IN Rajsamand in Rajasthan, Shambhulal Regar cold-bloodedly lured an immigrant labour contractor Afrazul to accompany him, felled him with an axe to the ground and then burnt him alive – all the while getting the grisly murder video-taped by his 14-year-old nephew.
Shambhulal also penned a 3-page note describing himself as “Shambhu Bhavani” (Bhavani is the name for a form of the Hindu goddess Durga, who wields a sword and killed asuras), and other videos boasting of the murder and threatening other murders.
The “official line” – that of Rajasthan police – is that Shambhulal is an “abnormal,” deranged killer, and a “self-made Hindu fanatic” (Times of India, December 8, 2017). Shambhulal’s sister told a PUCL fact-finding team that he lost his job due to demonetization – but that he and his family feels no anger against Modi for unleashing demonetization, because after all it was all in a “holy cause.”
But is Shambhulal really a “self-made” fanatic? In his note and his videos, he appears to have swallowed – and regurgitated – textbook RSS and BJP propaganda whole. He warns Muslims that they will meet the fate of Afrazul if they persist in “jehad” and “love jehad”; he announces that he has chosen to kill Afrazul on 6 December - the 25th anniversary of the Babri demolition; he mentions films like Padmavati (which allegedly showed had scenes showing a Rajput queen fraternizing with a Muslim ruler Allauddin Khilji) and PK (a love story between a Hindu Indian woman and a Pakistani Muslim man) as part of his rant about “love jehad”; he calls for Hindus to unite by marrying across caste boundaries but to act to prevent inter-faith marriages; he calls for Article 370 to be abolished. In other words – Shambhulal is saying exactly what is taught in RSS shakhas; what RSS literature and Whatsapp propaganda spouts.
Shambhulal had absolutely no personal contact with Afrazul and no personal reasons to kill Afrazul (claims that Afrazul had abducted or eloped with some Hindu woman and taken her to West Bengal have proven completely false). Shambhulal killed Afrazul purely for political reasons; because he had been indoctrinated to believe that it is heroic to slaughter Muslims – any and every Muslim. Such a killing is an act of terrorism.
Yet, India’s electronic media – usually happy to have any video-taped act of violence to play on a loop and outrage about – all but ignored the axe murderer Shambhulal and his many videos. Indian media did not call Shambhulal a terrorist. Imagine for a minute that it was a Muslim man who had video-taped his gruesome axe murder and burning alive of a Hindu man, accompanied by a tirade against Hindus: would media not have unanimously termed such a killer a terrorist, indoctrinated by ISIS-type groups; would they not have kept focus on the story for days on end? Imagine for a minute that a Muslim man had videotaped himself hacking and burning alive a cow: and think, how would the media channels have covered such an incident?
Why is it that Regar is not called a terrorist – is it because this would require admitting that India’s and Rajasthan’s ruling party, governments, the RSS outfits and even much of the media is complicit in propagating terrorist ideology? Is it because Islamophobia only treats Muslims as terrorists – political killers committing hate crimes are not called “terrorist” if they are indoctrinated by white supremacist or Hindutva ideology?
The questions that need to be asked are: who circulated the Whatsapp videos that Regar reportedly watched non-stop? Which organizations and networks circulated Regar’s murder video and made it go viral? Which are the organizations that are hailing Regar as a hero on social media and orchestrating the fund collection drive for Regar’s wife – collecting close to Rs 4 lakh before the police froze the bank account? Are the organizations and networks circulating Regar’s videos, hailing him as a hero, and collecting funds for the family of their ‘hero’ not terror networks, breeding more terrorists like Regar? And if BJP MPs and MLAs are part of Whatsapp groups celebrating Regar, should they too not be investigated for promoting terrorism? If the Rajasthan police insist on treating Regar as a “self-made” fanatic, it only means it has no intention of investigating and destroying the networks breeding such Sanghi terrorists.
The fact is that such terror networks have the full patronage of the BJP Governments at the Centre and states. Let us take a quick look at the evidence of this. First, we have the deafening silence of the usually voluble Prime Minister, as well as Home Minister of India. Instead, the Prime Minister made speeches in the Gujarat elections scare-mongering that voting for the Congress party would give the state Ahmad Patel – a Muslim – as a Chief Minister, and this was what Pakistan was conspiring!
Then, we may recall the fact that the Rajasthan Government ordered schools to take students to a “Hindu Spiritual and Service Fair (HSSF)” organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bhartiya Hindu Sena, Gau Raksha Sewa Sansthan, and a cocktail of caste outfits. These stalls sold literature spreading canards against Muslims, claiming they “ensnare” women in “love jehad”, and asking Hindu families to surveil women – by “going through the books of sisters and daughters”, by “analysing” their mobile phones, or “by sending someone to their college/university”. Will children reading this literature not be at risk of being groomed as terrorists like Regar?
The literature at this fair also propagated lies about “conversion” by Christians resulting in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh being Christian majority states; and about Muslims running “250 terrorist training centres” in the country.
Then, we had Shailesh Mehta, Vadodara corporator and BJP candidate for Dabhoi Assembly constituency in Gujarat, declaring in an election speech that the “dadhi-topi” (beard and cap worn by Muslims) population of Dabhoi must be reduced because “there should be no population of Dubai” in Dabhoi. What is this if not an attempt to instigate all listening Shambhulals to get into the act and cull Muslims? BJP’s Telangana MLA Raja Singh (who had hailed the Una atrocity for “teaching filthy Dalits a lesson”) meanwhile has given a speech calling for every Hindu to take up swords and guns to achieve a Hindu nation. So we can expect more Shambhulals trained by such BJP leaders to take up swords/axes and slaughter Muslims. Needless to say, the media does not call such speeches terrorist hate-speech nor does the BJP in any way punish leaders like Mehta or Raja Singh.
In an article titled “Shambhulal Regar is 'Jihadi John' of India, a product of Hindutva brigade's caliphate of hatred”, (Firstpost, December 8, 2017), Sandipan Sharma asked:
“What message does a terrorist like Regar get when he sees a virulent defence of the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq, the murder of Pehlu Khan or the illegal imprisonment of Hadiya? What does he think when he watches the rampaging armies of Hindutva police the streets as anti-Romeo squads and warriors battling love-jihad? What dreams of heroism does he see when killers of Dadri are draped in the tricolour? What encouragement does he get when killers of Pehlu Khan are let off and when not a single person is convicted of a murder that was committed in broad daylight?” Sharma concluded, accurately, that “The real culprits behind the veil are polarising politicians, quiescent institutions and bigots in the media who are gradually turning India into a Caliphate of hatred.”
But Shambhulal did not need lessons from the ISIS on digital recording and circulation of violent ‘hate-porn’ videos: Sanghi groups have done this before. Recall how, way back in 1992, as part of the ‘Ram Temple’ campaign that demolished the Babri Masjid, Sangh men gang-raped Muslim women in Surat, stripped them and then chased them to a public arena where they were ready with flash lights and video cameras to record the women? Praful Bidwai wrote that Modi himself was the mastermind of the 1992 Surat riots, where these videotaped atrocities were meticulously carried out (the flash lights – needing electricity in an area where the public electricity supply had been cut, and video cameras were obviously planned and prepared in advance). (Bidwai, ‘Gujarat under Barbarism’s Spell: Modi Must be Sent Packing’, 01 May 2006) Recall the scores of videos on the internet of ‘Gau Rakshak’ mobs stripping and thrashing their victims – these are uploaded and circulated with impunity. Would Shambhulal not have taken his lessons from these precedents?
The Surat President of the Hindu Yuva Vahini uploaded a video hailing Shambhulal for having the “guts” (himmat) to kill a Muslim and called for more support for Shambhulal. Can Hindu Yuva Vahini – the organisation headed by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath – be dismissed as a ‘fringe’ organisation?
It is indeed bizarre that in India, higher courts – no less – are ordering a National Intelligence Agency probe into Hadiya’s marriage and into her husband Shafin Jehan’s politics, but the same courts are silent on the terror networks that enjoy Government patronage and openly circulate inflammatory literature and videos inciting terrorism against Muslims, thereby producing terrorists like Regar.
There is also an attempt by Hindutva groups to claim that Shambhulal enjoys support of the Regar community (a extremely oppressed Dalit community). This propaganda has been countered by activists of various Dalit organizations of Rajsamand (Dalit activist Bhanwar Meghwanshi has written in the website Sabrang on December 12, 2017, quoting several Ambedkarite activists from the Regar community condemning Shambhulal.)
Rajsamand and Udaipur adjoin parts of Gujarat that went to vote after the killing of Afrazul. People in Udaipur say that the viral video of the murder and videos of Shambhulal’s communal rants were used to stoke communal sentiments and garner votes for the BJP in neighbouring areas of Gujarat. The police shut down the internet only on 14-15 December – after the damage was done. The internet shutdown and imposition of Section 144 were ostensibly to prevent communal groups from mobilising to protest Shambhulal’s arrest – but in spite of this, police did not prevent huge mobs of the RSS outfit Bajrang Dal from gathering on 14th and 15th December in Udaipur and indulging in stone-pelting and violence.
The mobs attacked and injured senior police officers, but still there was no serious lathi charge or other riot-prevention methods by the Rajasthan police. Instead the fascists boasted of their sheer impunity and confidence of Government backing by climbing on the dome of the Udaipur Court Complex and triumphantly hoisting a saffron flag there. The parallels with the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya 1992 – with the police acting as spectators – were unmistakeable. The forces that climbed atop the Babri Masjid and demolished it in 1992 are today atop our Courts and democratic and constitutional institutions – and are preparing to demolish these.
Amazingly, the police, when they finally arrested 80 Bajrang Dal men (after a meeting of top police and district administration officials with Bajrang Dal leaders), also arrested several Muslim men for participation in a protest march in Udaipur on 8 December! There is a video being circulated virally by the Sangh, claiming that participants in the 8 December March raised slogans of “Bharat me rehna hoga to Allah-o-Akbar kehna hoga” (If you want to live in India you must say Allah is great). In the first place, this slogan is a mere mirror image of the Sangh’s favourite slogans of ‘Bharat me rehna hoga to Jai Shri Ram kehna hoga’ (If you want to live in India you must say Jai Shri Ram) – if Sangh cadre are not arrested for the latter slogan why arrest Muslims for a similar one? In the second place, the videos being circulated could well be doctored – why are arrests being made on their basis when BJP leaders calling for Hindus to arm themselves or cull Muslims are not being arrested?
The sight of hundreds of young men rampaging on the street in support of a man whom the police describes as a deranged psychopath, who publicly hacked and burnt to death a gentle unarmed human being simply because he was Muslim, is the face of fascism in India today. When psychopath is a ‘hero’ for so many, it’s time the fact is faced that he and his supporters are not crazy psychopaths, they’re fascist cadres.
Massive protests have been held by citizens in Delhi and Jaipur proclaiming ‘Not In My Name’ and ‘Muslim Lives Matter’.
On 7 December, the CPI(ML) held a demonstration at Rajasthan Bhawan in Kolkata demanding the resignation of Vasudhara Raje as Rajasthan Chief Minister. Various CPI(ML) leaders addressed the protest gathering, which many in the crowded BBD Bag area attended. A short street play by comrades of Behala, Mithilesh and Ranjit against the Hindutva fascist forces received wide applause. A delegation team led by West Bengal party Secretary Partha Ghosh met the officials of Rajasthan Bhavan and handed over a memorandum. Notably, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Kolkata on the same day but did not utter a word about the terrorist killing of a Bengali Muslim labourer.
A protest demonstration was held by various groups including AISA and AICCTU at Rajasthan Bhawan in Delhi on 9 December. In Palamu (Jharkhand), AISA district committee organized a Nukkad Sabha on 10 December. In Daltonganj an angry protest marked by loud sloganeering against the saffron terror was organised by AISA. A massive protest was also organized by AICCTU in Ranchi. The march started from the party office and culminated as a protest meeting at Albert Ekka Chowk.
Ibrahim Sheikh, Secretary of Malda District Committee of West Bengal visited Afrazul’s home in village Syedpur, Block 1 of Kaliachak, Malda on 7 December morning along with Comrade SK Immadadul. They were stopped by police at Dhulauri village and were told that they were not allowed to visit Afrazul's house. However, in the evening they again went to Afrazul’s house. Comrades talked with Gulbahar Bibi, wife of Afrazul and 3 daughters (two of whom are married and the youngest is studying in Class VIII at school). They also spoke to Afrazul’s brother and son-in-law who stayed with Afrazul at Rajasthan and rushed home in terror after the incident, vowing never to return again. Many workers from the area who migrated for work to Rajasthan are returning in terror and fear. A protest meeting was organised at Kaliachak, Chowranghi which was addressed by the West Bengal party Secretary Partha Ghosh and others.
Defying inclement weather, members of the civil society organized a protest meeting near Bandel Church, Hooghly where poetry was recited, songs sung, and government employees and activists addressed the meeting and spoke against hate.
IN December 2017, even as the Afrazul murder becomes an excuse to stoke up fascist sentiments in support of the killer, there are other scenes from the country that say a lot about the attitude of the police and Governments.
In Satna in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Bajrang Dal goons attacked Catholics who were out singing Christmas carols and set fire to the carol singers’ car inside the police station itself. But the police did not arrest the violent Bajrang Dal goons. Instead they booked cases against the Christian victims of the violence – under sections 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 295A (outraging religious feelings)! The police says it has merely booked cases against “unidentified people” for torching the car! One wonders: a) how can police fail to identify criminals who indulge in arson in the police’s own premises and b) how come the Bajrang Dal men who screamed communal slurs and threats are not being prosecuted for “imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration”?
Meanwhile in Uttar Pradesh, Bahujan Samaj Party corporator in the Aligarh Municipal Corporation, Musharraf Hussain, has been booked by the Uttar Pradesh police for trying to “hurt religious sentiments” - because he took his oath of office in Urdu (which is the second official language of Uttar Pradesh). But BJP members who beat up Hussain for taking his oath in Urdu have neither been booked nor arrested. According to UP police, it seems branding the Urdu language ‘anti-national’ is not an “assertion prejudicial to national integration”! In fact, In March 2017, state assembly Speaker Fateh Bahadur allowed 13 BJP members to take their oath in Sanskrit but made two Samajwadi Party MLAs who took their oath in Urdu, repeat it again in Hindi.