Slow Boil

Patterns in everyday acts of public violence in Modi’s India

A Bajrang Dal activist shouts slogan during a protest in New Delhi in May 2017. The protest was held to condemn an alleged attack on Indian soldiers and protests by Kashmiri “stone pelters.” Organisations like the Bajrang Dal were created to build up Hindu mobilisation and to form shock troops. SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

On 22 August 2021, 25-year-old Taslim Ali was beaten up by Hindu vigilantes in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. A viral video of the incident showed Taslim, a bangle seller from Uttar Pradesh’s Hardoi district, weeping on the ground while a mob assaulted him because of his Muslim identity. Taslim managed to file a first-information report after much difficulty, and the accused were arrested. But, the next day, based on the complaint of one of the accused’s minor daughters, Taslim was arrested. He was charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code that had to do with sexual harassment, forgery and criminal intimidation, as well as sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

Taslim was granted bail around three and a half months later. The Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court held that he had no “criminal antecedents” and posed no threat to witnesses. His attackers were granted bail much before him. Taslim’s arrest left his family suffering economically and emotionally, and stoked fear among other economically disadvantaged Muslim bangle-sellers from his village, who were afraid to venture out to work. Hindutva groups and leaders have been calling for an economic boycott of Muslim businesses, including impoverished vendors.

Taslim’s case is not an isolated instance. Public acts of violence against religious minorities by Hindutva vigilantes are no longer seemingly disparate incidents but form a larger recurring pattern. The pretexts for vigilante violence can be many, including allegations of forced religious conversion, cow slaughter and love jihad—a conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of marrying Hindu women with the aim of converting them to Islam. 

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, in 2014, there has been a rise in vigilantism and lynchings, so much so that a Supreme Court judgment in 2018, noting the “sweeping phenomenon,” stated that vigilantism “cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be given room to take shape, for it is absolutely a perverse notion.” Despite the apex court issuing guidelines to curb the phenomenon, cases have continued to increase. Official figures, though, are hard to come by. In 2019, the National Crimes Record Bureau refused to publish data on lynching as a separate crime because, according to the ministry of home affairs, the data was “unreliable.” Last December, the government told parliament that the NCRB no longer maintains separate data for lynchings. Independent attempts to track hate crimes, such as the Hindustan Times’ “Hate Tracker,” have been unexpectedly shut down. Individual instances of violence typically enter the news cycle briefly and get lost in a barrage of other stories. Nevertheless, there are independent studies that shed light on the pattern of vigilante violence in India.