Karwan e Mohabbat: Uncovering how violence against minorities has been normalised
Snapshots from Harsh Mander’s Karwan E Mohabbat, a month long journey that started from Assam and traveled to Jharkhand, Karnataka, Delhi, UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, meeting families of Dalit and Muslim victims of lynching
“Humne sabar kar liya (I made peace),” said an old and fragile Jafruddin Hassan with tears in his eyes, trembling hands resting between his knees and his head stooped low, as he hopelessly looked at the floor. Jafruddin of Khurgain village, Shamli district, Uttar Pradesh, is the face of the traumatised minority communities who have learnt to normalise the violence in their lives, exactly as it was envisioned by MS Golwalkar, the RSS guruji, in his book ‘We Or Our Nationhood Defined’ (1939).
In his book, Golwalkar called Hindus a race that legitimately belongs to Hindustan, ‘Mussalman’ as outsiders or foreigners, and carved out a future for them in which they must forever live at the mercy of Hindus. To quote Golwalkar:
“There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race…the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture…must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment-not even citizen's rights.”
This vision seems to be complete from the stories that emerged during Harsh Mander’s Karwan E Mohabbat, a month-long journey that started from Assam and travelled to Jharkhand, Karnataka, Delhi, UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, meeting families of Dalit and Muslim victims of lynching by caste and religious supremacists including the state apparatus.
Making peace with violence — Jafruddin’s story
It has been four years since Jaffruddin’s son Salim was killed by a mob of cow vigilantes somewhere on the cattle trade route between Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Till date, the police have not even handed the post-mortem report to the victim’s family, even though they exhumed his body for the purpose, an inauspicious act that has scarred the family. In his statement, Salim mentioned a mob of nine had attacked him — but only one was arrested and released on the same day. After exhumation of the body and post-mortem, a second FIR was filed but no arrests were made. Four years on, Salim’s family has no information about the case, and they do not even dare to pursue justice. Instead, the family lives in fear of further attacks on their other sons. “Humne sabar kar liya,” is their response to all the violence they met. Living at the mercy of self-proclaimed custodians of the majority religion has become the norm. Their hopelessness is so manic that Jafruddin blessed Harsh Mander with, “Aap ko jannat naseeb ho” on a mere promise of obtaining a copy of the post-mortem report, the last remnant of his son.
This is a pattern the Karwan noticed in its entire journey, meeting over 50 families across India. The religious and caste minorities are being systematically attacked by cow vigilantes and Hindu supremacists unleashing terror in their daily lives; several victims have lost lives or limbs, their only means of occupation taken away, their access to justice made difficult by the biased approach of the police and administration, and the media is constantly vilifying them with all kinds of fake narratives. The result is that their lives are disoriented by their misery, they are so broken, scared and isolated that their own lived realities have become fiction. They are neither aware that their basic human rights have been brutally taken away nor are they sure whether they have any basic rights to begin with — exactly as Golwalkar envisioned.
Khurshida, a middle aged widow, abandoned by her in-laws after the death of her husband, lives in Bhango, Mewat with her four children. Her husband, Ajmal, died mysteriously in a police encounter in 2010. In 2012, she suddenly received a bank draft of Rs 5,00,000 — presumably a compensation from the NHRC, but no explanation was given as to what had happened to her husband. This story is most baffling: it is obvious that there has been an inquiry into Ajmal’s death and the police must have been held guilty of a human rights violation, otherwise this compensation would not be paid. But the fact that no details about the investigation have been communicated to the widow is proof the administration wants to hush up matters.
It is hard to even attempt to understand Khurshida’s grief. Ajmal used to drive dumper trucks and had no police case against him. One fine morning he went out for work and the next thing Khurshida knows, he was dead and buried. She didn’t even get to see his body, no rituals were performed, “Kuch pata nahi chala, koi mitti bhi nahi mili,” said Khurshida to Karwan travellers. The psychological impact of such traumas, of lives lost without reason, of grief without closure, of violence without accountability are all part of the dehumanisation of the minority community and normalisation of violence in their lives. Today, Khurshida has bought a land with the money she got and is trying to raise her children by working as a labourer. “I am an uneducated villager where will I go to ask questions?” is the end of the matter for her.
Threats from right wing groups — a strategy to cut off the victim from empathy and support system
What the minority community, disoriented by their sorrow, needs the most is an assurance that their lives matter, that the violence caused to them should not have happened and that we — the people of this nation — are sorry and extend our condolences. That was the idea with which Harsh Mander started his Karwan. But those trying to dehumanise the minority community are also against anybody who would extend any empathy and support to them. They are not only perpetrating violence but also cutting the victim off from all support system.
A day before the Karwan was supposed to reach Alwar all six accused named by Pehlu Khan in his dying declaration were given a clean chit by the Rajasthan state police. The timing of the decision was rather fateful and soon enough, the Karwan received threats from Hindu extremist groups. Harish Saini from Hindu Jagran Manch reportedly appealed to the Rajasthan administration to not allow the Karwan to hold any event in Alwar. “Any attempt to pay tribute to deceased Pehlu Khan would not be tolerated,” said Keshavchand Sharma of Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Even though the Karwan received the Rajasthan administration’s assurance that it would not be stopped anywhere, local partners in Behror succumbed to the threats. The venue for the peace meeting — ‘Ganesh Plaza’ — was cancelled and no other venue could be arranged. Local traders threatened to close down Behror in case the Karwan held any event. A defiant Harsh Mander however remained steady in his mission to at least pay tribute to Pehlu Khan by offering flowers at the spot where he was lynched. Even this was not to be allowed by the right wing groups. The state police also tried to put pressure on Mander, “If you place flowers at that spot, this would become a trend,” said one of the officers. “Let it be, what is wrong in it?” replied Mander.
The Karwan had to enter Rajasthan with police protection. The travellers were given instructions on what to do if stones were thrown at the bus; “Duck and don’t move,” they were told. Despite constant threats and pressure, the Karwan arrived at Behror on 15 September and was met with a considerably large crowd of Hindu right wing groups.
Harsh Mander briefly sat in dharna near the Behror police station with his demand to offer tribute to Pehlu Khan and finally placed flowers at a symbolic location among heavy police security. As the bus moved towards Jaipur with a police escort, right wing goons from the street chanted “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Joote maaro saalo ko” and threw stones and shoes at it.
Such extreme hate, threats and intimidation towards a group of ordinary citizens with a simple message of love and empathy is a sign of the times we are living in. The message is clear — anybody trying to build peace and harmony is doing so at their own risk. The Karwan members are not the regular protestors in political rallies facing tear gas and lathi charge or grassroot activists facing the establishment’s ire. It is a group of people who usually do not have direct political participation. It was this category of people who Harsh Mander wanted to reach out, to build a bridge between the victims and those unaffected. It is also this category which might be easily intimated, and by doing so, the right wing groups are trying to deter any such attempts for all times to come.
The practice of cross case on victims — a pressure tactics to withdraw cases against attackers
Family after family met by the Karwan revealed another dangerous pattern in the police investigation. Almost in all the cases of lynching by cow vigilantes, there are criminal cases filed against the victim, casually referred to as ‘cross-case’. Cross cases are filed by cow vigilantes or registered suo-motu by police on various grounds — like flouting traffic laws or animal protection laws etc as a means to put pressure on the victim not to pursue cases against vigilantes. Often these cross cases keep hanging around the victim’s neck, while the perpetrators easily obtain bail and justice seems elusive. In such situations, the victim or victim’s family is tempted to make a compromise — leading to withdrawal of cases by both sides. Although the legality of this is not so linear or simplistic, the truth is that Muslims having any kind of dealing with cows, be it simple transportation, buying or selling for dairy are scared to even file an FIR against cow vigilantes for the fear of getting roped into a cross case.
Immediately after Pehlu Khan and his son were brutally attacked by cow vigilantes, criminal cases were filed against the victims on grounds of cattle slaughter and animal cruelty, which were completely baseless, a fact now confirmed by Court. In Vadavli, Gujarat, a riot broke out between Dalits and Thakurs and FIRs got registered against both communities although Dalit residents of the village claim that force used by them was in self-defense. This space is too small to share all such cases but suffice it to say that with cross cases, the cycle of violence is complete — dehumanisation, isolation and victim blaming.
The Karwan will have a formal closing on 2 October 2017, at Porbandar. Karwan leader Harsh Mander has given a call to every Indian, “Chalo Porbandar, hum sab Gandhi”. How much this initiative will achieve is a question to be answered in the proverbial ‘long run’. But one thing is very clear: the powers-that-be are rattled by the potential impact of the Karwan and attempts to throttle the movement have already begun. On 14 September, RSS spokesperson Rakesh Sinha openly threatened Harsh Mander on NDTV, that his NGO's funding would be investigated. As soon as Mander reached his office on 22 September, his NGO — Center for Equity Studies — received an income tax notice. “They can cancel our FCRA, shut down the organisation. How does it matter? This would be an infinitely small fraction of the suffering that we bore witness to during the Karwan,” Mander wrote on a WhatsApp group, signaling the long fight ahead.
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The BJP said it is probing the incident and if anyone is found guilty action will be taken against the person.