It was the day after the April 9 parliamentary by-election in Srinagar. Only seven per cent voters had turned out and eight people were killed in related violence. A viral video of CRPF jawans being booed and hustled out of a village was ruling the air waves.
As I watched the video on a friend’s phone in Srinagar, he said: “Look, they could have snatched their rifles, shot them, lynched them, but we don’t do that kind of thing here in Kashmir. Lynching aapke yahan hota hai. Aisa Kashmir mey nahin hota”. His reference point was the lynching of Pehlu Khan in Alwar just days earlier, on April 1.
Last Thursday night, though, that premise changed forever as worshippers at the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar’s Nowhatta surrounded a police officer in plainclothes on the mosque’s precincts, beat him, tore off his clothes, rained stones on him and eventually gored him to death.
One day later, back here in Ballabhgarh, a 15-year-old Muslim boy was stabbed to death by a group of men on a train. They had taunted him about him being Muslim. His brother, who was also stabbed, survived the attack. The two were returning home after an afternoon spent shopping for the Eid festival in Delhi.
The circumstances of the two incidents could not be more different. One took place on the outskirts of the national capital, against the background of triumphal Hindu majoritarianism that has got a free pass since the BJP swept the polls in 2014 — and which has since been nurtured by BJP governments across north India, in the name of governance priorities like cow protection and anti-beef eating and anti-Romeo squads.
These dozen or so lynchings that have taken place since that horrible night of September 28. 2015, when Mohammed Akhlaque was killed by vigilante mobs in his village near Delhi, may be compared to the blasphemy killings in Pakistan, where the alleged blasphemer was seen burning the Koran – but that’s another story.
The policeman’s lynching in Srinagar, on the other hand, took place against the backdrop of relentless daily violence that has rocked the Kashmir valley since July 2016, after the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani.
Decades of growing older under the shadow of the gun has also paved the way for the Valley’s unforgiving “othering”, certainly not along communal lines but aimed at anyone perceived to be a participant in the “Indian” project in Kashmir.
Yet the two incidents cannot be separated. Both dramatically underline the normalization of mob violence and the casual street brutality since the Akhlaq murder, at least across the Hindi-speaking north Indian states. As well as the way in which this civilian mob violence has recently begun to rear its head in the Valley.
As many as 16 policemen have died in J&K this past year, but before Deputy Superintendent of Police Mohammed Ayub Pandith, none at the hands of civilians. Kashmiri men are still joining the police because the job offers a decent salary. If they perceive a danger to themselves, it is from gun-toting militants and gun-toting security forces, not civilians.
In a sense, the two incidents violently mirrored the real world of TV studios and social media, with its spewing of hatred against anyone perceived to be “anti-India, anti-national and anti-Hindutva”. Certainly, the casual public humiliation and excoriation of anyone who does not ride with the current wave of separatism and militancy in Kashmir is exceptional.
But of all the forms of violence that Kashmiris experience in their everyday life, the least expected was the lynching of a fellow Muslim, or even a “suspected Hindu”, that too in the premises of a mosque.
Kashmiri antipathy toward “Hindu India” has grown and expanded on a steady diet of viral videos of lynchings of Muslims suspected of eating beef, ‘smuggling’ cows, and other related perceived crimes. There is little happening today in Kashmir that can provide an alternate narrative, or an alternate image of the government.
In the vacuum, the Kashmiri loathing for the PDP’s alliance with the BJP has grown with each video, as it is accompanied by the fear that a violent Hindutva has reached their doorstep. The alienation “from India” expands geometrically as Kashmiris witness this new street brutality against Muslims elsewhere in the country.
In a way, we become what we hate. India is becoming a Hindu Pakistan. For those brutal minutes in the mosque, there was no difference between the men who killed DSP Pandith and those who killed 15-year-old Junaid Khan returning home after Eid shopping in Delhi.
The manner in which DSP Pandith met his end shows that one mob learns easily from another, borrows the other’s methods, even while hating the other.
Still, in Kashmir, Ayub’s horrific killing has kindled a sense of shame in the wider community; those who have sought to justify the incident are in a minority. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has alienated even her own supporters over the last year, but she spoke for a majority when she expressed her shock at the incident and called it the end of trust.
The lynching of Junaid, on the other hand, has not triggered the widespread outrage that it should have. Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar has been busy tweeting his own achievements and his connect with citizens even two days after the brutal killing, but could not frame the 140 characters required to condemn it.
Still, that is entirely in keeping with the national silence over the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq nearly two years ago, and the others who have since met a similar end.