By Irfan Ahmad
On 6 December, Shambhu Lal Regar killed Afrajul Khan –first with an axe, then with a sword and finally set his body on fire alive. But Afrajul Khan was also killed in 1857, after the revolt against the British rule.
The reign of terror at large
The British killed Indians who rebelled against the colonial rule in places like old Delhi and hung their dead bodies by the trees in public spheres/places. The aim of displaying the killed bodies was, wrote a colonial administrator, to “strike terror, and produce a salutary fear through the Mohammadan population.”
Regar did not need to hang Afrajul’s killed body by the tree because, unlike the British, he possessed a mobile phone to get his act of “bravery”, committed in the name of “defending” Hindu religion and India’s Hindu nationalism, filmed. Camera and social media today are what bazaar and chawk were in the past. The aim of the British and Regar was strikingly similar: to strike terror among the population to achieve a political goal.
“Love Jihad:” A classic Fascist slogan
Were the reasons to create terror in 1857 and 2017 also similar? Yes, to a large extent! The British killed the rebels for being disloyal to the British. Regar killed Khan for being disloyal to Hindu culture and the Indian nation-state, which, as another of Regar’s video illustrated, he proudly took as the same. In the video, the killer explained his motive as follows. Having murdered Khan, he turned towards the camera and pointing toward Afrajul’s maimed body which by then he had set on fire, he said: “If you spread love jihad in OUR country (desh), you will meet the same fate as this one.”
“Love Jihad” is a neologism in Indian politics: it can be linked to the rise of Narendra Modi as Hindutva’s leading demagogue in the same way as “pseudo-secularism” was associated with the rise of L. K. Advani, Modi’s mentor in some ways.
In the vocabulary of contemporary Hindutva, as distinct from the pre-nineteenth century Hinduism, the fiction of “love jihad” is mobilized to signify the alleged plans to convert young Hindu women through deception and fake romance. In many places such as Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka various fronts working for Hindutva have organised meetings and distributed pamphlets against the danger of “love jihad.” Such propaganda and mobilisations tell the public that Muslims receive the foreign fund to lure Hindu girls. In some instances, even cases have been filed in courts against “love jihad” (Charu Gupta, “Hindu Women, Muslim Men: Love Jihad and Conversions” EPW, 2009).
Such a concern about Hindu girls (deemed having no volition of their own) on the part of Hindutva votary like Regar has a frightening resonance with Mein Kampf (published in 1926) according to which: “The…Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end, spying on the unsuspicious German girls he plans to seduce” (in Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany & Austria (Harvard University Press, p. 58). In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany William Shirer wrote: “Mein Kampf is sprinkled with lurid allusions to uncouth Jews seducing innocent Christian girls and thus adulterating their blood (1960, p. 26).”
Having hacked him to death, Regar not only terminated the life of the fifty-year-old poor labourer from West Bengal that Khan was, he subsequently expelled the latter from India, as manifest in Regar’s use of the possessive determiner “OUR country.” It is clear that Regar is in the violent quest for a pure, bounded, homogeneous nation-state in the name of Hinduism and at the centre of which is the figure of Muslims as a villain and an outsider to India.
How Did Shambhu Lal Regar Get Radicalised?
In one of the videos, Regar outlined his political views. He considers himself as a saviour of the threatened Hindu community (samaj). He appealed to “all Hindu sisters not to be lured by the love trap of the jihadis because their real aim is to fulfil their sexual lust according to the Islamic system.” He reminded his sisters that “they were Hindus and the parents who gave birth to you have worshipped Hindu gods and goddesses.” Furthermore, not only Muslims of India, but also Muslims from all over the world, including Pakistan, are set to destroy India/Hindus through jihad and fake notes through which they run the so-called jihad organizations. They are also disrespecting Hindu deities by making feature films. Regar pleaded for unity among Hindus to launch a movement against “Islamic jihad.”
Views such as Regar’s are by no means solitary or limited to the ideology of the party currently in power. In ways more than one, they cut across the party lines and enjoy wider currency. Much of the mainstream media in fact uncritically promote and legitimize them as “normal.” For example, consider this headline in a reputed newspaper: “Afrajul Khan was no love jihadi, say, co-workers, friends.” Clearly, this headline legitimizes the fiction of love jihad. It also tells readers, if indirectly, that if Khan was a “love jihadi” the act of murdering him would be likely understandable, if not justifiable.
It is obvious that by describing Regar as mentally sick and unstable, partisans of the current party in power attempt to whitewash the religious motives Regar had in committing the murder. Questions routinely posed about Muslims linked to violence are thus starkly absent in this case: What led to Regar getting radicalized? The answers to this question might well be uncomfortable to many. According to The Indian Express, “Regar’s Facebook profile is replete with photos of him posing with saffron flags and other religious rituals”, and “he always had a tilak on his forehead and took part in religious functions and processions.” Furthermore, foreignification of Islam and vilification of Muslims are equally shared, though differently, by Regar, Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Modi (in numerous speeches of the latter two).
Call for a new politics
Given the largely shared grounds among the mainstream media, much of the civil society and various political parties with different shades of the same hegemonic consensus, the chilling murder of Afrajul Khan is a call for new politics. The new politics will emerge, following Jacques Rancière, in the form of dissensus. But elements and flashes of dissensus – the arena of which is surely not politics as conducted by the existing parties –need to be first recognised before beginning to cultivate them.
The text was taken from Irfan Ahmad’s Facebook wall.