Even in these dark times, one can see bright rays of communal harmony. One only hopes these trends are encouraged and divisive loudmouths are punished, writes Dr Ram Puniyani for South Asia Monitor
The mid-April incidents on the Hindu religious festivals of Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti were very disturbing, to say the least. On Ram Navami, the major incidents which shook the country were in Khambata and Himmat Nagar, Gujarat; in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh; in Gulbarga, Raichur and Kolar, Karnataka; in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh; and in Islampura, Goa. These are few among the nationwide spread of the incidents.
The Khargone incident stands out for the shocking step taken by the state government in demolishing nearly 51 structures (shops and residences) of the minority community. The charge leveled was that the stones were thrown from these places; so as per the state home minister, these structures had to be turned into stones. Meanwhile, the new pretext of breaking the backbone of the Muslim community has been propped up as Muslim traders will not be permitted near Hindu temples and at Hindu 'melas' (fairs).
Just a couple of days later, Hanuman Jayanti was celebrated. The processions were playing loud music, were dancing and shouting anti-Muslim slogans and armed with weapons. The processions had a common destination, the nearby mosques, particularly in Muslim-majority areas. Provocative slogans, stone-throwing was followed by violence. Jahangirpuri, in Delhi’s incident, particularly stands out. Here after the stone-throwing 14 Muslims were arrested in the first round.
All around loud hysteria is raging in the streets. This is what prompted the eminent historian Ramchandra Guha to state that we are living in the worst era of independent India. This is what prompted leaders of 13 opposition parties, including the Congress, NCP, TMC, DMK and many others to issue a statement saying: “We are extremely anguished at the manner in which issues related to food, dress. Food, festivals and language are being deliberately used by ruling establishment, to polarize our society. We are extremely concerned with the growing incidents of hate in the country by the people who appear to have official patronage and against whom no meaningful and strong action is taken.”
The hate is being spewed by the religious processions, the hate speech of most derogatory nature from the saffron clads in the Dharam Sansad’s (Yati Narsinghanand, Bajrang Muni and company) and from those eager to impose a Hindu Rashtra (nation) on a secular democratic India. In response to the letter by 13 parties, Sambit Patra, BJP national spokesperson, blamed the widening circle of violence on politics of appeasement of the opposition Congress party. Incidentally, it was the same appeasement argument used by Nathuram Godse while assassinating Mahatma Gandhi.
And J.P. Nadda, the BJP president, said that Congress was conspiring to divide society. We know the source of divisiveness is hate. This is coming from WhatsApp University and spread effectively through the mechanisms outlined in the book, ‘I was a Troll’ (by Swati Chaturvedi) and many other such methods that have been put in place.
Even pre-Independence when Muslim communalism was also the parallel and opposite of Hindu communalism, the processions in front of mosques were one of the techniques used to instigate violence. Now the celebrations of Hindu festivals and processions have been enhanced to incorporate DJs, loud music and anti-Muslim slogans. These processions have the destination of mosques, where they dance to the loud music and hurl abuses inciting the elements in the minority community. What follows is the process of stone-throwing, from whichever quarter they come.
The process of justice has been short-changed. The executive, the government, instantly decides who the culprits are and delivers immediate judgment when the houses of the minority community are bulldozed. In Delhi (2020) one had seen the likes of BJP leaders Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Varma delivering hate speeches. After the violence those who were talking peace like JNU student Umar Khalid were arrested and the likes of Anurag Thakur (he is a cabinet minister in the Modi government) got promotions. In the latest violence in Jahgirabad again those who landed up there and incited the atmosphere are in safe households while those who were intimidated through aggressive gestures and slogans have been arrested.
The statement of the 13 leaders of opposition parties is reassuring that there are still sane elements that can distinguish grain from the chaff and stand up to the truth. But is this adequate? Can these parties not go further and plan a campaign against the virus of hate? These parties do aim for electoral power, that’s okay, but keeping the principles of fraternity alive is their constitutional duty. The worthies trying to put the blame away from the real culprits are trying to march towards their political agenda through their own activities and through the activities of their associate organizations. There is a long history of religious procession being used to incite hate.
Anatomy of violence
A lot of research has also gone into unraveling the truth behind communal incidents. Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Rai, the ex-DIG of UP Police, in his doctoral research tells us that the minority community is so cornered before the violence that many times it is compelled to throw the first stone. He also shows that there are deep anti-Muslim biases in the police force and so mostly it is minorities who are put under preventive detention or are arrested more in number after the incident. Similarly, Yale University research tells us that after the incidents of violence the BJP gains the most electorally.
Is there any hope for the future? Can the elders and saner elements in the minority community restrain their young ones not to get provoked? Can the opposition parties step in to form peace committees in most of the areas to see that religious processions are not permitted to visit mosques as a mandatory ritual?
Even in current dark times, one can see the bright rays of communal harmony. An ancient Hindu temple in Banaskantha, Gujarat, invited Muslims for Iftar. At places in UP, Muslims showered flowers on Hanuman Jayanti processions. One can only hope these trends in communities are encouraged and promoted and divisive loudmouths are punished as per the law for spreading hate or for instigating violence.
What has been seen in recent times is that the hate spreaders are well backed up and protected by the State, giving encouragement to such elements to carry on with their negative actions in the society. It is time civil society and political organizations give priority to curtailing hate speech, provocative slogans and processions with the potential of provoking violence.
(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)