Recent attacks have seen Muslims targeted and forced to chant the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan, following a similar episode staged against Muslim politicians in parliament.
Maulana Momin, 40, is unable to speak since suffering a vicious attack by a gang that tried to run him over with a car in New Delhi on the weekend.
The unprovoked assault and a barrage of religious slurs came after he refused to oblige the men to say the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Lord Ram) greeting.
The bearded teacher in traditional Muslim dress escaped with a bruised face and feels fortunate to be alive after the gang accosted him and demanded that he chant praises for Lord Ram, the mythical Hindu deity.
Jai Shri Ram is usually used for salutation by millions of Hindus but has increasingly become a catchphrase for hardliners to intimidate minorities and their ideological opponents.
Some 800 miles away in the eastern state of Jharkhand, a similar scene was played out in the dead of the night after a mob caught 24-year-old Muslim Tabrez Ansari over allegations of burglary.
The furious crowd ordered him too chant Jai Shri Ram as he was tied to an electricity pole and they took turns to beat him with sticks and fists.
“I am shaken after hearing about the lynching incident,” Momin said.
“I am scared and feel fortunate. I had never been attacked for being a Muslim before. They [Hindu radicals] are emboldened,” he said.
Tabrez, a clean shaven welder, was caught by the villagers in Dhatkidih, barely five kilometres from his home in Seraikela district on June 18.
He was returning from relatives with two friends when the villagers got hold of him. His friends escaped.
The furious villagers then surrounded him. They heckled, yelled, abused and struck him incessantly with wooden batons for nearly 12 excruciating hours.
They also forced him to chant ‘Hail Lord Ram’ and ‘Hail Hanuman’, referring to the Hindu gods, when he revealed his ‘Muslim’ name.
Next morning, when Tabrez finally fell unconscious, the mob handed him over to police.
Despite his wretched condition, police first took him into custody after undergoing a mandatory medical check-up. A judge sent him to a jail where his condition worsened after two days and he was moved to a government-run hospital.
He died on Saturday, four days after the assault.
“He was caught, beaten up and forced to chant Jai Shri Ram. He was extremely weak but even in that condition, police did not bother to take him to hospital,” Maqsood Alam, Ansari’s uncle said.
“Instead, they took him to the police station first. He died because of his injuries and negligence.”
Hindu hardliners' new war cry
Mob lynching and hate crimes against minorities have increased in officially secular India since the pro-Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.
According to Factcheker.in, a fact-checking initiative, 124 cases of hate crimes over cow smuggling allegations and interfaith relationships were reported in the last five years.
Of these, 47 people were killed, mostly Muslim, a minority religious community of 172 million people in India’s 1.2 billion population.
Nearly a dozen men were killed by mobs in Jharkhand.
Critics accuse Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for tacitly backing those behind the attacks, emboldening Hindu extremists across the country.
A US State Department report on international religious freedom said last week that India has seen a spike in religious hate crimes on Muslims and low-caste Hindus (Dalits) under the Modi government.
India swiftly rejected the report, saying no one has the right to question its secular and inclusive credentials.
With Modi’s massive electoral victory in the April-May elections for a second term, Jai Shri Ram has been vociferously revived to create a new flashpoint across the country, including in parliament.
The slogan also became a rallying point for the supporters of Hindu nationalist party in the recent national election campaign in eastern state of West Bengal. BJP was against a formidable Trinamool Congress that has ruled the state for over a decade. The Hindu nationalist party used Jai Shri Ram to woo Hindu voters as it accused chief minster Mamata Banerjee of being anti-Hindu for resisting the politicisation of the slogan. Supporters heckled Banerjee with the chants and sent postcards to her scribbled with the slogan. The strategy earned electoral dividends with the BJP winning 18 seats, up from two it won in 2014.
The Jai Shri Ram slogan goes back to the 1980s, when it became a ‘politico-religious’ cry for Hindu nationalists and was used to galvanise crowds during a vicious India-wide campaign for the construction of a temple.
On December 6, 1992, thousands of Kar sevaks, or religious volunteers, stormed Babri Masjid, a site some Hindus believe is Lord Ram’s birthplace, in Ayodhya in northern India.
They climbed atop one of the three domes of the 16th-century mosque and shouted the slogans before destroying it.
The demolition resulted in several months of intercommunal rioting between Hindus and Muslims, causing over 2,000 deaths.
“They are using it as a war chant…," said Mohan Guruswamy, a political analyst and Chairman of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Alternatives.
"They say, chant Jai Shri Ram and I will welcome you. This is unacceptable. It is not in confidence with what the constitution of India endeavours and inspires from. It is a worrisome trend because it now seems to have official sanction.
"Hindu radicalisation is the new political order now.”
“It is a bad, bad situation.”
The pattern of heckling Muslims by forcing them to chant Lord Ram’s name began last week when treasury benches from the ruling nationalist BJP taunted Muslim members with Jai Shri Ram calls as they took oaths in parliament.
Since then four cases of Muslims being attacked for refusing to chant the slogan have been reported.
Asaduddin Owaisi, Convenor of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen Party (AIMIM) was one of the MPs who was heckled.
The slogan is a “deliberate attempt to intimidate Muslims” he remarked.
“This is a clear example of dog whistling,” he said.
“When I can be heckled in the parliament, tried to be cowed down by Jai Shri Ram chants by BJP MPs, it is natural it will happen more outside.”
Owaisi stressed that the Modi government was creating an environment to brand Muslims as terrorists, cow smugglers or beef eaters.
“This is a very dangerous mindset.
“This man was not given proper treatment because the mindset of people was that he was Muslim and he deserved to be lynched.”
Owaisi added: “They can deny US report but the world is watching these [news] reports.”
At Ansari’s one-room house, his young widow Shaista Alam is being hounded by locals and media alike. She is traumatised and passes out frequently.
The two were married on April 27 and Ansari went to work in western Pune city. He visited his home on Eid and they were planning to move to his workplace on June 24.
“But this happened,” Maqsood said. “She is unwell. She is traumatised and is on saline drips.
“She loses consciousness. She is in a very terrible condition. They got married just a month-and-a-half ago.
“We will not be relieved until the jailer, jail doctors and government doctors are sacked from work. We are waiting for justice.”