Speak up, Prime Minister

Hate crimes have become so routine since the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq two years ago that the death of Afrazul barely found mention in the next morning’s newspapers.

By Tavleen Singh

Last Thursday when that video of Afrazul being attacked with an axe and burned alive in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand went viral on social media, the Chief Minister tweeted a picture of herself celebrating Armed Forces Day. Not one word about this latest hate crime. Is it any wonder that in her tenure her state has become notorious for lynching Muslims? She has been a personal friend of mine long before she became a politician and never once did I think she lacked basic humanity. I am ashamed for her.

The Prime Minister was campaigning in Gujarat that day and said not one word about this latest hate crime. But he clearly knew what was happening in the country because within minutes of Mani Shankar Aiyar describing him as ‘neech’ (lowly), the PM made a passionate speech about being mocked for being lowborn. Prime-time debates that evening explored the nuances of the ‘neech’ story and the brutal, senseless murder of Afrazul went almost unnoticed.

Hate crimes have become so routine since the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq two years ago that the death of Afrazul barely found mention in the next morning’s newspapers with the exception of this one. The Indian Express was almost the only newspaper that bothered to talk to Afrazul’s family in West Bengal and interview his daughter, Rejina Khatun, who said, “I watched the video and heard the cries of my helpless father while he was being killed.”
Horrifying though it was, I watched the video too and was sickened to see the killer boast afterwards about how he had done what he did to stop ‘love jihad’. He made his teenaged nephew record the lynching because he believes that what he did was for the glory of India. Shambhulal Regar is a semi-literate Hindu who has been so inspired by the mood of our times that he has made other videos of himself ranting against Islam and ‘love jihad.’
So who is to blame for these routine killings that have become part of the very fabric of India? There is no question that it is our leaders. The Prime Minister has spoken twice against hate crimes but only after Dalit youths started to become victims of the vigilantes his chief ministers have unleashed across the country. These chief ministers would not allow vigilantes to commit their barbaric, brutal crimes if they were not convinced that this kind of vigilantism pleases the Prime Minister. It is time for him to show that he abhors these hate crimes that have scarred the face of India.

He risks losing some of his Hindutva supporters if he speaks out, because after every lynching, social media becomes awash with praise for the killers instead of sympathy for the victim. There is little doubt that his alma mater, the RSS, approves thoroughly of Hindus killing Muslims. I know this because after one lynching I spoke to a senior RSS leader and said that lynch mobs are usually made up of cowards not warriors, to which he said, “At least Hindus are now showing the courage to fight.”

So the Prime Minister’s silence reflects the very ugly, popular mood, but real leaders are those who show that they have the courage to lead even when the popular tide is against them. I remember being present once when Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat were discussing ways in which Israel and Palestine could reconcile their differences. When Peres seemed to make every concession to a very hostile Arafat, someone in the audience asked if he was not worried about losing popularity at home. He said, ‘Yes. But, there is a time to follow and there is a time to lead.’

It is time for the Prime Minister to lead. He has shown immense courage when taking very unpopular economic and political decisions, so it is not courage he seems to lack. What is it then? Does he secretly approve of Muslim cattle traders, farmers and just ordinary Muslims like Afrazul being lynched? If he does, then it is we who have to reconcile ourselves to India gradually becoming a Hindu version of Pakistan, a country that has slipped so far beyond the pale that it is considered a rogue nation. If this is not what the Prime Minister wants for India, then he must order his chief ministers to stop putting cow slaughter and ‘love jihad’ at the top of their list of priorities.

These are bad ideas anyway if the Prime Minister is serious about taking India towards modernity, digitisation and that ultimate dream of becoming the 21st Century’s new superpower. If we continue along the path of lynchings and love jihad, we can forget about competing with China altogether. We will be overtaken by countries much smaller and much less powerful. And we will be dragged backwards instead of forwards.

(The article was first published on Indian Express written by Tavleen follow on Twitter @ tavleen_singh)