteen-year-old but so did ‘I stand with Shringi Yadav’. In the aftermath of the violence and an abnormal normalization that persisted, Asif was left wounded and another hate crime in a different part of the country resulted in the death of another Asif. ‘Sorry Asif’ was not a hashtag for ‘digital activism’, it was escapism by the masses who should otherwise have sought accountability from their community which holds the reign of power. Digital media and its imbalanced outputs are derived from the structural and historical division of power. Only trending hashtags as solidarity for a hate crime which is enshrined in the soul of a national project will not invert the power dynamics until the value of the Brahmin-baniya capital of the Indian State, be it political, social, or economic is not dissected on the ground and put into practice to bring structural changes. Otherwise, lynching becomes a hashtag, political murders become the pivot of a new sociological theory, names are translated into numbers, and deaths become the site of academic data collection. And what remains unattended is the story of every wound on the lynched body of the victim which translated into a site of revenge for the assailants. It is a representation that no Muslim demands, but it does represent the general will of the majority. The term ‘majority’ may distort the symmetry of ‘political correctness’ but the lack of a productive discourse to claim justice in the aftermath of these hate crimes against Muslims do not need any validation to conform to, it is the socio-political terrain that speaks for itself. The evolution of scattered Hindutva politics to a realpolitik of fascism requires no more instructions to hold it to its premise on the ground. It just exists with the very nature of its prolonged existence steered forward with a tested incentive system in practice for the offenders as the awardee.
The trajectory between the two Asifs is a blueprint of the normalization of hate crimes against Muslims. Over the years, the levels of ‘shock’ have become more specific, factors of age and gender have taken precedence. If the victim is not unique by any such parameters, the hate crime passes as an ordinary ‘incident’ and not even an ‘accident’. In the purview of the rising peril of Hindu nationalism as part and parcel of Indian citizenship, these hate crimes have swapped their definition with what is expected, unlawful, and normal – all three amalgamated into one single concept.
The way out from here seems bleak but it exists, for if the hate crimes against Muslims have continued more brazenly, the response of owning the identity of the victim has been practised stronger by their community. To dismantle the premise of a nation forcibly assimilated, the current socio-political terrain has to be redone and most importantly, it should not be ‘naturally’ initiated from ‘civilizing’ the oppressed groups. The starting point would be removing the synonymity of ‘social education’ from the ‘minorities and marginalized’ and connecting it to the ‘privileged’ groups. More often than not, the popular activism of the country focuses social education on spreading awareness to the underprivileged masses in their colonies and ghettos. As error-proof as it may come across, owing to its assumed natural disposition, it is a colonial legacy in practice. It pushes the narrative where it is made natural to infantilize lived experiences of the oppressed communities to those theories which are structured literally on them.
The pivot has to be re-premised on the definition of ‘de-radicalization’, with its orbit fashioned to highlight the learnings of modern fascist interpretation among the supposed ‘learned’ classes. The discussion should not be about adding layers and creating an academic discourse on what degree of oppression should we start acknowledging the building up of a genocide which is not a one-day process, let history itself be a case study. If the hounding of oppressed communities and their further repression is not a primary argument to dismantle the regime in power, the starting point of any progressive discourse is already skewed. The remaining depth analysis and perspectives of the case is nothing but a breeding ground for academic careers and the intellectualized murmur of sorts. With Muslims left to fend for themselves in the face of rising fanatical nationalism, the conversation has to be initiated from how to make the majority ‘unlearn’ the grandeur of a historical national myth.
Zeenia Parveen is a student of M.A. Politics (with specialization in International Studies), School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.