In the face of violence: Children and hate crimes in India

Hate crimes are hurting India’s children – it’s time to protect future generations and break the cycle of violence.

Dalit children Reuters
In incidents spread across India, children from marginalised communities have been targeted because of their Dalit, Adivasi or Muslim identity, write Varma and Sen [Pawan Kumar/Reuters]

On 22 June 2017, 15-year-old Junaid, a Muslim boy, boarded a train at the Sadar Bazar railway station in North Delhi. Junaid, his brother Hashim, and two others had gone to Delhi to shop for the Eid festival and were returning home to Haryana, just a few stops away. This would be his last journey. He was stabbed to death on the train by a mob when an alleged argument over a seat turned into an attack based on religious identity. Religious slurs were hurled at Junaid and his companions, they were derided for eating beef, their skullcaps thrown away, their beards pulled, and they were slapped and kicked. Junaid, Hashim and their brother Sakir, who boarded the train to rescue his brothers, were repeatedly stabbed. Junaid’s body and his two injured brothers were then thrown on to the railway station platform.

Nine months after Junaid was killed, two of the six accused who had been arrested are still in custody. Fifteen witnesses have been examined. The Supreme Court is reexamining a plea for a CBI investigation into the murder. Jalaluddin, Junaid’s father, maintains that “deep-rooted communal hatred against the community” was behind the murder of his son. A suspicion that might be true in the face of growing evidence of hate crimes – criminal acts against people based on their real or perceived membership of a particular group, such as caste, religion or ethnicity – across India.

Two months after Junaid’s murder, India’s two-term Vice President Hamid Ansari, in his outgoing interview to India’s state broadcaster, stated that “there is a feeling of unease and a sense of insecurity is creeping in” among Muslims in India. Ansari’s concerns are applicable not just to Muslims, but also to many other Indians who are being attacked for who they are.

Hate crimes against marginalised communities are not uncommon in India, with the highest number of reported crimes being against Dalits and Muslims. However, it is especially concerning when children or minors are the victims of hate crimes. During Amnesty International India’s research on hate crimes in India, we find a range of incidents being reported in the media that relate to violence inflicted on minors from marginalised communities. 

In incidents across India, children from marginalised communities have been targeted because of their Dalit, Adivasi or Muslim identity. In some instances, they have been blinded, tortured, beaten publicly and electrocuted on absurd pretexts. This includes a range of allegations including stealing a pigeon, stealing corn, touching utensilsabsenteeism from school or even answering nature’s call

Impact of violence on children

Exposure to violence can have a lasting impact on a child’s physical growth, self-esteem, and emotional and psychological well-being. A 2006 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) report (PDF) by the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children states “Violence may result in greater susceptibility to lifelong social, emotional, and cognitive impairments and to health-risk behaviours, such as substance abuse and early initiation of sexual behaviour. Related mental health and social problems include anxiety and depressive disorders… as well as aggressive behaviour.” A report (PDF) by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs entitled Mental Health Matters, highlighted that some of the most common types of trauma reported among children include physical assault, emotional abuse, community violence, witnessing someone being hurt or killed, and loss of a loved one. Children develop coping mechanisms that range from internalisation to externalisation of trauma 

In July 2016, a 15-year-old Dalit boy, shocked and traumatised by an alleged hate crime against him, had to move away from his family because he could not bring himself to continue living in the same area where he was attacked. Harsh Parmar was assaulted after his father refused to dispose of cattle carcasses from a village in Ahmedabad district, Gujarat. His father had pledged not to dispose of the carcasses in solidarity with a protest by Dalit leaders against the Una flogging incident where four Dalit youth were publicly flogged for skinning dead cattle, which was their profession. The attackers beat the boy for refusing to do the “traditional work” of Dalits, which was disposing of the carcasses. 

Risk of engaging in criminal behaviour         

The impact of exposure to violence is not restricted to the physical and psychological harm suffered by children who are victims or witnesses. In certain cases, children exposed to violence are at a higher risk of engaging in antisocial or criminal behaviour later in life and becoming part of a cycle of violence. The UNICEF International Child Development Centre has detailed in a report (PDF), “There is no doubt that the direct experience of violence… in childhood substantially increases the risk of subsequent violent behaviour.” 

When children are exposed to violence that is motivated by discrimination against people with a certain identity or members of a particular group, it is conceivable that they will internalise the discrimination and violence, and model their subsequent behaviour towards such people based on what they have learned from their environment. 

Through our research on hate crimes documented in the interactive website, Halt the Hate, we discovered that children have also played a role in violence perpetrated against people from marginalised communities. In October 2016, a 16-year-old Dalit boy in Bihar was brutally beaten for scoring better grades than his classmates who belonged to “higher” castes. This attack was perpetrated by two children and filmed by another child, who uploaded and shared the video online. In December 2017, when a migrant worker named Afrazul was hacked to death for being Muslim, the attack was filmed by a 14-year-old boy, a relative of the attackers. These examples indicate that deep-seated prejudice against certain people and communities can have an impact on children.

Implementation of international human rights safeguards

The impact of hate crimes on children can only be addressed through the effective implementation of national and international mechanisms to protect the rights of the child. As per the UNGA report on violence against children, “No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable.”

The primary responsibility for safeguarding the rights of children rests with the state. Hence, national planning processes must integrate measures to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children. India must develop a systematic and integrated framework to respond to violence against children including the impact of hate crimes. The framework should be in line with its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights standards.

The UNGA report recommends that the state must ensure justice and accountability by improving “data collection and information systems in order to identify vulnerable subgroups, inform policy and programming at all levels, and track progress towards the goal of preventing violence against children.” India must take special measures to prevent and respond to hate crimes and minimise its impact on children.The time has come for us to protect future generations by bringing an end to hate crimes and the cycle of violence they perpetuate.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.