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Spate Of Lynchings Target Minorities, Especially Muslims, In India


In India over the past couple of months, there's been a series of violent attacks on minorities, especially Muslims. The attackers often accuse their victims of smuggling beef. Now, beef is illegal in many Indian states because cows are sacred to Hindus. Videos of these brutal beatings have gone viral on social media. But for the most part, the attackers are not being punished. NPR's Lauren Frayer went to northern India and brought back this story.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Mohamed Irshad perches on a plastic stool in the muddy courtyard of his small family farm north of New Delhi. Slowly, in fits and starts, he describes his father's murder two years ago.

MOHAMED IRSHAD: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: The family, who are Muslims, had been to a cattle fair. They were driving home in a truck, carrying four cows they had purchased, when a dozen strangers on motorcycles forced them off the road.

IRSHAD: (Through interpreter) They pulled us out of the truck. They were yelling that they wanted to protect cows from us Muslims. I showed them the receipts for the cows we bought, but they tore them up and started beating us with hockey sticks. I suffered internal bleeding. My brother and I barely survived, and all of India saw what happened to our father.

FRAYER: All of India saw the fatal beating because the attackers themselves recorded video and posted it on social media.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Yelling in foreign language).

FRAYER: In the video, attackers praise Hindu gods as they punch 55-year-old Pehlu Khan. His white tunic splattered with blood, the father of eight pleads for his life, calling his attackers brother.


PEHLU KHAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Yelling in foreign language).

FRAYER: That video is how Khan's widow, Jaibuna, learned of her husband's death. She was at home waiting for him to return from the cattle fair.

JAIBUNA: (Through interpreter) A neighbor came and showed me the video but then felt bad and ran away. People were saying, don't show her, this is her family. Everyone was panicking, and I couldn't take it. I fainted.

FRAYER: Before he died, Khan described his attackers to police. Six men were arrested, but charges were later dropped, and instead, Khan himself was charged posthumously with cow smuggling. Police say he didn't have a permit to transport cows across state lines. Khan's two sons, who were with him that day, are awaiting trial and face up to five years in prison.

JAIBUNA: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "It's like they're trying to erase us," Khan's widow, Jaibuna, says, "erase all of my people." Since a Hindu nationalist party won power in India five years ago, lynchings of minorities have surged. Human Rights Watch counted at least 44 murders over three years. Hundreds more have been injured. There have been very few prosecutions and hardly any public outrage.

RANA AYYUB: How do you stay silent? How does a majority stay silent and witness something, unless you believe that what's happening to them is the right thing?

FRAYER: Author Rana Ayyub believes that India's Hindu majority tacitly supports not murder but discrimination against Muslims. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not denounced this violent strain of Hindu nationalism. It's fueling prejudices that date back to India's founding.

AYYUB: You know, there has been this friction between Hindus and Muslims since the partition of India. And many of them believe that Muslims should have gone to Pakistan, and if they stay here then they should stay as second-class citizens.

FRAYER: A slogan has become part of these lynchings, "Jai Shri Ram," which means, praise Lord Ram, one of the Hindu gods. It used to be a mere prayer. Now it's a murder cry. Mobs chant this while they beat their victims. But it's also used by politicians.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: Just this summer, lawmakers from Modi's Hindu nationalist party taunted their Muslim colleagues with that slogan. There is a very small fledgling movement of Indians, both Muslim and Hindu, fighting this.


FRAYER: Up a dank stairway in a Mumbai events hall, activists have gathered for an anti-hate crimes convention.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTIVIST: It is the time now to join hands against these crimes.

FRAYER: They call for brotherly love while police guard the entrance. Some here have been labeled anti-national, their loyalty to India called into question. Social scientist Vishnu Poruthiyil compares the mood in India right now to the post-Civil War period in America when many white people looked on as black people were lynched.

VISHNU PORUTHIYIL: The similarities with the American lynchings of the late-19th century are striking. Because it is almost like a spectacle so people watch it. They video themselves, and they put it up on social media.


FRAYER: In donated office space in New Delhi, Jagisha Arora is fielding phone calls from victims.


JAGISHA ARORA: Hello? (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: She works at a new hate crimes help line created by volunteers. They've gotten 15,000 phone calls since launching last month.

ARORA: One person called me and said, like, I am at police station right now. The police are refusing to launch a complaint, and they are threatening us.

FRAYER: Arora connects callers to free legal aid in a hundred different Indian cities. But she also gets a different type of call, from people who are angry that this help line even exists.

ARORA: And some people, like, complain on so, like, why are you, like, spreading this...

FRAYER: So people call the help line to complain, to accuse you?

ARORA: Yeah. Accuse me, like, the Muslims are bad.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: Mohammad Hashim came face to face with people who think that. He's a long-distance truck driver and a Muslim. Last year, a mob of Hindus on motorbikes forced him off the road.

MOHAMMAD HASHIM: (Through interpreter) They drag me out of the truck, accuse me of transporting beef, and started beating me. I was actually transporting refrigerators. But I'm just the driver, and I'm not allowed to open the back of the truck. It was locked. They pulled on my beard and tried to force me to chant "Jai Shri Ram." I thought, this is it, I'm going to die.

FRAYER: He woke up in a hospital bed instead, with a broken leg and fractured vertebrae. He was bedridden for six months. But now Hashim has to get back on the road. He needs to provide for his five children.

HASHIM: (Through interpreter) My children say, don't worry about us, Daddy. We can stay poor. We'll eat less. We want you to be safe.

FRAYER: They're scared that next time their father might not come home. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, in Haryana, India. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.