New Delhi, India – Activists in India have launched a helpline centre for the victims of hate crimes and mob attacks aimed at documenting such cases and providing legal aid to victims.
United Against Hate (UAH), a group of activists and civil society members from across India, said the initiative was required as India‘s federal and state governments failed in preventing such incidents.
“We are launching toll free helpline 1800-3133-60000 in view of rising cases of mob attacks and hate crimes in the country,” said activist Nadeem Khan at the event in the capital New Delhi, adding that the helpline will work round the clock.
UAH said its activists will work in nearly 100 Indian cities to provide help to the victims of hate crimes, majority of them Muslims, who comprise 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population.
“We will try to help the victims of such assaults and help them get justice in courts,” said Khan. “The state and central governments have only made statements on such incidents. Despite all the claims of the government, the assaults have not stopped.”
Lawyers, social workers, professors, journalists and religious leaders present at the event said there was a “dire need” of such an initiative.
Apoorvanand, who teaches at Delhi University, said people are being targeted by Hindu right-wing mobs only because they are either Muslims, Dalits (the former untouchables), or Christians.
“It is the sad reality of India today. We cannot close our eyes from this reality,” he said.
Emboldened Hindu right-wing
While hate crimes against India’s minorities spiked after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, experts say his re-election in May has emboldened the Hindu right-wing agenda.
Dozens of Muslims and Dalits have been attacked, even publicly lynched, by far-right mobs for allegedly possessing beef or slaughtering cows, considered holy by most Hindus.
However, since the BJP’s return to power in May a number of Muslims have been attacked and forced to chant chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Lord Ram), which has become a rallying call for the Hindu far right.
In many cases Muslims seemed to have been beaten simply for their faith in many parts of India.
On June 20, Mohammad Shahrukh Haldar was travelling to a ‘madrassa’ (religious school) when a group of men carrying saffron flags boarded the train in Kolkata city.
Haldar, who sported a beard and was wearing the traditional kurta-pyjama and a skull cap, said a man from the group asked him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
“The others joined him and they all insisted that I chant with them. When I refused, they started beating me,” the 20-year-old told Al Jazeera.
While no fellow passenger came to his rescue, Haldar rushed towards the exit door to escape the mob, but he was pushed out of the running train.
“I thank God that I fell on the platform and survived,” he said.
Though Haldar has lodged a police complaint against his attackers, he fears more attacks and his family has stopped him from going out.
“I don’t go to the ‘madrassa’ anymore to teach. The incident has left me so traumatised that I don’t even want to travel in a train again,” he said.
Only days before Haldar was attacked, 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari was tied to an electric pole and brutally beaten by a mob on suspicion of theft in Kharsawan district in the eastern state of Jharkhand.
Mobile phone videos, which went viral on social media, showed a bruised and bloodied Ansari being forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’ (Hanuman is one of the Hindu gods).
Four days after the incident and after much outrage, police on June 22 took Ansari to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival.
“Because he was a Muslim, he was beaten so brutally,” Ansari’s wife Shaista told the NDTV network.
The lynching of Ansari caused widespread uproar with people taking to streets in many Indian cities and demanding an end to what they called the “lynch terror”.
But the hate attacks have continued.
On June 28, a Muslim youth wearing a skull cap was thrashed and abused in Uttar Pradesh state’s Kanpur city after he refused to chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’.
On Sunday, 12 men were booked for pulling the beard of a Muslim scholar and forcing him to chant the same slogan in Muzaffarnagar district in the BJP-ruled state of Uttar Pradesh.
According to factchecker.in website, which monitors hate crimes, at least 18 such incidents have taken place in India so far this year.
Al Jazeera could not reach the ruling BJP spokespersons despite repeated attempts.
‘Helpline shows failure of state’
Last month, the United States released a report on international religious freedoms that said the Hindu right has “facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities.”
India rejected the report, saying it saw “no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights”.
In 2018, India’s Supreme Court had condemned the “horrendous acts” of mob violence and asked the government to enact a new law to deal with mob lynchings.
While dozens of people have been killed and hundreds injured since 2014 in mob attacks, there have been convictions in only a handful of cases.
Speaking at the New Delhi event, Maulana Hakeemuddin of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an Islamic organisation, said the ‘one nation, one culture’ ideology propagated by the Hindu right is behind the rise in hate crimes.
“India is a multicultural country and everyone has an equal right to live and practice his religion freely,” he said. “If these incidents are not stopped, they will lead to anarchy. They can be stopped, but that requires political will, which the ruling dispensation lacks.”
Activists, however, hope the launch of a helpline will help the victims get access to legal remedies.
Ghazala Jamil, who teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the helpline is a civil society initiative and is “ultimately limited because it cannot be as effective as the state machinery”.
“But the establishment of this helpline shows that the state has failed utterly in saving its citizens,” she said.