The systematic ‘othering’ of Muslims and violence against them in India

Published on: March 9, 2018
A quarter century has passed since the illegal demolition on December 6 1992 of the Babri Masjid, a Muslim place of worship at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh by an unruly mob of Hindu volunteers, in the presence of BJP leaders LK Advani and others. The event was followed by a trajectory of colossal violence targeting Muslims marked by the commission serious criminal offences under the law in several states of northern and western India.

Lynching 
Image Courtesy: Mahesh Kumar A./Associated Press

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) had fashioned the idea of Hindutva which inspires the right-wing party the BJP, which rules India today. Savarkar had argued in his famous 1928 book ‘Hindutva: who is a Hindu?’ that Muslims were the main enemy of India’s Hindus (see below). India’s ruling BJP, a part of the so-called Sangh Parivar, seems to have viewed the destruction of the Muslim monument, Babri Masjid, as a necessary political task keeping in view its own political and electoral prospects at the time.
 
The present Prime Minister of India had been a volunteer in the campaign to construct a temple for the mythical Hindu god-King Ram at the very spot where the Babri Masjid stood. It was claimed that the disputed mosque stood at the very spot where a Hindu temple for Lord Ram had existed in remote past. Hence it was necessary remove it [k1] to facilitate the proposed temple construction. The Temple/Mosque politics helped the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to gradually gain political power in New Delhi.
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successful accession to political power in New Delhi in May 2014 was the ultimate outcome of the destruction of the Babri Masjid by right-wing forces. In February-March 2002, when the well-planned and organised carnage of Muslims occurred in Gujarat, the then chief minister Narendra Modi, a former activist of the Sangh Parivar campaign to build a Ram temple at Ayodhya, remained inactive and failed to seriously discharge his command responsibilities.
 
However, the cause of construction of a Hindu temple for God-king Ram at Ayodhya is still alive. The Supreme Court of India in April 2017 ordered the retrial of the two cases pending before it: one relating to law and order issues and the other relating to the issue of alleged conspiracy to demolish the mosque. The demolition of the holy place hurt the religious sentiments of pious Muslims leading to violence in several states of India including metropolitan Mumbai in 1993.
 
The progress towards the establishment of a Hindu rashtra (or nation) made by the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi since May 2014 would have pleased Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. [k2] 
 
Some Studies
 
Paul Brass (‘The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India’. 2003) has argued that it is more important to study how Hindu Muslim violence is organised rather than why they take place. The elements of preparation, planning and execution documented by Brass in his case studies on communal violence in Uttar Pradesh (UP) were present in other communal riots in India, including the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 documented, among others, by the eight-member Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal on Gujarat, 2002, led by Justice VR Krishna Iyer, which published a three- volume report (‘Crime Against Humanity 2003).This writer had the opportunity to participate as a Member of the Tribunal.
 
Vibhuti Narain Rai, a senior police officer studied a communal riot in UP and reported that all those killed were Muslim and all those arrested were also Muslim!
 
Manoj Mitta in his study The Fiction of Fact Finding, 2014, argued that the report of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Supreme Court of India on the Gujarat Carnage, 2002 had failed to establish its case that there was no prosecutable evidence in the case and showed the evidence of guilt was plentiful and had escaped the attention of the SIT. The chairman of the SIT was rewarded with an ambassadorial position. 
 
Achin Vanaik recently published his path-breaking book, Hindutva Rising: Secular Claims, Communal Realities, 2017 providing a compelling picture of the gap between hype and reality of communal violence in India.  Vanaik, however, does not examine the work of VD Savarkar but mentions him passingly.
 
Anti-Muslim violence under Modi Regime, 2014-17
 
Several patterns of unlawful acts of Muslim-baiting during the current Modi regime must be noted, especially those known as’ Ghar Vapasi’ (reconverting Muslims back into Hinduism), ‘love jihad’ (the practice of Muslim men Kidnapping or marrying Hindu women) and ‘cow vigilantism' (attacks on Muslims for beef-eating or buying and selling of cows for eating). 
 
The last practice has become murderous. A Muslim was lynched by an excited Hindu mob on September 28, 2015. This was part of a series of incidents of anti-Muslim violence in India occurring in a charged atmosphere as happened at village Bisara near Dadri, western Uttar Pradesh. This incident like the demolition of the Babri Masjid, threatened to have far-reaching consequences for the Indian polity. It also sent a wrong message to Pakistan, which has had worsening relations with India after the emergence of the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.   
 
On the night of September 28, the priest of a local temple was apparently persuaded to make an announcement by the loud speaker that Mohammad Aklaq of Bisara had slaughtered a cow to have a meal. Hearing the patently false message, an incensed mob broke into the home of Aklaq and lynched him besides fatally injuring his son who died later. The cow is considered holy by many Hindus on alleged scriptural grounds and so cannot be slaughtered and eaten.
 
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), a government body set up to protect the constitutional and legal rights of the minority communities of India, visited Dadri on October 10 and stated that the lynching of Mohammad Aklaq was premeditated and unprovoked. It noted that a sacred place like a temple had been used to exhort one community to commit violence against another and hence calling the event an ‘accident’, as a government minister had done would be an ‘understatement’. The mob had assembled within minutes of the priestly call, which indicated premeditation and planning.
 
The National Commission on Minorities (NCM) expressed concern at the growing vigilantism and moral policing in western Uttar Pradesh. It also noted the failure of police intelligence gathering in the region, implying complicity in the violence on the part of the police.  
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi remained conspicuously silent for many days. When the President of India spoke out on spirit of tolerance, Modi became articulate but only to the extent of expressing ‘sadness’ and mentioning that the event did not concern the central government headed by him. He advised Hindus and Muslims to fight poverty not each other.  There was no word of condemnation or punishment of the guilty. This reaction gave away Modi’s communal bias.
 
In a similar manner, after the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, Modi merely expressed mild concern for the victims of the violence and had no word to mention on criminal prosecution of the guilty or remorse for his own inaction as chief minister of the state. This was callous indifference to a colossal human tragedy.           
After Aklaq, another lynching of a Muslim youth on similar charges occurred in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir, indicating a growing trend of targeted and unaccountable violence against India’s biggest minority community. 
 
The Narendra Modi government since its inception in May 2014 has signally failed to act whenever such incidents of violence against minority community individuals or institutions have taken place. This pattern of behaviour seems to indicate a settled policy of indifference and impunity on the part of the government he leads with regard to routinized communal violence.
 
More recently, Modi remained conspicuously inactive when the chauvinistic Shiv Sena, his ally in Mumbai, attacked the prominent journalist Sudheendra Kulkarni and blackened his face to prevent him from holding a book launch function for the visiting former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. Kasuri responded that he had witnessed more tolerance in Pakistan.

((*** This is an excerpt from KS Subramanian’s essay ‘Babri Masjid 1992 - Gujarat 2002 - Kashmir 2016: How the Sangh Parivar has wrecked India’s secular social fabric by sustained anti-minority violence’. The author is a senior, retired member of the Indian Police Service-IPS.))