On 22 June 2017, only a few days before the festival of Eid marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Junaid headed to Delhi to buy new clothes and gifts for himself and his family. A day earlier, he had completed reciting the Qur’ān in the mosque in his native village, Khandawali, Ballabgarh, in the state of Haryana. Aged fifteen and son of a taxi driver, Junaid was a hafiz, one who has memorized the whole Qur’ān, and a student at a madrasa in Nuh, Haryana. To mark the completion of the Qur’ān having been recited in the special Ramadan prayer, a community feast was held on 21 June. Junaid also received gifts in cash. With ₹1500 (19 euros) in his pocket and accompanied by his brother Hashim (aged 19) and two teenage village friends, next day he joyfully went for shopping to Delhi. In Delhi, they also visited the famous Jama Masjid, where they took a selfie standing on its steps with the Jama Masjid pictured in the background (Junaid loved kite flying and cricket, in which he excelled in batting, bowling and fielding alike). At 5 pm they boarded the Mathura-bound local train to return home.
Little did Junaid realize that it would be his last journey, and of his life itself. The ‘mob’ in the train lynched him to death. As the train stopped at Okhla station, twenty or so people entered the coach Junaid, Hashim and two of his friends were in. One of the new passengers pushed Junaid so hard that he fell on the floor. When Junaid’s friends objected, they too were shoved. Soon, Hashim’s skullcap was tossed up. They insultingly held his beard. When they protested, the mob started assaulting the four boys. Left with no option, they tried to get off the train. They were not allowed to. Instead, the ferocious assaults against them continued.
What was the reason for this repeated assault? It was plain: they were Muslims. They were humiliated and labelled ‘terrorists’, ‘traitors’, ‘Mullē [Muslims
]’, ‘beefeaters’, ‘Pakistanis’ and ‘circumcised [katullē]’. ‘Not just the men but every passenger in the coach shouted at us, saying, “Mullē, Kattālē sālē. Mārō sabkō. Mārō. Mārō (these Muslims, the circumcised sister-fucker ones. Kill them all. Kill them. Kill them)”’, recalled Shakir, another brother of Junaid whom Hashim had telephoned for help. Shakir and his friends reached Ballabgarh station, their destination. Instead of letting the four boys alight, the mob pulled Shakir inside the compartment as well. As the train gathered speed, so did the attacks. The mob led by Naresh began to stab the Muslim boys. Junaid received 55 stab wounds, Shakir 17 and Hashim 3. At Asaoti station, the mob threw the boys out of the train. As the blood-drenched body of Junaid lay on the platform in the lap of his brother (see Fig. 5.1), who, himself drenched in blood, begged for help, the crowd silently watched like full-time spectators. According to the officials, no police were present on the scene. In another account, the police stood nearby but chose to ignore what was happening.
Located less than thirty kilometres from the scene of Junaid’s murder, neither the Twitter-savvy Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor any of his ministers in New Delhi posted any tweet, let alone paid a visit to the family of the victims of this horrific communal attack.Footnote 1 Not only was any word of ‘sympathy’ for the victim lacking, in other cases the victims themselves were arrested and jailed. In November 2017, Mohammad Umar, a cow trader, was lynched in Rajasthan. Two of his associates, Tahir and Javed, managed to save their lives by fleeing. Both were arrested and jailed on charges of cow-smuggling (Afreen 2017; Asia Times 2018).
Returning to Junaid, this lynching was not the first since Modi won power in 2014. A series of such lynchings has been organized throughout India (Rath 2017), from Jhajjar, Jharkhand, Dadri, Latehar, Una and Alwar to Hapur, the last one occurring in June 2018 (there were more cases of lynching after 2018 at the end of which we finished writing this chapter). In Hapur, a video of the crowd lynching Qasim (the victim) and the latter’s crying out for water in the scorching heat and help was widely shared on social media. Most incidents of lynching were based on a rumour that Muslims were either planning to cook beef or smuggling cows, deemed holy by most religious Hindus (Korom 2000). So frequent has lynching become that it has been practically normalized, no longer igniting outrage, as the first lynching probably did. According to one study, sixty incidents of cow-related violence and lynching took place between 2010 and 2017 in which 84 per cent of victims were Muslim, and 97 per cent of the attacks took place after Modi became prime minister in 2014 (Sharma 2018).
To expect Modi to speak out against lynching is probably illogical because he himself is wedded to the religious cause of ‘cow protection’ and opposed to dietary freedom—a phrase absent from the public debate. During the election campaign that made him prime minister, he promised to protect cows. Deploying the dog-whistle politics of the so-called pink revolution—beef meat looks pink—he vowed to stop it by branding Muslims as foreigners (Ahmad 2019: 29). Modi’s religious impulse is not limited to cow protection; he views himself becoming prime minister as a case of divine election, as do his followers such as Lokesh Chandra, chairperson of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, according to whom Modi is an avatar of God; indeed, ‘Modi is God’ (First Post 2014).
What does the lynching of Junaid and many others, as well as the religious Hindu politics, mobilization and ideology that undergird it, say about democracy
in India? Does it signify what Atul Kohli (2001) calls the ‘success of India’s democracy’
and others describe in such superlative terms as ‘Indian exceptionalism’ (Jayal and Mehta 2010: xxi), ‘genius’ (Ganguly 2011), ‘wonder’ (Varshney 2012), ‘uniqueness’, ‘model democracy’
(Kesavan 2007), ‘unique model’, ‘next superpower’ (Banerjee 2012) and so on?Footnote 2 Our key argument here is that we should critically examine such self-congratulatory accounts of Indian democracy
in order to lay bare its religiously ethnic and divisive character. When liberal democracy, or its variant of deliberative democracy inspired by Jürgen Habermas (Gutmann and Thompson 2004), is presented as the only political telos (Fukuyama 1992) for humans everywhere, we should remind ourselves that liberalism has rarely been democratic and democracy scarcely liberal (Foucault 2008: 321). Violence, legal or otherwise, is not simply an occasional aberration in a democratic polity, but an integral part of democracy
(Ahmad 2019; Keane 2004; Mann 2005). With the nation as its lynchpin, both liberalism
and democracy are anchored in notions of territorial and ethnic unity (Brennan 2016; Ross 2006). Obviously we are not arguing that democracy be abandoned in favour of monarchy or some other ‘un-modern’ form of politics. On the contrary, we aim to restore democracy, in the words of the classicist political theorist Josiah Ober 2008: 3–4; ff.; Ahmad 2014), to its ‘original meaning’. The original meaning of demokratia in Greek was the ‘capacity to do things, not majority rule’. In contrast to monarchia (monos: one or solitary) and oligarchia (hoi oligoi: the few), demokratia makes no reference to number but connotes a collective body of people. Since nowhere is any people monolithic, the capacity to do things must be diverse and multiple, like cultural goals and political idioms. It was the critics of democracy in Greece who argued, pejoratively, that democracy and majority rule were the same. In some ways, our argument resonates with Jacques Derrida’s (2004, 2005) notion of democracy in that we are concerned more with its potentiality than its bare actuality.
One of the great achievements of the anti-colonial struggle in many parts of the world, including India, was the formation of nation states in which the people were no longer subjects of colonial rule, but citizens with political rights guaranteed in constitutions. In South Asia, the postcolonial struggle immediately led to the formation of two nation states, India and Pakistan. India called itself a secular nation state, while Pakistan
was a ‘homeland for Muslims’. The Partition of British
India following widespread communal violence immediately draws attention to the particular origin of the Indian citizenship
regime. Its secularism was primarily geared to the avoidance of further escalations of religious conflict. Though combining both jus soli and jus sanguinis (Roy 2006; Ahmad 2020), in the wake of Partition Indian citizenship was largely construed as based on birth on Indian soil and the sense that Hindus were more ‘sons of the soil’ (bẖumīputra) than others continued to loom large in the political imaginary. Until the recent ascendancy of the Hindu majoritarian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, although Muslims (and also Christians) might have been regarded as second-class citizens with less claim on India than Hindus, their citizenship tended not to be disputed (cf. Zamindar 2010). However, the recent introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 (CAA
) offers all undocumented migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan access to Indian citizenship
provided they are not Muslim. The attempt to distinguish between different categories of aspiring citizens—specifically Hindus versus Muslims—goes back to Partition, but in its new form it will extend beyond refugees and migrants to the entire population. It will be aided by the introduction of a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC), making it likely that Muslims will be subjected to more frequent demands to prove their citizenship status and to higher standards of documentary evidence to do so. In short, citizens will be distinguished from mere residents on Indian soil. Following the classical Greek distinction between political life and bare life, on which the philosophers Hannah Arendt (1958) and Giorgio Agamben (1998) have commented, the removal of Indian Muslims from political agency can be interpreted as their being reduced to ‘bare life’. Agamben (1998: 4) linked Arendt’s understanding of this classic distinction to Carl Schmitt’s (1922 ) Nazi doctrine of sovereignty and the development of concentration camps in Germany during the Second World War. We find Agamben’s theory of the nature of sovereignty inspiring, but do not want to extend his analysis of Nazi totalitarianism to the postcolonial situation in India (see Mbembe 2003; Jarvis 2014). Nevertheless, the current construction of detention
camps in India is an ominous sign of the possibilities that are being explored by the Hindu nationalists. Although these legal changes do mark a substantial escalation of anti-Muslim politics in India, we argue that this is an intensification of what had already been present over a much longer period. To pursue our analysis, we focus on religious violence
and religious conversion in the making of the Hindu nation. Against the dominant tendency in scholarship that treats contemporary Hindutva as a new phenomenon, we maintain that it represents continuity with the past rather than a rupture from the past. For instance, contemporary lynching in the name of ‘cow protection’ has roots that are traceable back to the nineteenth century
(Pandey 1992; van der Veer 1994; cf. Banerjee 2006). Likewise, the subject of religious conversion, including the current vulgate or neologism of ‘love jihad’, has a longer genealogy. Our main thesis is that majoritarian religion continues to be a strong vector of nationalism, which informs and is informed by religious violence
as much as religious conversion. Probably nothing demonstrates it so starkly as the reduction of minoritized Muslims to the status of bare life in contemporary India, which is manifest, inter alia, in the Muslim camps that were set up after anti-Muslim political violence such as the pogroms in Gujarat in 2002 (Ghassem-Fachandi 2012) or the anti-Muslim violence in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 (Ahmad 2013b).