This article originally appeared on VICE IN.
On Monday, June 22, a 26-year-old madrasa teacher in West Bengal named Hafeez Mohd Sahrukh Haldar, said he was beaten up and pushed off a moving train last Thursday when a group demanded he chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and he refused. While he managed to escape with minor injuries, this is the third such incident to be reported this week itself.
On that same Thursday, 40-year-old Maulana Momin—a Muslim cleric from northwest Delhi—also claimed that a group of extremists attacked him after he refused to chant the same statement which hails the Hindu god Ram. He claims they hit him with their car after he told them they were free to chant but he wouldn’t do so. These incidents followed the tragic death of 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand, who was forced to chant the same while being beaten up and killed on suspicion of stealing a motorbike.
As the Bharatiya Janata Party gains clout in West Bengal, chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has taken on a new political connotation since many say the state did not have too many Ram worshippers until now. In fact, the chant is slowly emerging as a statement of protest amongst BJP supporters and West Bengal locals who claim to be targeted under the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress Party.
These incidents happen even as India rejects a report on religious intolerance by the US State Department that says mob violence against minorities in India continues through 2018. The International Religious Freedom Report 2018, which is meant to measure how countries respect the fundamental human right of respecting all religious beliefs, found that not only did Muslims in India get attacked amid rumours that they had killed or traded a cow—an animal considered sacred by the Hindus—but also that the government has failed to punish the perpetrators of such violence. It also said that Hindu groups had used "violence, intimidation, and harassment" against Muslims and low-caste Dalits in 2017 to force a religion-based national identity.
However, the Indian foreign ministry denies the claims in this report, saying there was no right "for a foreign entity/government to pronounce on the state of our citizens' constitutionally protected rights."
Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.