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How Social Media Turned A Dentist's Murder Into A Communal Hate Crime

How Social Media Turned A Dentist's Murder Into A Communal Hate Crime

On Thursday night, a mob carrying iron rods descended on the home of a 40-year-old dentist in West Delhi's Vikaspuri and dragged him out of his house as his horrified son and wife watched helplessly. As the men rained blows on Dr Pankaj Narang, his family members appealed to their neighbours for help. But by the time the police arrived on the scene, it was already too late. Dr Narang had succumbed to his injuries.

Trouble started earlier in the night, when Narang scolded two men on a motorcycle, one of them identified by the police as a 23-year-old youth named Naseer, who brushed past his son when the 8-year-old boy ran outside to retrieve a cricket ball that had rolled on to a bylane. The men allegedly threatened the doctor with dire consequences and fled the spot. They returned 10 minutes later with a heavily-armed group, determined to teach him a lesson.

According to the Indian Express, Narang had tried calling the police control room in the intervening minutes before the assault, but found the line busy. He then decided to go to the Janakpuri District Centre, where PCR vans are normally stationed. Not finding a single van, Narang returned home to find that a mob had already gathered outside his house and was pelting stones.

According to reports, as the men, armed with hockey sticks and bats, assaulted him, Narang ran around the neighbourhood pleading for help, and even apologised for his part in the initial scuffle, but they did not stop until he died.

Narang's cousin, Sanjeev Popli, a surgeon with a private hospital in the capital, told Express that the dentist "had multiple fractures in his skull, his eyes were swollen, he was bleeding from his nose. Before he could be shifted to the operation theatre, he suffered a cardiac attack". A case of murder, attempt to murder, trespassing and rioting has been registered and eight persons arrested.

Social media erupted with shock and anger at the gruesome death of the doctor. Some Twitter users pointed out that the incident, initially thought as a clear case of road rage, was actually premeditated murder.

This wasn't some snap where these people just lashed out. They came *back* for this guy and killed him. Ugh.

— Rohan (@mojorojo) March 26, 2016

Soon the hashtags #DrPankajLynched and #JusticeForDrNarang started trending. "#DentistMurder in Delhi has communal undertones, media has pre-judged perpetrators to be juvenile before tests. How come? Act of protection?" tweeted BJP's Nupur Sharma. But Sharma was not alone in her accusation that the murder had a communal angle to it.

If the Delhi dentist had been a Muslim and attackers Hindus, newspapers would be inserting religion in headlines. Also, Kejriwal is not BJP.

— Tufail Ahmad (@tufailelif) March 25, 2016

MSM passing-off #DrPankajLynched as road-rage justified not covering Malda as it was too far & Dadri closeby. Like Hyd was on way to Gurgaon

— Nupur Sharma (@NupurSharmaBJP) March 25, 2016

#DentistMurder in Delhi has communal undertones, media has pre-judged perpetrators to be juvenile before tests. How come? Act of protection?

— Nupur Sharma (@NupurSharmaBJP) March 25, 2016

Hindu lives don’t matter to the media. Hindu beaten to death by mob only “road rage”. Hurt horses can get better coverage! #DrPankajLynched

— Dr David Frawley (@davidfrawleyved) March 25, 2016

With no evidence, church attacks given communal spin, Dadri turns beef killing. But #DrPankajLynched by 'mob'. If that's not sick, what is

— Abhijit Majumder (@abhijitmajumder) March 25, 2016

We are a country wher a student suicide can b "Institutional Murder" but planned murder of a man will be termed "road rage" #DrPankajLynched

— Revolutionary Monk (@RevolutionMonk) March 25, 2016

Twitter was awash with rumours that Bangladeshis upset with India’s win in the T20 World Cup match were behind the murder, even though police dismissed the claim. The rumours allegedly stemmed from the assumption that the men who assaulted Narang were Bangladeshi Muslim residents of a slum right behind his house.

The silence of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal about the incident was questioned by his political rivals who levelled accusation of divisive, vote bank politics against him.

Wat kejriwal has turned Delhi into? It's a result of his divisive politics. He had all the time to go to Dadri but not when #DrPankajLynched

— Satish Upadhyay (@upadhyaysbjp) March 25, 2016

Is it true that @arvindkejriwal who got maudlin over Dadri is silent on vikaspuri cause apart from victim being Hindu culprits are AAPiye?

— Adi (@reviewero) March 25, 2016

As the debate around Narang's death remained polarised, a senior police official finally took to Twitter to share factual details about those arrested. Monika Bhardwaj, additional deputy commissioner of police (west), asserted that out of nine persons arrested, five were Hindus and said the accused Muslims were from Uttar Pradesh and not Bangladesh. She ruled out the communal angle and appealed for calm.

Out of 9 accused person 5 r Hindu.At the moment of first scuffle, out of 2, 1 was Hindu.The Muslim accused r residents of UP ,not Bangladesh

— Monika Bhardwaj (@manabhardwaj) March 25, 2016

4 juveniles among 9 arrested for murder of vikaspuri doctor. No religious angle at all, as rumoured by some. We appeal u to maintain peace.

— Monika Bhardwaj (@manabhardwaj) March 25, 2016

Bhardwaj's tweet restored some order, prompting Kejriwal, who is mostly at loggerheads with the Delhi Police, to tweet in her praise.

Proud of such police officers for bringing truth out and thwarting attempts by some people to give it communal color

— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 26, 2016

The clarification led columnist Tarek Fatah to retract his earlier tweet about a "Muslim mob".

CORRECTION: My earlier tweet that the attackers were a Muslim mob is not factual. Here is official police report

— Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) March 26, 2016

A sensible police officer speaking. It's a shocking crime but avoid coloured rumours to turn it in a communal riot

— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) March 26, 2016

While there is no communal angle, but there is no doubt about getting

— Ankit Lal (@AnkitLal) March 26, 2016

While the police has a lot of answering to do for failing in timely intervention that could have saved Narang's life, Bhardwaj's tweets are unlikely to stem the flow of divisive comments from handles that insist that migrant Muslims assume Hindu names to fit in, implying that the crime could have been committed by an all-Muslim crowd.

don't get carried away by names of murderers, its normal that many muslims keep Hindu names #JusticeForDrNarang

— nahush jain (@jainnahush) March 26, 2016

"Friends and neighbours of Dr Narang met me today and requested police protection for family and police patrolling in area. Spoke to LG, who immediately agreed. They also advised me to visit the family after a few days as family was in shock right now," tweeted Kejriwal.

As social commentators raise the Dadri incident to draw a parallel to the Narang case, questioning why the former was slammed as an incident of communal violence while the latter is not, they would do well to remember the vastly different triggers surrounding both.

Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by a mob outside his home on suspicion of eating beef. The police have enough documented evidence by now to support the claim that the rumours that led to the lynching of Akhlaq were of a communal nature, with many people present in the mob who knew the Muslim man. In Narang's case, initial police reports suggest that quarrel was part of an incident of road rage that soon took a sinister turn when the accused returned with premeditated intention of causing harm. There were both Hindus and Muslims present in the mob that beat Narang.

While the family needs empathy and privacy during their moment of grief now, the onus lies squarely with the police to prevent any further incidents, provide them with security and bring the guilty to justice.

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