NEW DELHI: It started with the lynching of 17-year-old Junaid near Delhi and moved on to places like Una, Alwar and Ramgarh, an exploration of hate crimes across the country that resulted in a 45-minute film documenting stories of despair but also of strength.
Lynch Nation, the trailer of which went online Monday, is a collection of testimonies from those who survived mob fury and the families of those who didn't.
The mob killing of 17-year-old Hafiz Junaid last June was the moment that drove Delhi-based filmmaker Ashfaque EJ and his journalist roommates Furqan Faridi, Shaheen Ahmed and Vishu Sejwal to step on the pedal.
"For him, his identity became a threat, said Ashfaque, who is also a journalist.
In the other cases, the excuse was cows, but in Junaid's case it was pure hatred, Ashfaque told PTI.
Junaid, 17, was stabbed to death by a mob when he was on his way home to Ballabgarh after shopping for Eid in Delhi.
According to IndiaSpend, 35 people (26 of them Muslims) were targeted in cow-related violence in 2018.
Of these, eight people were killed.
Watch the trailer of 'Lynch Nation' here:
Furqan added that he and his friends were disturbed about the increasing number of incidents of lynching.
They chose to focus on incidents of lynching that centred around cow vigilantism.
We wanted to do whatever bit we could to get things in perspective about what's plaguing our society today. As Muslims, it had a greater impact on me and our crew, Furqan said.
The team travelled across the country for six-seven months, their first stop being Dadri, home to 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq, who was battered to death in 2015 on the suspicion of storing beef in his home.
Funding for the film came from friends, family and others.
Akhlaq's death seemed to have started a domino effect with reports of lynching coming in from many parts of the country.
After Dadri, the crew travelled to Una, Ballabgarh, Latehar, Alwar and Ramgarh.
The filmmakers say they needed to choose seven-eight incidents to tell a cohesive story.
Asked why they focused on cow and beef-related incidents of lynching, Ashfaque said mob violence is not a new phenomenon in India but murders committed in the name of the bovine have a definite political agenda and support from the Hindu Right.
The cow is being used as a political tool targeting minorities, mainly Muslims and Dalits, because they're the ones mostly employed in the cattle business., he said.
Lynching, he added, is the majority's way of telling a minority that the law cannot protect you.
Ashfaque added the incidents of people being beaten to death are followed by videos -- shot by the perpetrators themselves -- to further intimidate and spread the message to teach a lesson.
Furqan said when they were heading to Akhlaq's village Bisada in Dadri for a recce, people discouraged them from entering.
The house where Akhlaq and his family lived now stands abandoned. The people said we might face problems due to our all-Muslim crew. The accused, Vishal Rana, son of BJP leader Sanjay Rana, continues to live there.
The next time we went to Bisada for a reshoot, a couple of our Hindu friends, who are also journalists, accompanied us.
Furqan added that the team went in with the perspective that the environment will be dark and depressing.
It was indeed all that, but they also came across some "real stories of strength.
"Vasram Sarvaiya, one of the four Dalit men flogged in Una in 2016, has taken to activism. His brother Ramesh was also beaten and later joined a Dalit Shakti Kendra and visits villages to educate people about their rights," he said.
Junaid's family had bought a piece of land in Haryana when he was alive.
They now plan to build a madrassa there in his memory.
The madrassa will be open to all and besides Islamic studies, other sciences and arts will also be taught there.
"Despite the fact that after the lynchings, government and powerful people pressured them so much to drop the case, accept compensation and so on, most of them are fighting back really hard," he said.
Ashfaque said the survivors' families were really forthcoming about talking to the crew.
They are fighting for a cause. They really believe that the media, especially in Delhi, can help them. They still have the belief in the media, even though it is not helping them as much as it should. These people are really vocal. They are ready to repeat their stories in front of different journalists. For them, there's no other option."
The documentary is expected to be released online first week of October.