India's rising instances of attacks on minorities by Hindu supremacists hit an alarming crescendo in the first week of December, when a migrant Muslim worker was hacked and then burnt alive in Rajsamand, Rajasthan by a Hindu known to speak in fanatical terms online about his hatred against Muslims.
The victim, 50-year-old, Mohammed Afrajul, hailed from West Bengal, a state in eastern India and worked as a laborer from a very young age to support his family including three children, numerous news reports added.
Chief Minister of West Bengal State Mamata Banerjee tweeted:
We strongly condemn the heinous killing of a labourer from Bengal in Rajasthan. How can people be so inhuman. Sad
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) December 7, 2017
The gruesome incident was allegedly orchestrated by Shambhu Lal Raigar (38), a marble trader who believed in killing Afrajul to prevent an instance of ‘Love Jihad‘, a term used to describe Muslim boys and men who lure non-Muslim girls to convert to Islam by feigning love.
Though the term has been widely debunked, it is still commonly used by political leaders to leverage votes and divide the Hindu-Muslim community resulting in sectarian clashes.
Indian blogger Agnivo Niyogi tweeted:
Let us not forget, like Afrajul Khan, even Rizwanur was killed a decade ago for daring to love. “Honour killing” is ingrained in the north-Indian psyche. Even, Buddhadeb's police administration was complicit in the cover-up!
— Agnivo Niyogi (@Aagan86) December 8, 2017
In gruesome online videos, Raigar's 14-year-old nephew records the entire incident on his behest while the perpetrator hacks Afrajul, pours kerosene on his body before walking off coolly. Global Voices suggests caution and trigger warnings before viewing these videos.
In the videos, Afrajul can be heard screaming for mercy as the man continues to stab him with an agricultural tool with no remorse. Afrajul had been taken to fields by the accused under the pretense of securing labor work.
Authorities said they received information about a semi-burnt body but were not able to identify the victim until the videos surfaced online and were widely viewed and shared. State police have compared the video to ones similar to the Islamic State, known for releasing grim execution videos.
The accused fanatic can be heard warning Muslims in India: “This is what will happen to you if you do ‘love jihad’ in our country.”
‘Love Jihad’ concept debunked and disputed
The recent case of Hadiya, a 24-year-old woman from the southern state of Kerala, has focused the spotlight on the alleged phenomenon of “Love Jihad,” a term constantly referred to in local media.
Hadiya's marriage and conversion to Islam reached India's Supreme court because her family said their daughter was forced to convert to Islam. Hadiya vehemently discredited these allegations and said she chose Islam voluntarily along with her marriage.
Meanwhile, Rajasthani police have refuted Raigar's claim about Afrajul committing ‘Love Jihad’ or any other illicit activities. In an article in The Indian Express, journalist Syed Hameed fears that this tragedy will quickly fade from public memory as the incendiary rhetoric has become legitimized.
Harsh Mander, a human rights activist who went on a fact-finding mission to Rajasmand expressed his shock:
Just returning from fact-finding of Afrazul's hate killing. Shaken to the soul.
So much hate felled a gentle man who dedicated his life to hard labour in distant lands to ensure a better life for his family.
Shambhu killed a complete stranger in a frenzy of hate fuelled by who?
— Harsh Mander (@harsh_mander) December 11, 2017
Educator and poet Seshan Ranganathan wrote on Twitter:
I think every Hindu needs to raise his voice against communal division, suspicion and hate. Non-appeasement and even handed justice, which is a legitimate demand, is now clearly being twisted to cover exclusion, neglect and immoral silence. Let all Indians come together.
— Seshan Ranganathan (@seshanm) December 11, 2017
Sanjay Jha from India's Congress Party tweeted:
Mohammed Afrazul's brutal killing in Rajasthan should shame us all; if the sickening hate behind it does not disturb our conscience, nothing will. For a moment, let's forget our political differences, and think of humanity alone. Where are we headed?
— Sanjay Jha (@JhaSanjay) December 11, 2017
Activist Saba Dewan wrote on Facebook:
India is bleeding. The time to remain silent is over. The brutal murder in Rajsamand, Rajasthan of Afrazul Islam a migrant worker from West Bengal has brought home searingly the vulnerability of minorities, especially Muslims to hate crimes being committed against them in the India of today. The murderer, Shambhu Lal Regar can be heard on the video that he got made of the killing justifying his crime in the name of so called ‘Love Jihad’, a bogey conjured up by proponents of hatred to demonize and target Muslim men in consensual love relationships with Hindu women.
Meanwhile, Facebook has been selectively blocking those condemning the attack. Qazi Zaid, an editor based out of Kashmir was blocked by Facebook for his post denouncing the murder.
Vatsala Singh posted on Facebook:
Qazi Zaid, the editor of Free Press Kashmir has been blocked from posting on Facebook for vocalizing his protest against the lynching and persecution of the minority in India.
This is not new. Facebook has been blocking people who are protesting against the rampant lynching or any form of injustices. This trend of blocking and silencing of the critical voices show the legitimacy that these social media outlets are giving to the mob. The state institutions are already providing enough legitimacy to these actions. The fifth estate is also a part of the system as they are nothing but profit-making organizations.
More they block us, more vocal we will become.
Lynching Muslims in India is a truth. We are living in the times of terror and the state in India is sponsoring it. You can't block us and invisiblize the truth.
Numerous activists and groups have been protesting against Afrajul's violent murder and thousands attended his funeral. Various protests erupted across New Delhi, the nation's capital, with the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter, a replica of #BlackLivesMatter from the United States.
Since the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India in 2014, there has been a spike in mob-justice cases, mostly targeting minority Muslims. Rajasthan has a track record of mob-justice cases.
Journalist Mahim Pratap Singh Tweets:
#Rajasthan shames the country again.
4 Muslims lynched in 9 months.
Pehlu Khan, 1st April, Alwar.
Zafar khan, 16th June, Pratapgarh.
Ummar, 10th November, Govindgarh, Alwar.
Mohammed Afrazul, 6th December, Rajsamand. pic.twitter.com/TbN8PPLSoB
— Mahim Pratap Singh (@mayhempsingh) December 7, 2017
In April this year, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer accused of smuggling cattle, was killed by a mob on the national highway in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. In November, the body of dairy farmer Ummar Khan was found on the railway tracks after legally purchasing and taking cows in a pick-up truck to his village.