Under Attack: Vulnerable Minorities Fear for Their Safety in an Increasingly Intolerant India
On 1 April dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, his two sons, and a couple of local boys were attending a cattle fair in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The men bought five cows at the fair and were carrying receipts of purchase. However, on their seven hour drive back to the village, a group of right-wing Hindu vigilantes stopped them on the highway, accused them of smuggling cows for slaughter, and beat them brutally. The senseless violence left the men with broken ribs and noses; one of them also had spinal injury. 55-year-old Khan was hit the worst. After fighting for his life for two days, he succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital. The police initially refused to register a First Information Report (FIR) against those accused of the lynching. So far there have been no arrests and Pehlu Khan’s family has not received any financial compensation from the state.
Led by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a joint front was formed in Jaipur to organize a nationwide, three-day strike to demand justice for the victims. A large number of activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and union leaders addressed the gatherings. Daily press conferences were convened to put pressure on the police and local government. The families of the victims also spoke out and urged the state redress their grievances. While independent activists and journalists had met with the victims’ families immediately after the news broke out, it was during the sit-in that some of us decided to visit the family. The community members were feeling insecure and the state’s inaction only reinforced their fears of repeated violence.
When we arrived at the village, around 80 men were seated outside Khan’s house waiting to meet us after their morning prayer. As we listened to their stories, we could sense their growing anger and frustration. I quietly slipped away into the interior of the house where the women and small children were huddled together. Someone dragged Pehlu Khan’s mother towards me and as we hugged each other, she started to wail, and begged me to get her Pehlu back. In spite of being blind and also hard of hearing, she said she could hear and see her son asking for help. The fearful and hopeless faces of the wife, the daughters, old and young family members, told a million stories.
What could I do except share their grief and hold their pain in my small wounded heart? I wondered what the future holds for the people living in the dust covered huts, with poverty written boldly around those mud walls? Almost all of them were holding the green glass prayer rosary. I wish I knew who they were praying to. I left the village with a deep sense of fear mixed with anger and anxiety. Their pain and sorrow riddled faces broke me down. Is there ever going to be justice for the families? Is beef the issue or there is a larger conspiracy? Are Muslims not rightful citizens of this country?
The struggle for justice must continue. None of us are going to give up. We must work together with the aggrieved families to devise long-term strategies. Plans for a joint march of Dalits, Muslims and the nomadic community are being prepared with the aim of building a larger alliance of all those whose right are being violated. We know that this is not the first and won’t be the last time a minority community comes under attack. And Indian Muslims find themselves in a particularly dangerous predicament as the architects of the Hindu Rashtra make clear their intentions to purge the nation of all non-Hindus.
Abha Bhaiya is one of the Founding Members of Jagori Delhi and Jagori Rural and a Board Member of the WRN