A communally surcharged atmosphere that threatens the harmony that exists between India’s social groups is gathering steam. Last week, it hit a nadir. There were two disturbing news reports, of a madrasa attacked in Uttar Pradesh, followed by students of another madrasa besieged, both allegedly by local Right-wing rowdies.
In the first incident, which occurred on July 11, the goons set upon minor students in Unnao, leaving three of them seriously injured. They used cricket stumps, bats and stones in their unprovoked attack on the children who had simply been playing cricket.
As has become the norm, the hooligans had demanded that these students should chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Glory to Ram, a politicised Hindu religious chant) and when they refused, a barrage of abuse and physical violence followed. It is perhaps a testament to the extent of their hatred for the minority community that even when the youngsters tried to flee, the Right-wing men pelted stones at them.
“Almost all of them (the madrasa children) had their kurtas ripped apart by the miscreants,” Naeem Miswahi, imam of the Unnao-based Darul Uloom Faizee Aam Madrasa, told mediapersons.
It is worth nothing that though the police lodged a First Information Report (FIR) for this incident, it invited no response from any of the numerous forums responsible for the rights of children. The groups, bodies, commissions and ministries that have been set up supposedly to deal with the ‘welfare and well-being’ of women and children, remain deafeningly silent.
It would be fair to ask if the reason for the silence, which is virtually a blackout, is that those assailed, injured and left feeling terrorised in these incidents, belong to the minority community.
On July 16, the flesh of an animal discovered in Behta village of Fatehpur district became the spark that led to violence against local Muslims. This has become a regular feature of Indian social life. A group of residents suggest or claim that a cow has been slaughtered, the news spreads and residents of nearby areas gather at the alleged site of the event, and violence is unleashed. This time, the crowd in Behta vandalised a madrasa.
Despite the horror such events evoke, these are neither terribly complex to understand nor unexpected. In fact, communal speeches are systematically spreading a sentiment of hate against Indian Muslims and the silence of those in positions of power and responsibility, only serves to further inure the public.
There is another reason why this propaganda appears to be systematic rather than accidental. It is that some of the lawmakers themselves are involved in making rabble-rousing speeches. Just last week, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Ballia, Surendra Singh, stated in public that in the “Muslim religion, you know that people keep 50 wives and give birth to 1,050 children….”
This kind of invective is dangerous because of the boilerplate, filler-like prejudices they seek to play upon. That the BJP leaders believe it to be an efficacious strategy, is evident from the large number of them who have resorted to make communally-biased and offensive remarks in full public view. It is as if they are supremely confident that there will not be any action against them.
Recently, the BJP top brass took umbrage at Akash Vijayvargiya, whose father is a prominent party leader, after he assaulted a municipality official in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. The party issued a notice against him and even received a grudging apology from Akash, who is a newly-elected Member of Parliament. By the same logic, should not Surendra Singh’s party have hauled him up too? After all, his remarks were about the entire Muslim community.
Singh has a long track record of hate speech against Muslims. Not long ago, he said that once India becomes a Hindu Rashtra, or Hindu nation, only those Muslims who assimilate into the Hindu culture will be able to stay in the country. He went on to declare that India would become a Hindu nation by 2024. Days after this, came his other verbal onslaught: “Those who don’t say Bharat Mata ki Jai are Pakistanis.”
Singh is not the only member of the ruling party who has indulged in obnoxious remarks about Indian Musalmaans. The Sangeet Soms, Niranjan Jyotis, Giriraj Singhs, Katiyars, Sakshi Maharajs, Togadias and Ananth Hedges have been threatening and taunting the minority and yet move around freely.
It is not just speeches. Especially worrying are the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal’s arms training camps held in Greater Noida, Varanasi, Ayodhya and other places, which aim to indoctrinate the youth and where Muslims are targeted as the ‘Other’. The VHP and Bajrang Dal are both offshoots of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent body of the BJP. Naturally, the communally-charged rhetoric in these camps is a matter of grave concern, especially for the minorities. Yet, there have been no arrests of the organisers or promoters of such events.
The only conclusion to draw is that the habit of abusing minorities is part of the Indian Right’s governing tactics. That is why they let people who indulge in this habit get away with it. That is why 2017 began with vitriol from Sakshi Maharaj, another BJP MP, on Muslim men. Sangeet Som followed up with communal speeches in Western Uttar Pradesh, in which he threatened to ignite violence in a region that was already reeling under the impact of the Hindu-Muslim riots of 2013. Within days came Vijay Goel’s comments on the hijab. The list is virtually endless.
The BJP MLA from the Goshamahal constituency in Hyderabad, T Raja Singh, has been mounting death threats on all those who come in way of the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Ananth Hedge’s vitriol in Karnataka is equally worrying: “Across the globe, terrorism is taking place in the name of Islam. As long as there is Islam in the world, there will be terrorism…” If all this was not enough, Vinay Katiyar, who founded the Bajrang Dal, added his tuppence that Indian Muslims ought to go Pakistan.
Such remarks put basic co-existence in India in danger. Poisonous propaganda spread about Muslims and other vulnerable social groups with nobody stopping, halting, curbing or ending it, especially when lawmakers are involved, must be brought to a screeching halt.
The writer is a columnist and independent journalist based in Gurgaon, Haryana. The views are personal