BALLABGARH: It was a sombre Eid in many parts of India. Men gathered soberly in mosques to offer the traditional Eid prayers together. But some wore black bands on their sleeves as token of their anguish. Even those who did not - uncertain if a mark of protest was fitting in a festival of love and peace - still carried hurt, fear and bewilderment in their hearts.

What has happened to our country? What is our place in this country? We always believed we were equal citizens of the country we love. Were we wrong?

Perhaps the most muted and melancholy of all Eid celebrations was in a small village Khandawali in the tehsil Ballabgarh, part of Faridabad district of Haryana in the NCR region. A young teenaged boy Junaid had been lynched on a train near his village just days before Eid. His elder brother Shakir was battling his many knife injuries in a hospital in Delhi. Many men wore black bands as they went for the Eid prayers. There was little cheer and laughter, except of children.

It is to this village that a small group of us decided to go a day after Eid to say only that we shared in their sadness. With me were senior activists John Dayal and Navsharan Singh, Professor Atul Sood, and my colleague Anirban Bhattacharya and from Aman Biradari – Anwar ul Haq, Mohd Aamir, Suroor Mander, Zafar Eqbal, Chunchun and Afsar Alam.

We found crowds outside their modest village home. A delegation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was visiting, led by Subhashini Ali. Many village elders sat in groups with Junaid’s father Jalaluddin, the women with his mother Saira Begum inside the house, and young men with the brothers in clusters on the road outside. His father was dazed and bewildered, his mother inconsolable.

People in the village spoke of how frightened everyone is of travelling outside their village, walking, on trains or in buses. Frightened of wearing a skull cap, a beard, a burka. Frightened on looking Muslim.

Junaid’s older brother, Hashim, eighteen years old, spoke to us of his brother Junaid. Both these brothers studied in madrassas, Hashim in Surat and Junaid in Nuh. They were home for Ramzan and Eid on their annual vacation. The family was poor, and their father and brothers survived variously by cultivating their small piece of land, driving a taxi, and casual labour. These two brothers had set out a different path for themselves of studying the Quran and becoming imams.

They recounted their now oft-repeated ordeal on the Mathura-bound local train which they had mounted at Sadar Bazar station after their Eid shopping in Jama Masjid. It was at Okhla station that a large crowd entered, and they tried to force the boys to give up their seats to them. Junaid had already made place for an old man before the altercation. When his brothers refused to leave their places, they pulled off their caps, pulled their beards, slapped and beat them, and abused them with communal slurs. They did not let them alight at their station Ballabhgarh. Instead in the nine-minute journey between Ballabhgarh and Asaoti station, they attacked the boys with knives. The boys screamed, blood flowed on the compartment floor, bystanders further incited the attackers, people took videos, but none came to their rescue.

They were thrown off at the platform of the rural station Asaoti. No one assisted the boys at the station, although there were rail staff present, and a number of vendors and shopkeepers all around. One of the brothers desperately managed to phone a private hospital in Palwal, and an ambulance arrived in 45 minutes. By then Junaid had bled to death.

My colleagues and I visited Asaoti station as well, and spoke to the officer who was on duty at that time. ‘The guard did send a massage about a corpse being thrown off the train’, he said, ‘but I was at the controls. I could not leave my table. I have too little staff. I saw nothing’. The shopkeepers just at the entrance of the station – with a vantage of all the platforms – insisted they saw nothing – neither the injured and dead boys, nor the arrival of the ambulance. Just one Muslim shop-hand whispered to us that the body lay at the entrance of the station visible to all for 45 minutes. But he did not have the courage to say this publicly.

Some ask, ‘Why do you hold the Modi government responsible?’ The answer again was clear from a survey by Indi Spend. 97 percent of recorded attacks for people on charges related to cow protection since 2010 occurred after Mr Modi assumed political power. During this period, only on two occasions has he publicly condemned attacks in the name of the cow, one of those in Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad on 29 June 2017.

But his latest statement does not reflect the acknowledgment that the country is witnessing an epidemic of hate crimes, riding on the back of virulent politics of communal hatred spread by his party and members of the organisations associated with the RSS. His default response to every individual attack has been one of silence, never expressing anguish nor sharing in the grief of the survivors. His ministers and the elected representatives of his party continue to valorise the self-styled defenders of the cow. One cabinet minister even wrapped the body of one of the men accused of one such attack in a national flag after he died of an illness in jail.

As protests against this lynching of a teenaged boy spread to cities and towns across the country – and even outside it – some people also asked, ‘But why do you react only when Muslims and Dalits are lynched?’ The answer is clear, because they are the principal targets of hate lynching in recent years. The India Spend rapid survey of incidents reported in the English press of attacks due to the cow from 2010 to 2017, found that half the attacks and 86 percent of those killed in these attacks were Muslim, and 8 percent were Dalit.

The black badges on Eid of grief and condemnation should stir the conscience of the country, for the hatred that is fast becoming a new normal. Not just Muslims but all Indians should have worn black bands this Eid.