Five Years After Akhlaq Lynching, Situation Remains Grim

Mohammad Akhlaq, 52, was killed by the mob while his youngest son Danish was critically injured in the attack in September.

Akhlaq’s death triggered a nationwide call and debate for an end to the rising violence against India’s Muslims

Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — Five years ago, a frenzied mob of Hindu extremists dragged out 55-year-old Akhlaq and his son Danish from their home in Dadri, a town in west Uttar Pradesh. They thrashed them ruthlessly. Danish survived but Akhlaq did not.

His death became one of the high-profile cases in the string of lynchings of ordinary Muslim men by organised Hindutva gangs in different parts of the country since the onset of the rule of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.

Akhlaq’s death triggered a nationwide call and debate for an end to the rising violence against India’s Muslims in the form of street harassment, mob attacks, lynchings, unproven police charges and discriminatory laws. Civil society people came together to push for upholding the rights of the minorities.

They called for new and separate laws to tackle hate crimes and mob violence. Petitions were filed in the Supreme Court to seek its intervention in curbing the rise of hate crimes.

These crimes are quite often perpetrated in the name of cow protection. The self-styled vigilantes now take law into their own hands to beat cattle traders and shepherds.

Despite the demand by the civil rights activists and Muslim politicians to put an end to hate crimes, rightwing forces have become emboldened more than ever. Three years after they lynched Akhlaq, one of the accused threw his hat into the ring in the Lok Sabha elections. Hariom Sisodia boasted about the hideous act during his election campaign as he rallied from one village to another seeking votes. In an interview to HuffPost India during the campaign: “Mohammad Akhlaq messed with our religion; he messed with our gau mata; what happened to him was right. Anyone who kills cows will meet a similar end.”

He added, “When I’m a lawmaker, I will ensure that not a single cow is killed.”

Though Sisodia did not win, those contestants who shared his views made it to the Parliament with a thumping majority once again. Observers say Modi’s indifference towards Muslims won him a second term.

When Ravi Sisodia, one of the lynching case accused, died in jail, his villagers projected him as a martyr and draped his corpse in the national tricolour. India’s then cultural minister Mahesh Sharma joined the villagers hailing Sisodia   .

“This shows that those who commit mob violence enjoy political patronage of the ruling party,” says Ziya us Salam, a vetaran journalist who has authored a book on the subject called ‘Lynch Files’.

Modi’s first term witnessed 36 killings in the name of cow protection. The rights groups denounced the violence and called for better laws to curb hate crimes but now, Salam says, the mob has done away with the pretence of blaming the victim for cow slaughter.

“Now being a Muslim is enough reason to be subjected to mob attack,” Ziya adds. “First time in my life, I am seeing the attackers recording the act and then uploading it online to boast about it.”

Few months into the second term, Modi government brought a controversial citizenship law which critics say is against secularism and blatantly anti-Muslim. This triggered a wave of public protests in which secular forces got together seeking reversal of the new law.

However, the government did not budge, further cementing the hate against Muslims which culminated into the widespread violence in parts of Delhi, claiming over 50 lives, most of them Muslims, in February this year.

Thereafter, when the coronavirus pandemic struck the country, again Muslims became the target of hate as they were accused of spreading the virus. Ordinary street hawkers were attacked and discriminated against just because they happened to be Muslim.

Despite guidelines laid by the Supreme Court in 2018 for the Centre and the states for fast-tracked trials, victim compensation, deterrent punishment and disciplinary action against lax law-enforcing officials. Colin Gonsalves, a noted human rights lawyer, says, “the situation on the ground is grim”.

Only this month, there were at least four incidents of mob attacks on Muslims, including two deaths.

The media has also lost interest in giving the required coverage to the incident of mob attacks on Muslims. Even newspapers bury them into single-column items on inside pages. “It has now been covered like a weather bulletin,” this is how Salam put it.

Political observers say hate crimes against Muslims have not ceased because the state governnments have no interest in protecting the rights of the minorities.

For Gonsalves, the way out is an independent investigation. “There is a need for an investigation by an agency independent of the government. Now even the CBI is said to be completely linked with the Central government. For all politically sensitive cases, we need a completely independent body.”


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