An Indian youth was stabbed to death Friday, the latest in a series of attacks on Muslims
Thousands of people are wearing black armbands to raise awareness of the issue
A shadow hangs over Eid celebrations this year in India.
Across the country, thousands of worshippers marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan are donning black armbands during special prayers following the high-profile killing of a Muslim teen in an allegedly Islamophobic attack.
The black band is a way of showing “solidarity with the people who have lost their kin,” said Ali Khan Mahmudabad, one of the people behind the movement.
Dubbed #BlackEid on social media, the idea was conceived as a way to draw attention to an apparent increase in mob violence aimed at minority groups.
“Silence is tantamount to complicity, especially at a time where the events are happening with increasing frequency,” Mahmudabad said.
Mob attacks on the rise
India, home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, has been gripped by a spate of widely publicized mob attacks in recent months, with many of the victims being Muslim.
On Friday, a young Muslim man was stabbed to death by a group of men after an alleged dispute over a seat on a train near Ballabhgarh in Haryana. The attack, believed by many to be religiously motivated, has been widely reported in the Indian media, prompting calls for a period of national soul-searching.
In March, Muslim residents of a village in Gujarat reportedly faced an attack by an angry mob from a neighboring village. In April, a Muslim farmer in Rajasthan was beaten to death by a mob after he purchased a cow for milk, according to reports. In May, two young Muslim men in Assam allegedly were killed on the suspicion that they were stealing cows.
“Hate crimes against Muslims, Dalits, and marginalized sections have increased,” said Navaid Hamid, president of the All India Muslim Majlis e Mushawarat in Delhi, a decades-old umbrella group for Muslim institutions.
“My perception is the central government and the state governments are complicit with violence against minorities and other marginalized sections of society,” Hamid said.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many crimes are being committed against Muslims. India’s most recent criminal data, which cover 2015, track only caste-based crimes.
But an investigation by the Hindustan Times that tracked “communal incidents” – conflicts between Hindus and Muslims – in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh found a rise in incidents over the last several years.
The public nature of recent attacks has led Muslims in India to think twice about what they wear, what food they buy or carry, and how they present themselves in public, Mahmudabad said. “Being a Muslim in public is something that can draw the ire of a mob.”
Protest image sparks a movement
Mahmudabad first created an image of a person wearing a black armband with a message of unity in English, Hindi and Urdu. He posted the image to various social media accounts but didn’t expect to get much response.
So it came as something of a shock when, on Monday morning, Mahmudabad saw thousands of young students handing out black ribbons at a local seminary in the city of Lucknow.
“It’s really a people’s movement,” he said.
According to Hamid, the movement was spontaneous movement and mostly made up of young people.
“Hundreds of people contacted me from across the nation, and they were asking (me) to lend my name to support this,” Hamid said. “I got calls from Kerala, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Rajasthan.”
In the Mewat region of north India, where the Muslim farmer was killed, community leaders also came together and asked residents to wear black bands in solidarity.
Mahmudabad has gotten photos from all over India showing people wearing black armbands or black ribbons. His favorite is a picture of a young boy in a red shirt tying the cloth around the arm of an older man.
“The only way to go forward is to raise awareness and then to bring together people from various platforms and various backgrounds and not retreat,” he said. “Remaining silent, I think that’s more dangerous.”