In the state where the lynching of Pehlu Khan in Alwar in April last year by a mob that accused him of “cow smuggling” sparked nation-wide outrage, and the police investigation subsequently cleared six men Khan had named as his assailants in his dying declaration, and where the same crime stalks more victims, you hear the disclaimer over and over again: Rajasthan does not have a communal problem, they say, everything is fine here between Hindus and Muslims.
The denials of an increasing communal polarisation end outside the Muslim mohalla.
In Mohalla Chopdaran, in the heart of the tiny town of Jhunjhunu, a group of young Muslim men talk of an increase in “bhed bhaav (discrimination)” and intolerance. Mohammad Ali, a salesman, says the conversation has changed: “Earlier, when we got together with our Hindu friends, we would talk about business and other things. Now the online hate campaigns hang over our interactions with each other.”
They describe WhatsApp messages that feel like a whiplash — like the one that carried an exhortation to Hindus not to eat in Muslim homes this Eid, amid gory images of cow meat.
About six months ago, a drunken sparring between two childhood friends, one Hindu and the other Muslim, flared into something nastier and bigger in a neighbouring locality. Processions were taken out, they recall, and slogans were raised: “Hindustan mein rehna hai toh (If you want to live in Hindustan)….”
Mohammad Aslam says he used to take calves from Jhunjhunu to Delhi, sell them in Ghazipur, carrying on a family business. “I stopped because it became difficult. There was the threat of the mob, there could be violence, and we saw that police would not come to our rescue. My brother was beaten up. Since two years, I have been forced to look for work as a daily wage labourer.”