During two separate incidents in June 2019, two Muslim men were attacked for refusing to chant “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram), a prominent Hindu mantra. The act of forcing Hindu chants onto non-Hindu Indian nationals is part of a rising number of hate crimes towards non-Hindus that have spiked since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election in 2014.
The lack of governmental response in the Indian subcontinent has been widely condemned, thus leading a group of activists to take action of their own.
United Against Hate, a collective of activists from around India, has started an initiative to support the victims of crimes such as mob attacks, according to a report by Al Jazeera. The project is a toll-free helpline (1800-3133-6000) which will track such crimes and provide legal services to those victims.
“The establishment of [the] helpline shows that the state has failed utterly in saving its citizens,” said Ghazala Jamil, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
United Against Hate is comprised of social workers, journalists, religious leaders, and lawyers, all of whom acknowledge the reality that many Indians face. The service will be available in nearly 100 cities and will aim to support Muslims in particular, who are increasingly becoming the target of hate crimes.
“Despite all the claims of the government, the assaults have not stopped,” said activist Nadeem Khan at a press conference in New Delhi. “We will try to help the victims of such assaults and help them get justice in courts.”
One of the men who was attacked for not chanting “Jai Shri Ram” was pushed off a moving train in Kolkata, West Bengal. Mohammad Shahrukh Haldar, a 20-year-old teacher, told Al Jazeera, “The incident has left me so traumatized that I don’t even want to travel in a train again.”
There are countless incidents of the same nature. On June 28, a Muslim boy wearing a skull cap was attacked for refusing the chant in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. On July 14, a Muslim scholar in the same state had his beard pulled by 12 men and was forced to recite their words. In Uttar Pradesh, there have been about 50 incidents of such mob violence between 2012 and 2019. Many other Muslims have been attacked purely for being of their faith.
The Hindu right-wing movement has spread across the nation since Modi’s first win in 2014. Many of the hate crimes are carried out by right-wing Hindu groups, primarily against Muslims, Christians and Dalits—the formerly “untouchable” people in India’s caste system. This year's re-election of Modi and his party, the BJP, has brought about a similar, if not mounting, set of crimes.
“It is the sad reality of India today. We cannot close our eyes from this reality,” Apoorvanand, a professor at Delhi University, told Al Jazeera.
Vigilante violence in India has led to a severe spike in lynchings. In a recent documentary by the Guardian, it was reported that 47 people were murdered in cow-related hate crimes by so-called “cow vigilantes”. Seventy-six percent of the victims were Muslims.
The perpetrators of the crime are reportedly protecting the cow, an animal considered sacred in the Hindu faith. In late June, Madhya Pradesh became the first Indian state to address the swelling issue, with those found guilty set to face jail time and a hefty fine.
Despite dozens of these crimes taking place, there have been very few convictions in response.
“It was necessary to launch the helpline because minorities are being attacked just because of their identities. Cops refuse to take cognizance of hate crimes,” Apoorvanand said.
Added Khan, “Even before a crime takes place, if you see a mob gathering, call the number.”
This June, the United States released a report alleging the spread of religious intolerance in India. The religious freedom report said that “communal violence has increased sharply over the past two years” and “the Modi administration has not addressed in the problem.”
“Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued through the year amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef,” continued the report.
The Indian foreign ministry, however, rejected these allegations. Raveesh Kumar, its spokesman, said, “India is proud of its secular credentials…with a long-standing commitment to tolerance and inclusion.”