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Communalism

What India's Prime Minister Did Not Say About the Hate Crime on a Moving Train

“As the Prime Minister of this great nation, I wish today to convey to the Indian people my unbounded anguish and outrage that a uniformed railway police constable shot dead his superior officer and then murdered three Muslim men travelling in the train, in what clearly was a hate crime.

“My heart goes out in profound sympathy to the families of all four men who were killed by this constable. I assure them that the entire nation stands with them in this hour of grief.

“The constable is recorded on video claiming his political allegiance to me. I reject this categorically. I underline that I firmly oppose all politics of hate and division. My primary duty and oath of office is to uphold and defend the country’s Constitution, and therefore to do all we can to stop the rise of the politics of hate. Hate violence targeting people for their religious, caste or any other identity has no place in this country. I call upon the people of India from every religion, caste, language and gender to join hands in their resolve to build and secure the country of equal citizenship that our founding mothers and fathers pledged to build after the colonial rulers left, and to defend and uphold the solemn pledges of our Constitution”.

This is the statement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, did not make after news came in of a shoot-out by a 33-year-old uniformed railway protection force constable on July 31.

His response was silence, as was that of the country’s home minister and its railway minister. The only official statement that I could find was a bland one made by a junior railway official of India’s Western Railways, who described the incident as “unfortunate”, adding that a preliminary investigation had revealed that the constable had “opened fire using his official weapon. The accused has been arrested.”

In the early hours that morning, the police constable travelling on the Mumbai-Jaipur Superfast Express, first shot dead his superior officer ASI Tikaram Meena. He then is reported to have shot and killed a bearded and visibly Muslim man Abdul Kaderbhai Bhanpurwala who was travelling in the same coach. He next walked down the vestibule through four coaches until he came across another bearded, visibly Muslim passenger in the pantry car, Sadar Mohammed Hussain. Again he shot him dead. The constable then walked further through two more coaches, where he found yet another man, once again clearly identifiable as a person of Muslim faith, Asghar Abbas Shaikh, and shot him dead ,as well.

Later a video surfaced on social media which shows the constable standing over one of his dead victims, as though over a trophy, and he is heard declaring, “If you want to vote, if you want to live in India, then I say, Modi and Yogi, these are the two…” He also said, presumably speaking of Indian Muslims, “They operate from Pakistan, this is what the media of the country is showing…”

What is particularly chilling about the video is that the constable is standing calmly; not a single passenger is visible trying to restrain him, though this was likely because he was armed. You only can see many people taking videos.

The next morning, a young Muslim colleague walked into my office, and sat down. She could not hold back her tears. “Ever since I heard this news last night and watched the videos, I have been unable to sleep”, she sobbed. “I feel so unsafe,” she added. “I keep thinking, he could have been my father, my brother. It could have been me. Yesterday, I too was travelling in a train”.

As I tried ineffectually to comfort her, I was mindful that there would probably be millions of Muslims in all corners of this vast teeming country tormented by the same thoughts and fears as she was. I realised, too, that there is no leader in our ruling establishment who can offer India’s Muslims solace and reassurance.

This is perhaps New India’s gravest tragedy of today: the singular, even pathological absence of public compassion among our leaders. Instead, so many of them have become vehicles of hate.

Look elsewhere in the world. These were the words even of President Donald Trump after George Floyd, a 47-year-old African American was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis who pressed his neck with his knee for nine minutes on May 2020. Floyd’s last words were, “I can’t breathe”. Donald Trump is a far-Right politician, notorious for the little sympathy or solidarity he holds with people of colour. Yet this is his statement:

“I want to express our nation’s deepest condolences and most heartfelt sympathies to the family of George Floyd. Terrible event. Terrible, terrible thing that happened. ….It should never happen, should never be allowed to happen, a thing like that. But we’re determined that justice be served, and I spoke to members of the family — terrific people…

“I understand the hurt. I understand the pain. People have really been through a lot. The family of George is entitled to justice… The Americans will honor the memory of George and the Floyd family. It’s very important to us, it’s very important to me …

“It’s a horrible, horrible situation, and so we’ll be reporting back in due course and as quickly as possible.”

Or take the more recent shooting of Nahel M, a 17-year-old boy of Muslim North African descent who was shot dead at a traffic stop by the police in a Paris suburb. President Emmanuel Macron was outspoken and forthright in his condemnation of the police. He said to reporters: “We have an adolescent that was killed, it is unexplainable and inexcusable. Nothing justifies the death of a young man.” The president also extended “solidarity and affection” to the teenager’s family, pledging that justice would be done after calm was restored.

What moral crisis has enveloped this land that nowhere do we hear any such voice of shared pain, of outrage, of public regret, or of reassurance, from our elected leaders?

Both the United States and France also saw prolonged public uprisings to protest both these murders of targeted minorities by policepersons. What moral crisis has smothered the collective conscience of the Indian people that a gruesome hate crime by a uniformed policeperson of the kind that we witnessed on the Mumbai-Jaipur Superfast Express train on July 31 has not resulted in nationwide outrage?

Instead media channels are striving hard to convince us that the shooting was the act of a mentally unstable man, and not a hate crime. Most reports initially did not mention the identity of the passengers that he murdered. Some claimed that he simply shot people at random, dishonestly glossing over the question that if this was a mentally unstable man shooting randomly, why were all the passengers he killed Muslim? If the constable was mentally unstable, how come he was trusted with a lethal weapon by his superiors?

And where, most importantly, is any collective moral agonising and introspection of what it was that so poisoned the soul of this young constable that compelled him to take the life of three strangers only because of their religious identity? Why are we not asking what the source is of this hate that is so corroding young souls?

Think for a moment if the constable had been a Muslim, and he had killed Hindu passengers. What then would have been the feverish pitch and decibel level of political and media discourse? The shooting would have immediately been condemned officially as a terrorist attack, and fingers of suspicion raised angrily against India’s neighbours for abetting this devilish terror assault. But instead, because a caste Hindu constable pulled the trigger against Muslim passengers, the political and social rage is entirely absent, and rarely is the killer acknowledged even to be the lone-wolf terrorist in uniform that he manifestly was.