Bhopal: A bangle seller in Indore, a street vendor in Dewas, a scrap dealer in Ujjain and a chaat seller, again in Indore—the only thing these men have in common is that they have all been targeted for their Muslim identity in BJP's stronghold of Malwa region.
According to police, the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, which includes districts like Indore, Ujjain, and Mandsaur, has recorded 12 incidents of communal tension since September 2020. At least 70 people have been booked under stringent sections of the IPC and 18 under National Security Act from both communities.
Tasleem Ali (25), a bangle seller from Uttar Pradesh's Hardoi was assaulted in New Govind Nagar of Indore on August 22, and four people were arrested subsequently. The following day, Tasleem was booked for molestation and forgery, and sent to jail. Police also booked over 28 Muslims, who had gathered outside the police station demanding justice for Tasleem, under stringent sections. Of the 28, six have been served with externment notice.
Zahid Kha, (45), a street vendor and a resident of Dewas Hathpipaliya was allegedly assaulted and looted on August 25 by Harjeet Singh (35) and Chatar Singh (40) after he failed to show his Aadhaar card to them. They used religious slurs and warned him to not come to Hindu areas to sell again. Unlike Tasleem's incident which hit the international headlines, this incident was ignored by most media networks.
The accused were later identified as residents of Indore, and were booked under section 34, 294, 323 and 506 of the IPC were granted bail hours after the arrest by Dewas police.
Three days after the Dewas incident, a Muslim scrap dealer, Abdul Rasheed, a resident of Mahidpur town of Ujjain district was allegedly threatened and forced to chant 'Jai Shri Ram' by two men in a village where he had gone to collect scrap. Following the incident, the police arrested the accused duo. The matter came to light after two videos of the incident went viral.
50 km away from Madhidpur of Ujjain district, in Ujjain city, nearly 23 people of the Muslim community were booked after an alleged video of Moharram procession went viral. The police claimed that anti-national slogans were raised at the event and they were booked on charges of sedition and NSA has been invoked against four of the accused.
Following these incidents, both Hindu and Muslim organisations have hit the streets in protest. Slogans like Baccha Baccha Ram ka Chachiyo ke kaam ka and Goli maro salo ko were raised in the presence of police in these protests.
When the videos of Ujjain scrap vendor assault were doing rounds on social media, another video surfaced which was of Indore's Depalpur area. In the video, a man was seen accusing a Muslim chaatwala Iliyas for selling chaat with Hindu god's name 'Sawariya'. "Muslim ho kar Hindu naam se thela lagata hai, tumhare pass kha ke mera 'dharm bharasht' ho jaye ga, (You are using a Hindu name, while being a Muslim, if I eat chaat from your stall, I will lose my religion)" the man is heard saying in the video. However, no action has been taken in connection with the incident.
Muslim institutions have alleged that BJP’s “hardcore Hindutva” agenda is at play, with mostly Muslims being charged with NSA. Hindu organisations, however, have claimed the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and the Popular Front of India (PFI) are stoking tensions.
However, the allegations of involvement of SDPI and PFI were brushed aside by the DGP Vivek Johri two days after the matter came to light. "There is no connection of SDPI and PFI with the Indore incident," he told reporters in Bhopal.
In the last week of December 2020, a chain of incidents of communal violence took place in the Malwa region of Ujjain, Mandsaur, and Indore during the Ayodhya Ram Temple fund-raising rally. On the day, the rallies, which were organised by the BJP's Youth Wing, BJYM, and the RSS entered into the Muslim dominated villages, allegedly vandalised minarets of mosques and raised provocative slogans which led to stone pelting and violence. The following day, dozens of homes in a Muslim colony in Depalpur were razed to the ground followed by slew of arrests.
When contacted, Rajpal Joshi, in-charge of Malwa region of Hindu Dharm Jagran Manch, affiliated to the RSS, said, "Action ka reaction ho raha hai (these are all reactions of reactions)." Joshi explained, "It's the after-effect of the Taliban episode in Afghanistan. The cases of love-Jihad and land-Jihad surged after it and the Hindus, who have woken up now, are reacting to these incidents. "
"The youths of the minority community are misguided by its leaders and a few are trying to ruin the peace of the region. They want to start civil war in the country," he added.
The entry of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Madhya Pradesh has also worried Joshi and he indirectly pointed out these incidents are somehow connected to Owaisi's announcement to contest upcoming local body polls. "Why is Owaisi looking for political ground in Madhya Pradesh? His announcement has provoked the Muslim community."
Dr. Ishrat Ali, Shahar-E-Qazi, Indore, countered by saying, “The inflammatory speeches of the leaders of ruling party are adding fuel to the fire of these incidents which is a new trend in the State. Besides, in-activeness of police further deteriorates the situation."
He further said, "I have been trying to reach out to CM Chouhan for the last 15 days to bring these incidents to his notice and seek his intervention. But despite our best efforts, we haven't been able to get access to him. This is unlike the earlier times, when there were video-conferences with the CM and other stakeholders to discuss such issues and ensure there is peace in the region."
Political experts believe that the BJP, which has lost its ground in the 2018 election in the Malwa region, is trying to win it back by following the UP Model for the local body elections. The BJP, which won 56 out of 66 seats in Malwa Nimar region in 2013 Assembly elections, lost 28 seats to the Congress in 2018, which marked the end of Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 13-year-old rule.
Political expert LS Hardenia pointed out, “BJP leaders in state are trying to win the next assembly election by promoting Hindutva. Meanwhile, AIMIM is trying to contest local body elections in MP and that’s why its chief Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted about the Indore incident,as he wanted to stay relevant by showing sympathy.”
Despite repeated attempts, Santosh Singh, ADG, Law and Order, did not respond to the calls.