As a member of the (erstwhile) Planning Commission, I looked after Rajasthan for 10 years as one of my three allocated states. After wandering all over the country, I wrote a book recording my experiences. The book was titled ‘Beautiful Country: Stories from Another India’. The India I saw was truly beautiful but mostly unseen because it was off the beaten circuit of media and tourism. I wrote about one such spot, Rajsamand, which is best known for the splendid Kumbhalgarh Fort surrounded by the longest wall second only to the wall of China. I stood looking at the wildlife sanctuary surrounding the Fort. I drove around the lovely Rajsamand Lake. A nearby village, Khelwara, seemed to me ideal for village-tourism where visitors would experience the lifestyle of Mewar. My Rajasthan chapter began with hope because I saw this state soar, leaving behind its BIMARU tag.
Today Rajsamand has got a new tag. It will go down in the history of world horrors as the spot where a man was hacked to death and burnt for his grievous sin of being Muslim.
Afrazul Khan was a migrant labourer from Malda district of West Bengal who for three decades was engaged in seasonal work in Rajasthan. The man who hacked and burnt him was Shambhulal Regar, described by Anand Shrivastava, IG Udaipur range, as someone with a “fairly successful marble trading business”. The very first reports show no previous connection between the two. The video, which by now has been watched across the world, shows Shambhulal taking him behind his bike as if to show him the job to be done. Afrazul Islam was carrying his tools, one of which was an axe. This became, in a matter of minutes, a weapon with he was hacked to death before being set on fire.
This incident was captured on camera. Then came the words. In videos shot after the murder, the murderer shouted into the camera: Love jihad, Babri Masjid, Hindu girls, Padmavati. He screamed revenge against “these people” who have polluted his land. He, Shambhulal, will dispense justice by hacking and burning a 48 year-old migrant labourer a lesson for the entire “quom”. Afrazul will pay for the sins of his people. This heinous act, which many are scared to watch, is not only witnessed but filmed by Regar’s 14 year-old nephew and uploaded for the world.
In college I had read a poem of W.B. Yeats called ‘Sailing to Byzantium’. Its opening line has been haunting me since yesterday. “This is no country for old men”, Yeats wrote before sailing away to saner lands. I tell myself in the same vein, this is no country for Muslims. But while there are many Rajsamands, there is no Byzantium.
This is no country for Afrazul’s wife Gulbahar, for his daughters Joshanara, Rejina and Habiba. Indeed, this is no country for the 200 plus migrant labourers from Malda who work here. Messages hailing the killer are doing the rounds. One says “Love jihadiyon savdhaan, jaag utha hai Shambhulal Jai Shri Ram”.
On the day Afrazul’s killing was reported, the media was filled with reports of hate crimes against Muslims. The Vadodara corporator and BJP candidate for Dabhoi Assembly, Shailesh Mehta, is reported to have said that the “dadhi-topi” population of Dabhoi must be reduced because “there should be no population of Dubai” in Dabhoi. What is being suggested in this campaign speech? Shambhulals are getting the official nod to continue their mission of hacking Afrazuls. Hysterical families from Saiyadpur in Malda are phoning, urging their breadwinners to leave these killing fields of Rajsamand.
These hate-Muslims-kill-Muslims incidents are reported almost daily. Leaders express “sympathy” and dole out cash but give the goons open license to kill so long as it is dadhi-topi they target. The police generally responds to the powerful.
Women and men of courage stand up to agitate. In this case, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch and 30 Rajasthan organisations have come forward to express their anguish. Activists from Delhi and other states are shouting ‘Muslim Lives Matter’.
This tragedy, too, will quickly fade from public memory in the cacophony of election results. Police will sink back into its habitual inertia, tick it off as another “dadhi-topi” case of “these people”. A few activists, journalists and lawyers will struggle to keep the issue alive. But the fabric of the nation, which began fraying with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, has been torn to shreds after a quarter century. A complicit state has looked the other way and the incendiary rhetoric has become legitimised.
The question before the hate merchants is: What to do with us Muslims? This huge population of dadhi-topi? All of us cannot be hacked and burnt or be ethnic-cleansed. But we can be beaten into submission, therefore hate crimes are allowed free run. Shambhulals know they can get away. Those who announce prizes for severed heads of dissenters are valorised, jallads are garlanded, killers are given perpetual license to kill.
As I write this piece, I think of my visit to Rajsamand and my dream of making it part of a tourist circuit. I think of my animated talks with district officials in the evenings after walking tours across the wonder spots of Rajsamand.
For Rajasthan, I had written a hopeful epigraph in my book — in the words of Allama Iqbal: “Tu shaheen hai, parvaaz hai kaam tera/ Tere saamne aasmaan aur bhi hain (You are a falcon your mission is to soar/ There are many skies you must scale yet)”.
All that seems very far away in 2017 when the bones of Afrazul Khan have been placed in a kafan in Malda — a gift of hatred from Rajsamand.
Today, Muslims and all those who stand with them need to recall Faiz Ahmed Faiz. “Ya khauf se darguzrein ya jaan se guzar jaaein/ Marna hai ya jeena hai ek baat theher jaaye”. Either we banish fear or we die/ Decide once for all, will it be death or life.