The gruesome murder of Mohammed Afrazul, a 47-year-old migrant labourer from Malda, West Bengal, in Rajsamand, Rajasthan, is the latest in the series of hate crimes perpetrated in the state. The killer, Shambhulal Regar, ranted about “love jihad” and his hatred for Islam, as he assaulted Afrazul. The killer’s nephew videotaped the murder and circulated it on social media. The clip has since been seen by thousands of people. A WhatsApp group that hailed the killer has among its members a BJP MP and MLA from Rajasthan, who have since disassociated with it.
The Afrazul murder is the fourth such hate crime reported from Rajasthan in the past few months, after Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, was killed by self-styled gau rakshaks in April. The attackers named by Khan were not arrested and those taken into custody by police are now on bail. The signs are ominous. While Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has condemned the killing of Afrazul and the state BJP leadership has distanced itself from the incident, it is evident that an enabling climate for violence against Muslims now prevails in the state. Vigilante groups organised around cow protection or caste and community pride seem to have a free, unchecked run. They have repeatedly challenged the individual’s rights to religion, free speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution and have got away with it. For instance, the mobs that threatened violence against the crew of the Deepika Padukone-starrer Padmavati were given a sympathetic hearing by the state government, which promptly banned the film even before the censors got to see it. Ministers and legislators have been openly advocating the rewriting of history and school books to suit the Hindutva view. In the circumstances, is it any surprise if the likes of Regar believe that their criminal action carries state sanction? In the Afrazul case, the killer has been arrested, but that doesn’t absolve the government of its failure in upholding the rule of law and the Constitution. Raje, once projected as a moderniser in the BJP, presides over an ineffectual administration that has allowed non-state actors to target vulnerable citizens over imagined grievances.
The impact of this rule of the mob and the individual vigilante will haunt Rajasthan for long. The state markets itself as a leading tourist destination and its capital, Jaipur, projects its soft power by hosting art, music and dance and literature festivals. The rising tide of hate, and the climate of impunity in the state, make a mockery of those claims.