Thousands protest in India after spate of killings

‘Not in my Name’ demonstrations called after attacks on Muslims and ‘low caste’ people

Bollywood actor Shabana Azmi holds a placard  during a protest in Mumbai on Wednesday against a spate of violent attacks across the country. Photograph: Rafiq Maqbool/AP

Bollywood actor Shabana Azmi holds a placard during a protest in Mumbai on Wednesday against a spate of violent attacks across the country. Photograph: Rafiq Maqbool/AP

 

Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Wednesday in cities across India to protest against mob violence and lynchings in recent months.

They braved intense monsoon rain in about a dozen cities, including Mumbai and New Delhi, to participate in the “Not in my Name” demonstrations.

The protesters were against the killing of about 20 Muslims and so-called low-caste people who were either beaten to death or lynched on suspicion of possessing beef or trading in cattle for slaughter by Hindu extremists. Hindus consider cows to be sacred.

About 18 per cent of India’s population of 1.25 billion are Muslims, and more than 80 per cent are Hindus.

The immediate provocation for the demonstrations was the brutal killing of teenager Junaid Khan on a train last week, by a group of fellow passengers.

The 16-year-old was returning home from New Delhi to neighbouring Haryana state with his brother and two friends when they were challenged by a group of commuters who accused them of carrying beef in their bags.

Their denials were ignored, and in the ensuing fight that erupted Junaid was stabbed and thrown off the train, 30km from Delhi. The others were badly beaten and, later, hospitalised.

Social activist

Earlier this month social activist Zafar Khan was killed by municipal officials in a small town in western Rajasthan state for trying to highlight the plight of women who are forced to relieve themselves in the open, for lack of toilets.

Two months previously Pehlu Khan, a 55-year-old dairy farmer in Rajasthan, died after being beaten by a mob, who accused him of transporting cows to be slaughtered for beef. He claimed the animals were dairy cows, an explanation the mob disregarded.

“These attacks show that our fundamental rights are being violated and the state chooses to be silent,” said filmmaker and female activist Saba Dewan, who organised the protests via social media. “We need to remind the state that such repeated attacks are a violation of the [Indian] constitution.”

“The government’s silence is legitimising the killings,” said Raman Mann (74), a documentary filmmaker who attended the protests in pouring rain in Chandigarh, 240km north of Delhi.

“It’s tragic that India has been reduced to such levels of medieval violence 70 years after independence,” she said.

No government minister or senior official has forcefully condemned the attacks.

Federal home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said hate crime was not new in India and such incidents were “over-reported” and “overhyped”, especially by the electronic media.

“Hate crime is a feudal crime which has happened over ages. But it is not a different crime,” Mr Mehrishi said.