OPINION

Countering hate

Crimes like the Rajsamand murder mustbe swiftly prosecuted, explicitly denounced

It is an ongoing investigation and very little can be said with certainty about the back-story of the murder of a Bengali migrant worker in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district. But from videos shared on social media and initial information from the police, a few things are clear. Mohammed Afrazul Khan, aged 50 and a long-time resident of Rajasthan, was hacked to death and his body set on fire by a man identified by the police as Shambhu Lal Raigar, a former marble trader. The videos, uploaded by his 14-year-old nephew, record Raigar as saying he killed Afrazul to save a woman from “love jihad”, and ranting against Muslims, his ramble ranging from films depicting inter-religious romance to the Babri Masjid. The police arrested Raigar and his nephew and declared they would seek the death penalty for the former. Director-General of Police O.P. Galhotra said that prima facie the murderer was of unsound mind, a theory his family seems to subscribe to. While Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje condemned the murder, saying the case should be prosecuted swiftly, the opposition has embedded the crime in the larger majoritarian rhetoric of the Sangh Parivar. But irrespective of whether the murder was the work of an isolated and unsound mind or a deliberate conspiracy, it is important that the political discourse around it be responsible, and responsive to the insecurity among migrant workers, especially those who are Muslims. It is imperative that this case comes to trial swiftly and the guilty are brought to book; this will be a test of the system’s capacity and intent to deal firmly with hate crimes.

Hate crimes are particularly serious because of their potential to provoke panic. The speed with which the videos travelled on social media frames a difficult challenge for law enforcement authorities. A temporary Internet shutdown that was enforced in Rajsamand may appear unavoidable, but these are post-hoc measures and cannot prevent the problem of provocative, even grisly, content being made available and even spreading online. Rajasthan’s elected leaders would do well to go beyond denouncing the murder and its heinousness. Given the sheer venality of the videos, their accompanying anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the likely sense of insecurity they have caused, it is important for them to declare that they stand firmly against sectarian hate crimes. Such crimes pose a very stiff challenge in a democratic society. They may be isolated, they may be the handiwork of individuals acting on their own, but by positioning one group (religious, racial, ethnic, gender) against another, the impact of these crimes spills into the wider community. They heighten anxieties among the targeted groups, and in the age of a polarised social media, they risk giving the unacceptable a perverse acceptability. There is only one way to counter them: with a clear, unambiguous consensus against hate.

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