The fifteen-foot billboard was a grim reminder of every lynching that India has seen in the name of religion since 2015. On Wednesday evening, the billboard showing the national map with blotches of red towered over hundreds who had gathered at Jantar Mantar under the tagline ‘Not In My Name’ to register their protest over these incidents.
Responding to a Facebook post, they came in the name of Junaid Khan, a 15-year-old who was stabbed on a moving train barely a week ago; of Pehlu Khan, the dairy farmer who was beaten to death for transporting cattle three months ago; of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was killed in Dadri on suspicion of storing beef in 2015.
The protest in the Capital mirrored similar gatherings across the country, including in Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru.
At Jantar Mantar, they included a young man from Inderlok, a housewife from Ghaziabad, Tamil migrants from Dwarka, a teenaged girl from Kashmere Gate, a 90-year-old gynaecologist from Panchsheel Park and a Nepali domestic help from Mayur Vihar.
Also in the crowd was 36-year-old Ambar Ahmad with her two young children. “The choice was between coming with my kids or not coming at all. It was a no-brainer,” she said.
“I came to register that we are against this. I came to break the silence. The number of people who showed up may not seem adequate but it is at least a step forward,” said Ambar, dressed in a hijab.
There was also a group of lawyers gathered on one side of a stage at the venue before filmmaker Saba Dewan, whose Facebook post triggered this gathering, began speaking.
“Nobody understands the Constitution better than us lawyers,” said Mohit Sood, an advocate in the Delhi High Court.
“The freedom movement in our country was based on the objective that all of us in this country, irrespective of religion, have rights,” said Sood, who came to know of this event through Twitter.
His friends chose to leave their children at home. “But we have all had to answer tough questions from our children asking us to explain what happened to Junaid,” said Harish Mehra.
An arm’s length away, 16-year-old Vipin Kumar and his friends held on to signs that read: ‘Muslim Lives Matter, All Lives Matter’.
“Our teacher told us about a boy who was killed on a train last week. We never thought twice about not showing up here today,” said Kumar.
Inspired by the ‘Black Lives Matters’ movement in the US, Kumar’s teacher Azad Khan, who teaches “life skills” to the boys in an NGO in Mehrauli, got the group to paint signs. “We need to be inspired by other such movements from around the world,” said Khan.
It was a Facebook group that brought 24-year-old Mohammad Anas to Jantar Mantar. He and his friends spend time every week in Inderlok, where they live, distributing brochures to passers-by in bus stands “about the good things that Islam teaches” them.
“Every day, you see a new report on TV about an incident. We are not here because we are Muslims, we are here because the Quran teaches us to not discriminate between people. There are no differences between people and everyone should be respected,” said Anas.
However, a housewife from Ghaziabad felt the protest could have been stronger.
“This gathering is admirable but I am disappointed it isn’t stronger. We should make sure the government knows we are making some noise,” said S Das.
There were also some who wondered aloud why no one was speaking about the killing of Mohammad Ayub Pandit, the J&K DySP who was lynched by a mob outside the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar last week.
A few metres away, Muslim government employee, who identified himself as a “secular insaan”, said, “I don’t want to live in an India without Hindus or temples. The beauty of our country is diversity. Why would I want to deny myself of that?”
(With inputs from Abhishek Angad)