India- Udaipur Horror: Muslims fear backlash over murder of Hindu tailor

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Hindu mobs have been holding rallies, raising anti-Muslim slogans over the murder of Kanhaiya Lal by Muslim extremists

Hrishi Raj Anand   4 July 2022

Journalist Hrishi Raj Anand traveled to Udaipur the day after the brutal murder of Kanhaiya Lal that sent shock waves around the nation. The brutal murder by the two Muslim extremists has been condemned by every Muslim organization, political body and public intellectual. Yet, as Hrishi Raj records in this ground report, it is the local Muslim community that bears the brunt of the hate speech, asking for blood of Muslims as revenge for the murder. This is a disturbing report that captures the highly fragile communal atmosphere in the country. The leaders that rule us should give a loud and clear message to the country that hate crimes, communal polarization needs to end.

  • Rana Ayyub

Young men with tires and sticks in their hands, waving them aggressively as they pass Muslim localities, raising anti-Muslim slogans, shutting down shops and petrol pumps. An eerie silence is palpable after the brutal killing of the forty eight year-old tailor, Kanhaiya Lal in his shop near the Dal mandi police station in Udaipur.

The killing is alleged to be in response to Kanhaiya Lal’s support of Nupur Sharma, a spokesperson of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) who had denigrated Prophet Mohammad on national television. Sharma was suspended from the Bhartiya Janata Party following international outrage over this incident and the growing intolerance in India, especially from West Asian countries.

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The Supreme Court of India, in a scathing observation, said last week that a culture of hate was unleashed upon the country since Nupur Sharma’s communally charged statement. In response to an appeal filed by Nupur Sharma’s lawyer in the Supreme Court, Justice Surya Kant came down heavily not just on the BJP`s spokesperson but also the Delhi police and the media for stoking communal tensions in the country, especially calling out the former for not doing it`s job. He said “”The way she (Nupur Sharma) has ignited emotions across the country…this lady is single handedly responsible for what is happening in the country”.

On June 28th, two Muslim men Mohammad Riyaz Attari and Ghouse Muhammad entered Kanhaiya Lal’s shop in the Malda street of Udaipur masquerading as customers and later killed him with a cleaver, a dastardly act that they recorded on camera. His two sons Tarun Teli and Yash Teli have told this journalist that none of the family members had written the Facebook Post in solidarity with Nupur Sharma, and that the one for which his father was allegedly killed was re-shared on his Facebook by mistake.

As I reached the outskirts of Udaipur, a day after Kanhaiya Lal was murdered, I saw a young man being hounded by a crowd. The man, sporting a long beard was surrounded by a mob who intimidated him into revealing his religious identity. The mob hurled abuses and blows on him over the assumption that he was a Muslim. He kept pleading “I am just requesting you not to shut the city. There are many children struggling to find a rickshaw to reach their exam center.” Despite his invocations, he was dragged to the local Pratapnagar police station to verify his religious identity.

Through the course of this incident, this journalist was also asked to provide his identity card by the mob and a section of the mob ordered me to delete the video that I had shot of the incident.

Slogans like ‘Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro saalo ko (shoot the traitors of the country) that has been a rallying cry for the Hindu right wing was raised in the presence of cops, who remained mute spectators as groups of Hindu men on motorcycles and four wheelers with sticks and saffron flags rode across the curfewed city.

The funeral procession and cremation of Kanhaiya Lal soon became a venue of political rallying and sloganeering. The prayer service was hijacked by members of the Hindu right wing that asked for retaliation. Many raised the slogan ‘Khoon ke badle khoon’ (blood for blood).

Most of the people in the crowd, this journalist spoke to, came from Hindu right-wing organizations. When asked, they claimed allegiance to Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, RSS or BJYM (Bhartiya Janata Party’s Youth Wing).

 

A young Hindu man climbs atop a hoarding and shouts anti-Muslim slogans while raising a saffron flag. Photograph by Hrishi Raj

Shankar, a young 22-year-old medical student from Udaipur city said, “If a killing can happen in the name of religion, why can’t we unite for the same. The saffron flags you see here are a response to the whole community (Muslims) that they will not be spared after this incident.” The crowd gave examples of Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath Government suggesting that if it were a BJP led government in the state, as opposed to the Ashok Gehlot led Congress government, an encounter of the killers would have been conducted by now and bulldozers deployed across the city to teach the Muslim community.

Long before the NIA or the police could declare the link of the two Muslim convicts with any terrorist organization, a perverted narrative had started doing the rounds that Udaipur’s Muslims where getting influenced by the Taliban and ISIS. They also suggested that people had been coming from Bangladesh and Pakistan to the city. Many of the people I spoke to, called for Muslim houses to be searched. “All their houses should be checked. We are sure that the police will find weapons and stones from most of the houses,” claimed another local at the cremation ground.

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The next day, on 30th June, a mass rally with more than ten thousand men and a handful of women marched from the Townhall area to the Collector’s office in Udaipur, where a memorandum with a list of demands was submitted to the District Magistrate.

This march was led by a group of Hindu saints. Acharya Sudarshan who routinely leads the Jagannath Rath Yatra (a Hindu religious procession) every year said “I can assure you that the Hindus would not do anything. I still cannot believe how the youth manages to keep quiet after such a horrific killing. We won’t cause any trouble tomorrow (1st July the day of Yatra), but if they do, since it’s Jumma tomorrow, we will not stop either.”

 

Islamophobic slogans and placards at a rally outside the Collector’s Office in Udaipur. Photograph by Hrishi Raj

The crowd did not just raise slogans against Muslims. At regular intervals, someone would walk up to me, ask for my name, and urge me to take a stand for Hindutva, questioning my own commitment to my faith. I wondered, what if It was a Muslim journalist covering this incident ?

“One of theirs killed our brother in broad daylight, and we cannot even shout slogans against them?” asked another local in the rally outside the Collector’s office. Despite the anti-Muslim sloganeering and abusive language against Prophet Muhammad, the police personnel did nothing to quell the hate speech.

Three former SP’s of Udaipur Police were called to the city to maintain law and order. Two of them, Rajendra Prasad Goyal and Dinesh M.N, the ones I spoke to, currently work in the anti-corruption bureau. When asked about the slogans and the hate, the officials said, “We have to let it pass. If we do not, then it will be difficult to control the situation. The city will see riots.”

While a curfew was imposed in the entire city, most Muslims where seen to be staying indoors, while the Hindu population found it easy to march on the streets in huge numbers without being stopped by agencies meant to maintain law and order. The residents in the Muslim area of Khanji Pir, from where the killers hailed, found themselves living in fear of a backlash.

The Muslims remained isolated in their area. When asked about access to medical facilities and ration arrangements, Zahid, one of the youth from Khanji Pir said, “we have limited ration and the number of shops in the area are also very few. Barring a handful of medical shops, there is no healthcare facility in the area, and moving out of our neighborhood is not allowed.”

While no identification was asked by the police from us journalists in the area where the Hindus had assembled for the rally, it was an exhausting process to enter the Muslim-dominated areas. Less than a mile away from the Muslim colony, there was a police barricade that would not allow the media to enter if they failed to produce an ID card from their organization, making it all the more difficult for independent journalists, not affiliated with any publication, to speak with Muslim families.

Khanji Pir, a Muslim locality with narrow lanes and houses stitched together, was enveloped in complete silence as one passed through it. Families looked from their windows and verandas with questioning eyes as this journalist passed through the houses. One of the neighbors of Ghouse (one of the two killers) who agreed to talk, mentioned, “He used to read the namaz five times a day and spend the rest of his time either sitting at his Kirana (grocery) shop or being involved in household work. We never expected that a boy who grew up in front of our eyes could commit such a heinous crime.”

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I also tried speaking to the neighbors about the Hindu mob carrying out the protests outside the Khanji Pir area. Ghouse’s immediate neighbor, Akbar said, “Of course we are scared. In the first place, it is intimidating to see police on guard twenty-four hours right outside my house. I have spent sleepless nights ever since the incident happened.”  At several places, when one tried to speak to the neighbors of the two killers, journalists were asked to go away and not stay in the area anymore.

 

Akbar, the Muslim neighbor of Ghouse Muhammad- Photograph by Hrishi Raj

On the 1st of July as news reports emerged of the links of the two accused Muslim men to the ruling BJP, the Congress Party addressed a press conference asking the ruling Narendra Modi dispensation to come clean over its party`s links with the two accused. Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera questioned if the move to transfer the Udaipur murder to the NIA was to save its own neck. (https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/udaipur-tailor-murder-congress-alleges-one-of-main-accused-is-bjp-member/article65592194.ece)

During the Rath yatra on the 1st of July, a youth climbed up a bill board and started shouting anti-Muslim slogans as the crowd waved saffron flags. Abuses were hurled at the Muslim community asking for their existence to be wiped out.

When this journalist spoke to Dinesh M.N, a senior police official, he said, “Sloganeering and aggressiveness by the youth is quite common. It happens every year, and this year they are bound to be aggressive, but I assure you, no damage shall be caused.”

As a culture of hate engulfs the country and twitter handles and right wing publications lash out with brazen impunity even at the Supreme Court of India, the silence of Prime Minister Modi over the religious violence all over the country is worrying for Indian Muslims, especially those living in Udaipur.

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Source: ranaayyub@substack.com