Communalism and Hate Crimes | Ram Puniyani
Communal Violence has been a bane of Indian society since over a century. The base of this violence has been the negative perceptions about the ‘other community’. This in turn takes incidents from the lives of Muslim kings, food habits, issues related to personal laws, issues related to social life, distorts them to demonize the ‘other’. From last two decades the ‘politics of oil’ as manifested in the global terrorism has also added on to the demonization of Muslims in India. The list of such ‘hate other’ perceptions is endless and every other day someone comes up with yet another phrase or slogan, which acts to divide the society. These issues instigate the emotions of the community and lead to the Hate followed by anger. The list of such perceptions-stereotypes is a long one and keeps swelling over time. (1) The latest in the list in India have been related to Holy Cow- beef eating, love jihad, conversions etc. Pakistan as an enemy country has always been used to target Indian Muslims. In the recent elections in Gujarat, while Vikas (development) was dormant on the margins, the Pakistan, a ‘Muslim likely to become Chief Minister’ dominated the scene. (2) While communal violence so far has led to the loss and property and lives in groups, now it is becoming more focused around individuals and ‘hate crimes’ against individuals are going up in large numbers.
On December 6, 2017; one gruesome murder of a poor Muslim laborer shook many. The brutal killing was that of Ifrazul Khan, a poor worker from West Bengal. His killer Shambhulal Regar not only hacked him to death, burnt him, got the whole incident videotaped and uploaded it, he also got a support from Hindu Sanatan Sanstha led by one Updesh Rana. (3) This incident is more horrible than even the killing of Pastor Graham Steward Stains by a RSS affiliate Bajrang Dal’s Dara Singh, in Orissa and will stand as a blot on the conscience of the nation.
PUCL report on the incident says that Shambhulal was “a clone of the RSS hate factory and indulged in the gruesome hate crime.” (4) Frightened by the crime many Bengali immigrants have left for their state. At the time of killing of Pastor Stains the then President of India K.R. Naryanan said that the “The killings belong to the world’s inventory of black deeds”. (5)Dara Singh aka Rajendra Pal; was active in Hindu right wing groups and was eulogized and hailed by a section of Hindu communalists.
Shambhu has been a marble trader, fairly successful as per accounts and was spending lot of time on ‘whatsapp’ and became active on social media. As per what he said in the video, he was full of hate for Muslims as he perceived that love jihad by Muslim men is luring Hindu women, which he felt is the danger to Hindu community. He shouted the terms Babri Masjid, Padmavati, love jihad on the video and called for revenge against ‘these people’.
Some ideologues are trying to compare this act with the murder of a Hindu boy in Karnataka, who was castrated also. It is true that society is witnessing different hate crimes. While some non-Muslims also suffer, the major victims of these are religious minorities and dalits. Still the major brunt from last some time is being borne by the Muslim community.
The lynching of Junaid (June 2017) in the outskirts of Delhi, in a train, did come as a saturation point of Cow-beef related violence. To express their anguish people came to streets in great number in a largely spontaneous protest, ‘Not in My name’. (6) While many critics undermined this expression of pain and anguish of the sections of society, it did catch the attention of the national and international media. The result was that our Prime Minister who has been keeping maun (silence) on the issue came forward to say that ‘violence in the name of Cow is not acceptable’; and that Mahatma Gandhi would not have approved it. (7) This bland statement was hardly of any effect as just few hours after this; two more Muslims were done to death in Jharkahnd.
The earlier such statement from him was after the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq. (October 2015) At that time also nearly two weeks after the lynching he opened his mouth on the issue. That statement was also bland and hardly had any effect on the Gautankwad (terrorism related to cow protection) as lynching’s continued. (8) So either Mr. Modi is ineffectual in controlling his cabal, the Hindu nationalists involved in such violence, or that they also know that Prime Minister is making such statements for saying’s sake, and that they can continue their business irrespective.
Mr. Amit Shah, BJP President, defending the present regime said that the lynching’s taking place in earlier regime in 2011, 2012 and 2013 were more in number. This is a total lie. According to the data collected by IndiaSpend, based on the content analysis of media reporting, “Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centered on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 86% of 28 Indians killed in 63 incidents. As many of 97 per cent of these attacks were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014, and about half the cow-related violence — 32 of 63 cases –were from states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when the attacks were reported, revealed our analysis of violence recorded until June 25, 2017.” (9) How easily Mr. Shah wants to distort the facts to defend present government!
As such the overall dissatisfaction, deflected anger also leads to lynching, as seen in the tragic case of the lynching of Ayub Pundit in Kashmir. (10) The insanity which comes up in the mob is most condemnable. In case of lynchings in the name of cow, the factors involved are multiple. With the rise of Hindu nationalist politics many a dalits were earlier killed in Gohana for example when they were skinning the dead cow. Adding on to this agenda of polarizing society on the issue of cow, last few years as Modi Sarkar has come to power there are overt statements for Gau Raksha (Cow Protection). While the laws of cow slaughter ban had already been there, with BJP ascendance the laws have been given rigid twist and along with demonization of those eating beef. In Gujarat the first laboratory of Hindu rashtra, even the consumption of non vegetarian food has been looked down upon. Now all over the country ‘holiness of Mother Cow’ is being propagated and imposed on the society with state patronage.
In the context of Akhlaq’s lynching Mr. Mahesh Sharma, union culture minister stated that the murder was an accident. He was also the one to go and put tricolor on the body of the accused of the murder, when the accused died in the prison due to some illness. (11) Another BJP leader Mr. Sangeet Som had threatened that if those who have been arrested for Akhlaq’s murder are punished, a befitting reply will be given.
What are the major observations on these cases of lynching? Eating beef, slaughtering cow and transporting cow had been the major pretext for violence. The victims of this constructed anger are mostly Muslims, while dalits have also been flogged and tortured. Muslims are presented as beef eaters, cruel, not respecting Hindu sentiments about cow, apart from other biases which have been already spread against them. The social scene has been so constructed that due to these biases and regular instigations, the popular adage, ‘innocents until proved guilty’ has been made to stand on its head to mean ‘Guilty unless proved innocents’ for Muslims. The ‘silent social sanction’ for killings and upholding the act is couched as ‘defense of Hindu religion’ and now Hindu symbol of cow rules the roost. The benign animal is the pretext for ghastly violence. To jack up their agenda there are false claims by BJP spokesperson that Gandhi wanted a ban of cow slaughter ban. He opposed the idea on the ground that there are many who consume beef, and that country belongs to all. (12)
Lynching’s are not just law and order problem. These are part of, or rather byproduct of Hindu nationalist propaganda against Muslims. The propaganda pertains to the Holiness of Cow and Muslims violating that. It is not a coincidence that such brutal acts have become part of social phenomenon, after Modi came to power. Gradually the intensity has been stepped up. Beginning from Modi’s own statements about Pink revolution, of greatness of Rana Pratap as he gave his life for protection of cows, to demonization of Muslims in the name of cow makes clear as to what is the underlying social psychology, which leads to these acts. The claims of ‘good governance’ bite the dust in the light of these atrocities. (13)
When Dr. Dabholkar, Com Pansare and then Prof Kalburgi were killed over a period of months, the danger signals started being perceived but still it took the beef lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq to give a message that something has drastically changed in the society , and the spate of returning of Sahitya Academy, National and state, awards followed in quick succession. Their protest was against the rising intolerance in the society. The incidents that followed and ran parallel to these ‘award-returns’ were equally horrific. (14) The killing of a trucker on the assumption that he is carrying cows for slaughter; beating of a MLA in Kashmir Assembly by BJP legislatures and the scattered incidents of attacks on Muslims on the ground of beef consumption have been too striking. We are currently facing a situation where anybody can incite the violence by just uttering the word beef, while seeing mutton or some such thing. We are living in an atmosphere where cow cannot be shooed away even if she is blocking the traffic.
The viciousness of atmosphere is not lost on the social perceptions. The insecurity of minorities has gone up by leaps and bounds. One knows that since the present NDA regime came to power all those ‘spewing hate’ are working overtime. For one Akbaruddudin Owaisi there is an army of Sakshi Mahraj, Sadhvis, Yogis and what have you. This army of mostly saffron robed or the one’s with the association with Hindu Nationalist politics has high position within their political combine, what is known as Sangh Parivar. During last few years, words like Haramjades (illegitimate) have been used with gay abandon. (15) On the mere suspicion a Pune techie Mohsin Shaikh was done to death. Serial attacks on Churches were passed off as thefts, the love jihad bogey was kept alive and the likes of Yogi Adityanath, the top BJP leader from UP, stated that for every one Hindu girl marrying a Muslim, Hindus should bring 100 Muslim girls. Muslim youth have been barred from participating in festivals like Navaratri. (16) Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the BJP’s Muslim face advised those wanting to eat beef to go to Pakistan. The glorification of Mahatma’s killer Godse has been stepped up and temples are being planned in his memory, while a BJP MP from Kerala stated that Godse was right but he chose a wrong target. Atmosphere of communal violence has gone up in a big way during the preceding year. (17)
Even after the awards started being returned the BJP leadership looked down upon the writers/scholars and overlooked the phenomenon which has lead to returning of awards. To mock these writers Buddhi Shuddhi puja path (purification of intellect ritual) has been organized and BJP spokespersons are humiliating them in talk shows with all their ferocity. To cap it all the Haryana Chief Minister, an old RSS pracharak, said that Muslims can live here but only if they will give up beef eating. No doubt the BJP Chief Amit Shah has talked to some of these leaders behind the close doors, but that does seem to be a mock drill as the leaders concerned did say that they went to meet their chief for some other reasons and none of them gave any serious apology.
Disturbed by what is going on, the President Pranab Mukherjee on three occasions urged the nation to uphold, pluralism, the core civilizational value of the country and to uphold tolerance. (18) The Vice President Hamid Ansari reminded the Government that it is the duty of the state to uphold the ‘right to life’ of citizens. The index of the changing social atmosphere is reflected by the statements of two outstanding citizens of the country. Julio Reibero, the top cop, expressed his pain and anguish by saying that “as a Christian suddenly I feel stranger in my own country.” (19) And the renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah had to point out that “Have never been aware of my identity as a Muslim until now.”
These are not ordinary times. The values of pluralism and tolerance have been pushed to the margins. With this Government in power all the wings of communal politics, the RSS affiliates, have unleashed themselves in full blast. Communalism is not just the number of deaths due to violence, it is much more. The foundation of this violence begins with the manufacture of perceptions about the religious minorities. These perceptions based on history and some selective aspects of present society are given a tilt and negative interpretation. This is used to create hatred for the minorities and that’s where the communal elements can unleash violence either as a massive violence like Gujarat or Mumbai or Bhagalpur or Muzzafarnagar or the one in Dadri. This creates the divides in society which over a period of time is converted into polarization. And polarization is the foundation of electoral strength of party wanting a nation in the name of religion. As per Yale study, the communal violence is the vehicle which strengthens BJP at electoral level. (20)
As such communalism has been planted in India over a century and a half ago. The British policy of ‘divide and rule’ used communal historiography as a major weapon. This type of interpretation of history was picked up by communal organizations and given an anti Hindu or anti Muslim tilt and gradually this has been strengthened after every act of violence which has been the outcome of their politics. The present phase is the one where the cup of communalism is spilling out from its earlier levels or boundaries. The intensity of ‘Hate’ constructed around temple destructions, love jihad has been supplemented by the used tool of beef. In the present situation where the divisive elements, who are in center stage of politics also know that they are safe and secure as the present Government precisely wants what they are doing, their contrary posturing notwithstanding.
The present combination of the Government guided by the ideology of Hindu nationalism and the ‘fringe elements’ having same ideology, has a vast network and with a wide reach. This party has the advantage that mostly it does not have to dirty its hands in the local agenda of sectarian nationalism, and so there are many elements which can do the local work for dividing the society. The so called fringe elements now are occupying the center stage, and so the ‘qualitative change’ in the situation. The flood of awards being returned was due to the situation created by deeper communalization of society. This is manifested in growing intolerance, attack on plurality and is leading to the insecurity of minorities, which has qualitatively transcended the earlier limits. The question is how to uphold the values of Indian Constitution in the current times?
What has changed during last few years in the understanding of the likes of Shambhu and killers of Akhlaq, Pehlu, Juned or floggers of Una, is that they feel empowered due to the utterances from those in power. The subtle message percolated down is that it’s ‘their’ government and they can get away with the heinous crimes. When Central ministers come and put tricolor on the body of accused of the murder of Akhlaq, what message will go down? The honor conferred on the murder accused of Akhlaq is what promotes a Shambhu to come forward and engineer the crime of the nature unheard of in the near past. The undermining of these incidents by comparing then to some stray incident is deliberate. Those in power have been giving enough signals down below that the guilty can get away with the crimes. The Prime minister even if he does, just pays and ineffectual lip service.
There is also a need to understand the social psychology operational in society and the urgent need to combat that. Country wide the insecurity of religious minorities smashes the claims of ‘Acche Din’, as the polarizing agenda is taking huge leaps in the name of Cow and leading to lynching’s’ on regular interval.