A few days before Eid-ul-fitr in June 2017, a mob of 20 Hindu men fatally stabbed Junaid Khan, a Muslim teenager, and seriously injured his three companions on a train near in the North Indian state of Haryana.
More than 200 onlookers in the train compartment and on the railway platform watched the incident without coming forward to challenge the killers, with a few even encouraging the assaulters. They accused the teenage Muslim boys of eating beef, an act considered sacrilegious by sections of the nation’s Hindu majority.
This attack was part of an increasing trend that began with the death of Mohammad Akhlaq in Oct 2015. He was killed on suspicion of keeping beef in his home, located in a village not far from the capital.
These are not isolated incidents. The escalating trend of cow slaughter-related vigilantism since the election of Hindu Nationalist party BJP in 2014 has been described as “unprecedented” by Human Rights Watch.
Members of the Hindu extremist group, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) have been emboldened by the fact that Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister is also one of its members.
They have targeted Muslims and Dalits (Low Caste Hindus), marginalizing and even killing them, with the accusation of cow slaughter frequently featuring as a reason. Dalits are targeted as they are responsible for disposing cattle carcasses and skins on account of working in the leather industry.
Despite the lip-service given to the protection of cows, the treatment meted out to cows are almost as bad as that offered to marginalized communities. They are left by their owners once they cease milking and become useless.
Cows moving around or sitting right in the middle of roads is a common sight in Indian urban areas. They are a major traffic hazard, at times causing accidents and injuries to the passengers in vehicles. These millions of cows are forced to eat food leftovers along with the plastic bags, eventually dying of related sicknesses. Even milk which is forced out of these ageing cows is found to be highly contaminated. Yet, this very same animal is being used as a sacred symbol to ignite the passions of the illiterate masses by political opportunists.
Since Modi came to power, India’s minorities including Muslims, Christians and Dalits have been facing harassment and threats at unprecedented levels. Hindu Extremist groups, mainly represented by upper caste Hindus, have been renewing old controversies to question the patriotism of Muslims, in particular.
They accused Muslim youth of marrying Hindu girls in the name of ‘love jihad’, blaming Muslims for insulting the nation by not singing the national song ‘Vande Mataram’ or accusing them of supporting Pakistan, to name a few. Even liberal Muslims such as film stars and sports personalities have not been spared.
In March 2017, Modi and his Party chief Amit Shah elected a highly controversial Hindu leader Yogi Aditayanath as the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, following a resounding victory of their party in State Assembly elections. His very first target was the meat industry which had employed millions of Muslims across the state. The old-fashioned abattoirs and small meat hawkers and shops were forced to close down, as these were mostly without documents and declared illegal.
On the political front, the opposition parties are in a disarray with no dominant leader and with low chances of challenging the BJP in coming years. The opposition parties along with human right groups do organise street and social media protests against the horrible incidents. However, they seem to lose steam soon and have little impact on Hindu vigilantes.
Speaking to friends and relatives in many parts of India, Muslims are demoralised. They are concerned about their safety as any minor incident can become violent. Many fear large scale violence may erupt in some sensitive areas. While communal tensions have gripped parts of India numerous times since independence, never before have Muslims felt so helpless.
Indian Muslims at large have become one the worst performing socioeconomic groups in the nation. They have been subdued in the tide of rising Hindu extremism and have exercised patience to the humiliation and threats, they faced on daily basis over the past couple of years.
A nation which aspires to become a technical, industrial and financial power, is now showing signs of witnessing religious riots in many parts due to Hindu extremism, causing it to lose its international image.