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Mob lynchings spread to India's tribal heartland

Fears grow over religion-based hatred in Jharkhand as Muslim man dies after being tied to a tree and beaten

Mob lynchings spread to India's tribal heartland

Indian Muslims stage a demonstration in Kolkata on July 25, 2018, against a spate of mob lynchings targeting the minority community. (IANS photo)

The mob lynching of a Muslim man in India’s Jharkhand state shows religious hate is spreading to the peace-loving people in the tribal heartland, church leaders and tribal activists say.

The death of 24-year-old Tabrej Ansari was the third incident in the state in two years and the latest in a series of such incidents at the hands of Hindu groups who want to make India a Hindu-only nation.

Ansari was tied to a tree and beaten by a mob on June 18 after being accused of attempting to steal a motorbike. He was handed over to police but fell sick and died in hospital on June 22, police told media.

However, rights activist Afzal Anis, coordinator of Aman Biradri, which works for communal harmony, claimed that Ansari died of his injuries in police custody.

Media reports said police have arrested 11 people in connection with the attack and forcing him to chant slogans hailing Hindu gods.

In April, a mob lynched a tribal man in Jharkhand’s Gumla district for skinning a dead bull. Three others were injured in the incident.

Two Muslim cattle traders were attacked by cow vigilantes in Latehar district on March 18, 2016. The bodies of Mazlum Ansari, 32, and Imteyaz Khan, 12, were found hanging from a tree.

“It is very unfortunate that for the past one or two years we have been hearing of mob lynching in our state where for centuries people have been living with harmony and brotherhood,” said Father Anand David Xalxo, based in state capital Ranchi.

Father Xalxo, public relations officer of Ranchi Archdiocese, said the state has been witnessing such incidents “for some time now as religion-based hate spreads” and “predators have no respect for the law.”

About 25 percent of Jharkhand’s 32 million people belong to indigenous groups. Of the 8 million tribal people, some 1.5 million are Christians while most others follow the traditional Sarna faith. Some tribal people follow the Hindu faith. Muslims account for 14 percent or 4.5 million.

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“By nature we are peace-loving people and celebrate the festivals of Hindus, Muslims and Christians,” Father Xalxo said.

Most mob attacks on Muslims and socially poor Dalit people in the past were connected with cow protection but some followed allegations of theft and insulting upper castes.

Mohammad Arif, chairman of the Center for Harmony and Peace, said that “indeed it a matter of concern because minority communities, especially Muslim, are in constant fear that they may be attacked in the name of cows.”

Arif, whose organization is based in Uttar Pradesh, said minority groups become easy targets because higher authorities are in favor of vigilante groups.

“There are cases where they want to sort out their personal problems with Muslims in the name of cow protection,” he said.

At least 25 people have been killed in cow-related violence since 2010 and 21 were Muslims, according to a recent report by IndiaSpend, a data website. At least 139 people were also injured in these attacks. More than half of the attacks were based on rumors, it said.

Minority groups in India say that since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, incidents of cow-related violence have increased. Since May 2015, at least 12 people have been killed over the issue.

Mukti Prakash Tirkey, editor of a weekly newspaper on tribal affairs published from New Delhi, said the violent incidents in Jharkhand villages show that religion-based hate has been spreading and that “communal forces have now reached the last person in the country.”

“It has also exposed our weakness to the world that we are unable to prevent these uncalled-for incidents,” Tirkey said.

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