Junaid's Lynching and the Making of a 'New India' Beyond Recognition

Let us stand for two minutes of silence; not to remember Junaid, but to mourn the demise of the India we thought would live for ever.

Today, June 22, marks another anniversary or milestone which points towards the making of a ‘new India’. This is the day last year when a young boy aged 15 years was mobbed and killed for being what he was: a Muslim. On a moving train. A train symbolises modernity, mobility, a possibility of befriending the familiar and the hitherto unknown. Junaid was waylaid in this moving train, knifed multiple times and then thrown out at a station to bleed to death.

Today, June 22, 2018, marks the first anniversary of this murder. It should be called a mass murder, for a mass was involved in killing him. Soumya Lakhani of the Indian Express visited the home of Junaid and has this to tell us: “Sorrow and gloom haven’t left the Khan household. Junaid’s mother Saira has taken to bed in grief; father Jalaluddin has lost 25 kilos; brother Shakir, who was also attacked by the group, is still unable to lift one arm; and brothers Faisal, Adil, Hashim and Qasim refuse to take the local train in which the 15-year-old was killed.”

The journalist found two policemen stationed outside their home. “Still, every time a family member steps out of the village, Jalaluddin gets restless. “I’ve told my children and grandchildren to only travel by the Metro, to not talk to anyone or get in a fight. I call them every 30 minutes. I fear that what happened to Junaid will happen again,” he said.

From her bed, Saira (Junaid’s mother) mumbles her dead son’s name. “A few days before Eid this year, I fell sick… I can’t eat, I sleep all day, and I only think of Junaid. Last year, he died just before Eid. I can never celebrate again,” she said.”

Neelesh Dhotre from BBC Hindi visited the family of Junaid only last week, on the occasion of Eid. He found the house enveloped in gloom. The men have stopped wearing kurta-pyjama. The dare not put on a skull cap again. They only wear shirt and trousers now so as to be seen as “normal” Indians. Other young men told Dhotre that they cover their heads with a handkerchief when offering namaz now.

This is no mean achievement. The mission of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was to mainstream the Muslims and normalise them.

The men are under voluntary house arrest. One of the brothers runs a dhaba and that takes care of household needs. Hashim, Junaid’s brother, left his studies midway. He wanted to go to Surat but after the killing of Junaid, had to abandon his plan.

New Delhi: Citizens hold placards during a silent protest “Not in My Name” against targeted lynching at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi last year. PTI File/ Shahbaz Khan

Yet, they speak of the goodness of Hindus who did not forget to greet them on Eid. They, the co-villagers, were also good enough to offer them peace. Soumya Lakhani reports, “Last November, village sarpanch Nisar Ahmed had approached Junaid’s kin “to agree to an out-of-court settlement with the accused, so that the villages can maintain peace and brotherhood”. The family had refused the offer — money and land. On the proposal, Ahmed said, “I only did my job as the sarpanch…there is no pressure on the family to settle.” ’

India was promised transformation. Four years down the line, it has indeed changed beyond recognition. The last seven days have seen four cases of lynching across India. The crime has now spread like an epidemic. Tuhaid Ansari is killed in Ramgarh, Jharkhand on June 20. Two Muslims were lynched by a mob just two days after Eid in Hapur. Five days before that, on June 13, two Muslims were lynched in Godda, Jharkhand. The week before, two men in Assam, both Hindu and ethnic Assamese, were lynched by villagers who thought they were child kidnappers.

There is no outcry though. Akhlaq of Dadri could get space on the front page. Now it is routine. There is no novelty, either in the target or in the method. The news of killings by lynch mobs no longer excites our social or political imagination. These cases are sought to be seen as isolated, disparate cases, exceptions in a huge populous country like India. We are advised not to rush to generalisations. India continues to be a land of diversity where there is no discrimination on the basis of religion, is what the home minister claimed while rebutting the UN report indicting India for crimes against minorities.

One has to visit the families of Akhlaq, Pahlu Khan, Junaid and Qasim to understand the transformation that such killings bring in the life of the Muslims.These incidents teach them how to behave, how to present themselves in public spaces, to restrain their Muslim feelings, to “normalise” themselves.

Junaid was travelling to celebrate Eid. His journey was cut short. There is an abiding guilt in all Muslims while celebrating Eid. They remember subconsciously that there is a Muslim family huddled before the photograph of a young boy, left alone with its grief. The family does not have the consolation of a collective grieving even on this day. It will have to hide its own feelings to let neighbours enjoy the festival without guilt.

The leader, meanwhile, is allowed the temerity to recall Hamid (in Munshi Premchand’s story, Eidgah) as his inspiration for a so-called welfare scheme for the poor. His colleagues pose with Muslim women offering salaam on Eid.

The India of our days is certainly not for Hamid. He, with his cap and kurta-pyajma is under constant threat. Hamid’s grandmother  would not allow him to go to the Eidgah now.

So, let us stand for a two-minute silence; not to remember Junaid but to mourn the demise of the India we thought would live for ever.