By now everyone knows that Hafiz Junaid, a 15-year-old, was lynched to death on a train. He was returning from Eid shopping. Protests against targeted killings by mobs are taking place around the country. #NotInMyName is gathering momentum. On Eid, a festival that marks the end of the month of fasting, People from across India, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs transcended sectarian and religious boundaries and wore black armbands. Sunnis, Shias, Barelvis, Deobandis, Ahl-e Hadith followers, Tablighis and others all wore the band and this show of unity has unnerved some leaders who thrive on promoting intra-Muslim sectarianism.
Indeed, this unity was despite the silence and lack of support of some clerics who either got wrapped up in the jurisprudential technicalities of whether this could be sanctioned by religion or chose to remain silent because of "political" considerations. In other words, having compromised themselves by taking political favours, they are unable to take a principled stand on anything. For the past two years, articles have been written about the rise of mobocracy, about the pernicious nature of lynching and indeed about the silence and inaction of the government. However, there is another part of the lynching of Junaid that needs to be talked about, and that is why an entire train carriage full of people refused to come to his help.
The simple answer is that the passengers did not see a young boy. They saw a terrorist or perhaps as the media love to say, a jihadi.
The simple answer is that the passengers did not see a young boy. They saw a terrorist or perhaps as the media love to say, a jihadi. If one was to be generous then maybe they saw a potential terrorist. This is the only thing that can explain the callousness, indeed the outright complicity of the people who sat silently while someone was being murdered. Junaid was visibly Muslim. He and his brothers were wearing caps. The fact of the matter is that Islamophobia is so inextricably linked to the discourse of terrorism and is presented to the general public in such a manner that it is not surprising that people chose to passively watch.
Perhaps, there are those who will argue that people might have been too frightened to do anything but then this does not explain why a single witness is not forthcoming in the aftermath of the murder. The corn vendor shut shop early, the railway officials did not seem to notice anything out of order and none of the passengers came forward. The lynching of Ayub Pandith in Kashmir, the lynchings of Hindus, most recently in Rae Bareily on the 27th of June and the murders of Dalits are all equally shocking examples of the rise of a mob culture. However, the reasons for each of these are distinct and trying to conflate them is itself an injustice to the particularities of each incident.
The silent crowd... is as much to blame for the murder as the vigilantes. They felt they had no obligation, no ties and no responsibility towards Junaid. He was not one of them.
In the case of Junaid, his murder was part of a narrative that is being relentlessly pushed by a media that is hell bent on trying to place the blame for many of the world's ills on Muslims. Crucially it is that spectre which is everywhere but nowhere- terrorism- that is constantly invoked. Little does it matter that according to various surveys, including one by the US Counter Terrorism Centre, 87-95% of the victims of terrorism are Muslim. Despite this, the most prevalent narrative that is pushed is that there is something intrinsically wrong with Islam. No one however bats an eyelid when billions of dollars worth of weapons and arms are sold to the very countries in the Arabian Peninsula that have pushed a warped interpretation of Islam as part of their domestic and foreign policy. Indeed, the very opposite is true. Our leaders flock to these countries and are honoured by them. In return they promote trade and military ties or to be more specific military patronage. International relations and economics as partly responsible for "global terror?" I can almost hear the trolls readying their keyboards!
Sections of the media regularly come up with frenzied reports of how Islam and Muslims are threatening to take over the world. Just the other day, Times Now channel, carried a report from seven years ago that had already been discredited as fake, and presented it as breaking news. Hindi channels also peddle this hate. This brazen distortion of reality is of course the preoccupation of many political and cultural organisations. The sad fact is that when those passengers saw Junaid, their minds justified inaction. Earlier this year two Hindus were "mistaken" for being Muslim in Greater Noida and were the targets of a cow-protection gang. This phenomenon of course has been widely present in America, where right after 9/11 and all the way till today, Sikhs, Mexicans, Hindus and frankly anyone who seems like they might be "Muslim" are regularly the targets of hate attacks. The silent crowd therefore is as much to blame for the murder as the vigilantes. They felt they had no obligation, no ties and no responsibility towards Junaid. He was not one of them. He was not even a human.
The gatherings, vigils and protests are representative of a much larger anger about the many Junaids that have been murdered over the past few years...
Both Muslim men and women, particularly those who are visibly Muslim, have been dehumanised to such a large extent that rather than rush to save a teenager from being stabbed, people were content to either remain silent or indeed egg others on. Hate speech has become the norm. Politicians are unfazed and indeed justify incitement to murder. The spiralling violence and the increasing indifference, indeed justification of prejudice that is pushed by both political and media interests are now the new norm. Society too is equally to blame. For all the benefits of the Internet, it is also a mirror that reflects back exactly what you want to see or hear. Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups and so on form small closed clusters of some "in-group"—Sunni, Shia, Brahmin, Yadav, Thakur, Rajput, Dalit and the list goes on. These groups in turn reinforce all the basest forms of tribalism. Of course, this is as prevalent amongst Muslims as amongst other communities. One only need glance across the border to see the kinds of brutal discrimination that is meted out to both Muslim and non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan.
In times such as these it is often best to turn towards those who have lived through traumas and borne witness to the savagery that humans can inflict upon each other. Nirmal Luthra, 92, former lecturer in Delhi University, was born in Lahore in 1925. She is a witness to the horrors of partition. In reaction to the murder of Junaid she said, "Children are special...we must ensure that our children have the ability to move about in peace and safety and have the right to individual belief. The tragic and violent death of an innocent teenager shatters this belief and our confidence in ourselves as a civilised people."
[Some] argue that all these protests will be counterproductive and only reinforce rabid mob mentality. But then the question arises, where does one draw the line? When they come for you?
The protests around Junaid's death are no longer just an agitation to get his family justice. Indeed, Junaid is now a larger symbol of a community under siege. The gatherings, vigils and protests are representative of a much larger anger about the many Junaids that have been murdered over the past few years and worry about the future Junaids that might be killed. The black armband movement is the beginning of an assertion of having a stake in the public sphere. There are those that argue that all these protests will be counterproductive and only reinforce rabid mob mentality. But then the question arises, where does one draw the line? When they come for you?