Crime & Cover-Ups: The Afrazul Murder Case
A Cold-Blooded Murder
December 6th, 2017, was just another ordinary day for the natives of Rajsamand area in the Rajasthan state of India until the social media was set abuzz by an extremely graphic murder video. In the video, Mohammad Afrazul (45), a migrant labourer from West Bengal state is hacked to death and set ablaze by Shambhulal Regar (37), a local resident. The gore murder video, recorded by the accused's 14-year-old nephew eventually terminates with a burning corpse in the background and the accused walking over to the camera issuing threats and warning the Muslims of same fate if they happen to indulge in 'Love Jihad'. Speaking of love jihad, it's an unsubstantiated campaign or rather a right-wing propaganda, that promotes the idea of Muslim men seducing non-Muslim females with the sole purpose of converting them to Islam. The campaign certainly has its Islamophobic roots and has been aggressively promoting violent crimes against the Muslims.
Widely circulated through whatsapp and social media, the video went viral within just a few hours, forcing the police and law enforcement agencies to act. As a result, the accused was immediately apprehended and is now under trial. In the aftermath of the incident, the internet service remained suspended in the area to prevent any further communal flair-ups. During its initial investigation, the police discovered that the accused had an illicit relationship with a Hindu female of whom he referenced to, in the video. The female had prior eloped with another Muslim man and moved to a different state (West Bengal). The accused took it upon himself and brought her back but instead of handing her over to her parents, he kept her in captivity and possibly exploited her. The female though didn't have any relation whatsoever with the deceased. Prima facie the murder and the whole love jihad bogey was most likely a smokescreen to hide accused's illicit relationship.
February 19th, 2018, two more videos of the accused, surfaced on social media. This time around being shot inside the prison. The accused can be seen making provocative and incendiary comments while reading from a supposed pre-written script. Positioning himself like a patriot, he highlights the threat to his life from a Muslim inmate but expresses no remorse or regret whatsoever for his inhuman actions. Blatant lies and a lame defense with communal undertones pretty much sums up his second appearance. The question remains, how he managed to sneak in a cell phone and upload videos from inside a high-security prison. Investigations on part of the prison authorities so far have remained inconclusive, even failing to recover the cellphone.
Inside the Criminal Mind
In order to understand the motive behind a crime, it's essential to understand the criminal mind. Often there is no personal motivation but rather an influence that taps upon the mental state of an individual. Hate crimes in particular act like a mirror to the existing societal fissures. Studying this particular case too has its own merits, even if it doesn't involve a serial killer. It doesn't happen every day that a man axes another on camera and make the world witness the horrific crime. What really pushed him to this extent? Did he intend to instill fear in the mind of the public? Was he a lone wolf or did he had any ulterior motives? There are several such questions and seeking answers to them would help differentiate the crime motive from the reasoning or defense put forth. Thereby eliminating the deliberate obfuscation as well as giving us some insight. The initial investigations of the case have revealed that the accused was attracted to fanatic groups and used to watch graphic videos. Though it's yet to be ascertained, whether he was simply influenced or if it was the mental and societal pressure owing to his deteriorating economic condition. The absence of any past violent behavior points towards the likelihood of him being influenced. The fact, however, remains that the psychopath mind had it all planned and use of religious divide as a smokescreen was supposedly his getaway ticket. Perhaps that's the reason, why the modus operandi was planned accordingly.
Would you subscribe to any ideology, if it promotes hatred under the garb of nationalism or protection of religious identity?
Perceptions and Propaganda
Crime in this part of the world is often painted in religious colors and the mainstream media spear-heads the task. Then again, there are times when we can't ignore the obvious and a distinction has to be made. In some of my previous hubs, I have categorically condemned the religious linkages with crime as it only creates a more complex problem in this highly diverse society of our's, where the communal harmony often hangs by a delicate thread. Yet, we have cases like the one in question, where existing religious fissures are deliberately exploited. As it is, the Hindu-Muslim divide in India is always a hot button. Even if, on the outside, all may seem well, the distrust is quite deep-seated. From politicians to media and even the common man often conscientiously utilize the same for self-gains, without giving heed to the far-reaching impact it will have. This is actually, the grand paradox of the so-called 'unity in diversity'. It's often quoted that "it's not easy to get away with a crime", ironically for third world countries, it's quite the opposite, it's actually not easier to get convicted for a crime. While crimes of many are never established, for others they are either lost in judicial files or provided leeway exploiting the loopholes in the criminal and justice system. Fearing the same fate, the family of the deceased in this case have moved to the top court, seeking a fair and transparent probe.
Meanwhile, despite the propaganda, there have been enough supporting voices to condemn the deplorable act. Activists have lent their voice, while various local and national unions have also come forward to express their anguish. One thing that has remained unchanged is the 'gutter-level' standards of the regional and mainstream politics. They have chosen to remain oblivious and even downplay the whole thing. The mainstream media too chipped in, to sensationalize the crime to create an unnecessary discourse on an open and shut case. Needless to mention the tacit support from the far-right groups in this entire episode. Immediately after the accused was taken into custody, there have been concerted efforts to divert attention from circulating fake news and photoshops using whatsapp, twitter and facebook groups. Even an account seeking financial support for accused's family was created, which was later frozen by the police.
Who really are these sympathisers and why are they indulging in spreading hate and using a heinous crime for communal propaganda? Of course, they are not all psychopaths or criminals. On the outside, they may be ordinary individuals - a bread earner, a son, a father, a husband. In reality, they are nothing but, wolves in sheep clothing. Some even foot soldiers brainwashed by the propaganda. Not all of them belong to the uneducated and unemployed brethren either. So the pertinent question is, what really draws them to indulge in these acts? Is it merely the societal fissures or the religious divide? Is it ideological? Is it the conservative farce, spoon-fed by the elders or is the propaganda simply too powerful? Whatever the reason may be, these people share an equal blame for why such crimes are increasing in the society and why the religious and nationalistic zealots are increasingly on a rampage and still getting away with it. The indulgence in vilifications and bigotry to defend to indefensible will only set precedents that will further push us to the edge of the cliff. The social fabric meanwhile has once again been tarnished.
© 2018 Ashutosh Joshi