- Perhaps, the most disturbing aspect of this dark chapter of history is that it continuously repeats itself.
Ten years after the 2013 anti-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, the images of the destruction left behind are still etched into the collective memory of Indian Muslims. We remember the visuals of homes and streets littered with rubble, the shell-shocked faces of survivors, the sagging tents crowded together in relief camps. But we also look back on the stories of the survivors, and we realize just how little progress we have made in ensuring that such a horrific tragedy never happens again. Even after a decade, the echoes of Muzaffarnagar remain distressingly audible, both through the survivors’ ongoing struggle to get justice, and through its similarities to present tragedies as India’s problem of mob violence against Muslims continues to worsen.
Beginning in late August and not fully sputtering out till mid-September, violence engulfed Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, leaving 62 dead, over 60,000 displaced, and more than 500 pilice reports filed for murder, rape, looting, and rioting. Mosques were set on fire. Seven Muslim women reported that they had been gang-raped; one of them reported that she had also been beaten and her three-month-old son held hostage. Instead of encouraging peace, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used anti-Muslim hate speech to incite even more violence. It was, as The Indian Express reported, violence “of a scale unseen in the state perhaps since the early 90s.”
The suffering continued for years after the violence died down, as it became clear that the state apparatus had little regard for the survivors. An investigation conducted shortly after the riots found that over 30 children below the age of 12 had died in the relief camps. Tens of thousands were forced to live in the camps for years without access to basic amenities like water or electricity. Several people were reported missing after the riots; to this day, their families have no idea what happened to them, or if their bodies will ever be found.
Those who sought justice through the legal system were met with anti-Muslim bias, threats, and blatant failure. Out of the seven women who were able to file FIRs reporting rape, six were threatened and extorted into silence. Only one was able to take her case all the way to court and win — but only after a grueling 10-year legal battle marred by threats to her and her husband’s physical safety.
The Yogi Adityanath’s government dealt another blow to survivors in 2018 by initiating the process to drop 131 criminal cases, all of which named Hindus as the accused, including in cases of murder and attempted murder. Compare this to the case of Mohammad Salim, the elderly father of Shahnawaz Quershi, the youth whose lynching triggered the violence. As reported by The Quint, Salim still breaks down in tears as he remembers how his son was beaten to death by a Hindu mob before his eyes. The Hindu men who lynched his son were given a clean chit, then bail, while Salim’s own children were sentenced to life imprisonment for killing two members of the lynch mob in retaliation. Muslims paid the heavier price after the riots then, and they continue to pay a heavier price now.
Perhaps, the most disturbing aspect of this dark chapter of history is that it continuously repeats itself. After any outbreak of mass violence, regardless of where it happens in the world, the common refrain is “never again.” But if anything, mob violence against Muslims in India has only increased in the past ten years.
Muslims struggling to pick up the pieces after the violence in Haryana are forced to keep looking over their shoulders as Hindu extremists grow louder and more confident that their threats of violence will be met with impunity. The Delhi pogrom of 2020, immortalized by images of Hindu lynch mobs attacking bloodied Muslim men, is a constant reminder that law enforcement is now subservient to the mob. Armed Ram Navami processions through Muslim-majority areas — inevitably leading to stone pelting, physical assault, sexual harassment, and arson — have practically been made into an annual tradition.
Just as they did for Muzaffarnagar, BJP leaders (Kapil Mishra and Raja Singh as primary examples) use hate speech to incite their supporters and then let the inflamed mob do the dirty work. The worst part is that none of those complicit have to worry about their lives and livelihoods. Like many of the Hindu rioters during Muzaffarnagar, they will deal with little to no consequences while their Muslim victims pay the price.
On the 10-year anniversary of the Muzaffarnagar riots, the urgency to heed its lessons has not waned; if anything, it has intensified. The horrors of Muzaffarnagar, the Delhi pogrom, and other cases of mass anti-Muslim violence should never be repeated. There should never be another woman who has to wait 10 years or longer to see her rapists held accountable. There should never be another Mohammad Salim who loses his son to mob lynching.
For the sake of victims both past and presence, India must confront its epidemic of mob violence.
Rasheed Ahmed is the Executive Director of Indian American Muslim Council.