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[Letter from India]

A Template for Hate

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Mohammed Akhlaq went to bed early on the night he was murdered. His wife, Ikraman, stayed downstairs to clean up the kitchen and help her mother-in-law onto the cot in the living room. Around ten, Ikraman was laying out mattresses for her daughter and herself when she heard a loudspeaker crackling nearby: “People, assemble near the electric transformer. Go quickly, quickly!” She didn’t pay attention; it was probably the priest at the Hindu temple in their village, Bisada, and as a Muslim she was used to letting its announcements and devotional songs wash over her. By ten-thirty, she had put her head on her pillow and was nodding off.

A noise startled her back to alertness: her iron front door clanging open. Fifteen men stormed in, screaming, brandishing batons and knives. “Akhlaq! You will pay for what you’ve done!” The intruders thundered up the narrow stairs to where Akhlaq and his younger son, Danish, were sleeping. The Muslim family had insulted Hindus, the men shouted, kicking father and son awake. They twisted Danish’s arms, slammed him against the wall. A sewing machine was on the table—Ikraman used it to tailor shirts and blouses for other villagers—and the men picked it up and hit Akhlaq over the head. They dragged the frail man by his ears, by his hair, across the cement floor and down the stairs.

More men were coming in—Shaista, Akhlaq’s daughter, noticed some of her brothers’ friends, old schoolmates, acquaintances, nearly unrecognizable in their fury. A few made for the kitchen, where someone tore open a bag of rice, strewing white grains across the floor. Some went for the fridge, where one man reached inside and pulled out what they had come looking for: “Beef!” he yelled.

Ikraman swore it was not, that it was goat meat, leftovers from the animal that a relative had sacrificed for Eid three days earlier. The men called her a liar. “Some of them pushed me, I felt a hand inside my clothes, they cursed at me,” Ikraman told reporters later. A man slapped Asgari Begum, Akhlaq’s eighty-year-old mother, and another punched her in the eye. The rest of the mob pulled Akhlaq to the courtyard, where more people kicked, hit, stabbed him.

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is the author of The Seasons of Trouble: Life amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War (Verso Books). She lives in Bengaluru, India.
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