DELHI — It was going to be a weekend of celebrations. Sixteen-year-old Junaid had just earned the esteemed title of “hafiz,” given to Muslims who memorize the entire Koran. Junaid would need a new suit for the festivities, so his parents sent him to the Indian capital, New Delhi, with his brothers, and 1,500 rupees ($23) in his pocket.
Junaid would never wear the suit. Nor will he have the honor of reciting the Koran in the mosque ever again.
The teenager was brutally killed Thursday evening by a mob on his way home from the city. They slashed his ribs and stabbed him in the chest and then threw him off the train. They called him “mullah,” mocking his religion. They accused him of being a beef-eater, an anti-national, a Pakistani.
A video shows Junaid being cradled by his brother at the platform of a train station just after the attack, with a crowd of people looking on. Junaid's brothers told NDTV that the attackers threw their skullcaps to the floor and pulled their beards.
The family's last name has not been released by authorities or reported by the media.
“He was a child. He was just 16. How could they hate us so much to have killed him so brutally?” Junaid's father, Jallaluddin, told the Hindustan Times. “When I reached the spot, my son Hashim was sitting on the station with Junaid’s body soaked in blood in his lap,” he said.
Hashim, Junaid's brother, said the teenager was pinned to the ground by three men as others stabbed him. “Three men held me when I tried to intervene and stabbed me thrice in the back and shoulder. One of us even tried to pull the chain to stop the train, but it was not working,” he told the Hindustan Times.
Police are saying the deadly altercation started over a seat space on the train. “There are also allegations that some words which hurt religious sentiments were also said after which things got out of hand,” a police spokesman told NDTV. At least one man has been arrested.
Violence has surged since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government introduced new rules in May, restricting the sale of cattle for slaughter. The move was widely interpreted as an effort to stop people eating the meat of cows, considered sacred by Hindus. It enraged Muslims, who often sacrifice cows on Eid-al-Fitr to mark the end of a period of austerity and fasting during Ramadan. Some have protested; others have just kept their heads down.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is known to have close ideological ties with a far-right organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has long advocated banning the sale of beef in India. Such efforts during Modi's reign have pitted beef-eating Muslims and low-caste Dalits against the Hindu majority and invigorated young vigilante Hindu bands, who launch attacks on anyone they suspect is a beef-eater. The BJP has often been criticized for failing to rein in such attacks.
Modi has tried to distance himself from cow-related violence. In a speech in 2016, he said such vigilantism was the work of “antisocial elements.”
Eid al-Fitr — marking an end to the month Muslims believe the Koran was revealed by God to the prophet Muhammad — is supposed to be a time of peace and atonement for Muslims. In India, the holiday has become prime season for anti-Muslim violence, as it is also a time when animals are sacrificed to God, a ritual considered immoral by many Hindus. In 2015, a man named Mohammad Akhlaq was dragged from bed and lynched to death by a mob after he was accused of keeping beef in his fridge.
Islam is the second-largest religion in India. Muslims make up 14.2 percent of the nation's population. Tensions between the majority Hindus and Muslims have remained high since the fall of the British Raj in 1947. A Muslim-majority portion of the subcontinent was split off from India, creating the state of Pakistan that same year. In the partition, millions of people were displaced, adding to the ill will.
Muslims in other Indian provinces have pressed for independence. In the northern conflict-torn state of Kashmir, where sectarian violence usually slows down during Ramadan, recent years have seen an uptick of attacks on either side of the separationist divide. This week, a police officer, Mohammed Ayub Pandith, was lynched to death by a mob at the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, where a sermon supporting al-Qaeda leader Zakir Musa was apparently being held. The details of the incident are unclear, but reports suggest that the plainclothes officer was attacked because he was shooting video at the mosque or because he fired into the crowd. According to the Hindustan Times, Pandith was one of 43 people killed in violent attacks during this year's Ramadan.
For Junaid's family, the tensions struck home. His mother, Saira, only learned about her son's death on the day of his funeral. “I got to know only when his body returned home this morning,” she said Friday. “When he did not reach home last night, I kept asking his father about his whereabouts, but no one answered me. ... No one ever told me that he was no more. How could they hide it from me?” she said.
She will never celebrate Eid again. “This time it was special,” she said. “My son became the hafiz — the preserver [of the Koran]. And a day later I lost him. How can this be justified?”