Hindu vs. Muslim in India: The Washington Post covers a battle that's getting worse

To listen to some Muslim activists around the world, one would think the only injustices are those happening in Palestine. There’s curiously little outcry about much worse stuff going on in China (as GetReligionista Ira Rifkin has written) and India.

India has 172 million Muslims; home to 10 percent of the world Muslim population and second only to Indonesia and Pakistan. But Indian Muslims –- as well as Sikhs, Christians and other minorities –- are vastly outnumbered by roughly 980 million Hindus. And in recent years, the trends in violence targeting Muslims in India — often fueled by smartphone messages sent through WhatsApp — haven’t been good.

Which is interesting in that India’s Muslims are growing and by 2050, India will surpass Indonesia as the world’s largest Muslim country. Which makes this recent story in the Washington Post about so-called cow vigilantes all the more timely.

Alimuddin Ansari, a van driver, knew the risks. Smuggling beef in India, where the slaughter of cows is illegal in some states, is dangerous work, and Ansari eventually attracted the notice of Hindu extremists in Jharkhand.

One hot day in June 2017, they tracked him to a crowded market. When he arrived with a van full of beef, the lynch mob was waiting.

Reports of religious-based hate-crime cases have spiked in India since the pro-Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, according to new data from IndiaSpend, which tracks reports of violence in English-language media. The data shows that Muslims are overwhelmingly the victims and Hindus the perpetrators of the cases reported.

Riots between religious groups have risen 28 percent between 2014-2017 and this year isn’t looking any better.

Some of the violence in the reported cases centers on cows because Hindus — nearly 80 percent of India’s population — believe the animals are sacred, and many states have laws that protect them from slaughter. Violent “cow vigilante” groups patrol the roads, beating and killing those suspected of smuggling beef.

Which means the unfortunate van driver was one of the victims.

When police arrived, the men scattered, but it was too late for Ansari. He lost consciousness in an ambulance and was pronounced dead on the way to a hospital. The postmortem report said Ansari died of shock as a result of multiple injuries.

Ansari’s killing played out in almost real time on WhatsApp, the global messaging platform that is widely used in India, its largest market, and has increasingly become a vehicle for the spread of hate speech and incendiary fake news there and elsewhere.

His wife, Mariam Khatoon, and son watched the killing unfold on the phones of their neighbors…

Can you imagine being his family at that point?

Eleven men and one juvenile suspected in Ansari’s death were arrested and charged with murder. In March, the adults were convicted and sentenced to life in prison, prompting protests; their supporters claim Ansari died because he was beaten in police custody. All but the juvenile have since been released on appeal…In July, some of the accused perpetrators went to the home of Jayant Sinha, a member of Modi’s council of ministers. Sinha fed them sweets and hung marigold garlands around their necks, prompting an international firestorm

India is rated fourth worst country in the world in terms of religious violence. I’ve written about some of the anti-Christian violence here. Fellow GetReligionista Richard Ostling wrote about “cow worship” in India here and why this is problematic for Muslim butchers.

There’s a millennia’s worth of history here. It goes back to around the year 1000, when Muslim armies began invading India, culminating in the arrival of Tamerlaine, the Uzbek general who killed some 5 million Indians within a few months in 1398. Muslim attacks on north and western India continued with few breaks until the British arrived in the early 19th century.

Today, India and neighboring Pakistan are countries where the “streets” reign. Look at the anarchy happening now in Pakistan where mobs are protesting the freeing of Asia Bibi, as Tmatt wrote about here. And under Narendra Modi, the streets are increasingly ruling today’s India.

About the beef for which this poor man died, I’m curious as to why Hindus don’t go after the folks who buy the stuff rather than those who sell it. Who does buy it?

In August, the Post ran a fascinating story about lynch mobs in India and the angry young men who populate them. Where do these men come from? The article says:

India’s problem of male rage has roots beyond the strident Hindu nationalism embraced by the current government. India has more than 600 million people under 25, and they have greater access to technology and education than ever before. Yet millions have little hope of finding decent jobs, and a “bachelor bomb” of more than 37 million surplus men — a legacy of generations of a preference for sons and aborting female fetuses — threatens social stability for decades.

In 2006, I spent three weeks in India research exactly this topic: The coming gender imbalance because of widespread aborting of female children.

Twelve years later, the chickens have come home to roost. Many of the boys I saw in elementary schools back then are on the streets now. They can’t get decent jobs and they can’t afford wives.

The young men harbor a deep sense of victimization and spend a lot of time on Hindu-pride-focused WhatsApp groups and alternate-history websites that recount the glories of India’s ancient civilization before the Mughal and British invaders imposed, as Modi puts it, 1,200 years of servitude.

What’s going on in India dwarfs other historical beefs, at least in terms of what’s happening right now: Protestants and Catholics in northern Ireland and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in the Middle East, for starters. And don’t forget the Muslim-Hindu riots of 2002 in western India where hundreds of innocent people died.

I’m afraid there’s not going to be a good ending to this. Keep on following stories about the role of Whatsapp, the Facebook-owned messaging app that’s being used to spread religious hatred in India. The Post did a piece last May about WhatsApp’s threat to democracy. There are 200 million users of WhatsApp in India.

It’s a nastier world out there. And religion is right in the middle of that mix.

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