The conversion of hate speech into acts of brutal violence is happening at a chilling pace across India. Rumours of cow slaughter are enough to trigger murderous rage. Less than three weeks after the lynching at Dadri of Mohammed Ikhlaq, Kashmir saw an 18-year-old youth, Zahid Rasool Bhat, son of a labourer and a class 10 student, seized by a mob around midnight while he was sleeping in his truck near Udhampur during his journey back to the Valley from New Delhi. They mercilessly beat Bhat and another Kashmiri travelling with him, doused them with petrol and set them ablaze. The incident occurred in the aftermath of protests that followed after three cows were found dead in the same district.
Bhat died on Sunday, triggering protests in Kashmir. And as so often happens this story becomes one about Kashmir, how people in the Valley protest, their stone-throwing youth, the machinations of separatists who are either already detained or under house arrest — and less and less about what it took for such a pitiless crime to have happened in the first place. No one should be under any illusion that repeated rhetoric by leaders about offended religious sentiments is creating the context for the targeting of minorities. In other appalling instances, Engineer Rashid, an independent MLA from J-K who was assaulted by BJP legislators for hosting a ‘beef party’, was attacked with ink in Delhi on Monday. In Mumbai, two Muslim youth have alleged that the police assaulted them inside the Bandra police station and told to them go to Pakistan, while another youth from Saharanpur was beaten to death by villagers in Himachal Pradesh for allegedly smuggling cattle.
What is common to all these incidents is the breakdown of State authority as ideologically-driven vigilantes show utter contempt for the rule of law. This is already a dangerous trend that India can ill-afford to nurture and it is of critical importance that leaders restore the legitimacy of State institutions by prosecuting the accused. In each of these cases, as many before them, India’s minorities are looking to see if the State can ensure its security and interests. Bhat’s murder, meanwhile, adds to the pressure on J-K chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as he has had very little to show for forming an alliance with the BJP. He has been banking on the Centre granting J-K a generous financial package to regain his authority — which has not happened yet. He has, arguably, lost a lot more ground in Kashmir, looking helpless in the face of his coalition partner’s ideological fervour. The situation in J-K is very grim.