It is reported that a Muslim youth has been arrested for posting a video threatening to assassinate the hardline Hindutva politician Narsinghanand. And the police in Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh have registered a case against more than 100 people after they staged a protest against Narsinghanand for having insulted Prophet Muhammad.
Normally, what the police has done in these two cases would be considered the right thing to do. If someone makes an open threat to kill a person, he needs to be taken seriously and restrained from acting on his threat. So, an arrest in such a situation is a preventive measure or preemptive step. This action also sends a message to others who might be tempted to follow the threat, either by repeating it or acting on it.
If 100 people gather together, disregarding norms set by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the police cannot be faulted for booking them.
But how should one react to these punitive measures when there is total passivity on the part of the law and order machinery in the face of serial threats of violence issued by people like Narsinghanand? Their threat is directed against an entire community.
Narsinghanand came to Delhi, addressed a press conference and used abusive language against Mohammad and Islam. He calls the former president of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, a ‘jihadi’ and laments the fact that India’s Muslims were not expelled or exterminated at the time of partition. He has actually given multiple calls to murder Muslims. He has many followers. They have also issued threats to Muslims and exhorted Hindus to cleanse India of Muslims.
Narsinghanand is the latest addition to the list of those who are presented – by their followers and by a section of the media – as bona fide religious personalities but who are nothing but preachers of hate and violence against Muslims and other minorities.
How is it that they are left free to spread hatred? What explains the tolerance of the police to their open, continuous provocation of violence against a whole community? Why are they not taken seriously? Or, is it the case that Muslims are not treated as human beings in India? That they are seen as termites and vermin who need to be eradicated to keep the scared space of Bharatvarsh clean?
The fact is that the police and even the courts in India seem to believe that Hindus are never serious when they talk of violence. That they are simply incapable of committing violence and that any threat of violence is simply a natural outpouring of genuine emotion. They get relieved after getting the violence out of their system by exhaling it. But they never mean it.
The police assume Muslims can be radicalised easily but Hindus and radicalisation do not go together. They can only talk and never kill. What they do in fact by making such remarks is to bring out the real face of the Muslims before the world. The fact that there are calls to eliminate Narsinghanand proves him right, it is said – that Muslims are inherently violent. Why else are they calling for his murder in response to his mere statements about the murder and genocide of Muslims? Does he not have freedom of thought and expression? If he is right, then why should Muslims not be eliminated? This is what passes for logic in India.
Narsinghanand vilifies Muslims, abuses their prophet, openly calls for tearing the Quran and for tearing apart those who follow the holy book. Then Muslims react. Many of them express shock, dismay. There are some who react violently. And Narsinghanand gets to say, ‘I told you so’.
This has been the strategy of the Hindutva organisations in recent years. Unfortunately, this has also been the default thinking of the Indian state.The police and administration are suspicious of Muslims and indulgent towards Hindus. So, angry messages from Muslims invite prompt penal action against them. The argument is that their anger has a real potential of provoking violence because, well, Muslims are prone to violence,. The same cannot be said about Hindus. Thus, calls for murder, violence and even genocide by the likes of Narsinghanand are brushed aside as Hindus are supposedly wise enough to ignore these erratic outbursts.
A year back, in 2020, we heard junior and senior BJP leaders exhorting their followers to deal with the Muslims protesting against the CAA and the NRC appropriately. We heard Prime Minister Modi asking his constituency to identify the protesters by the nature of their clothes. So, what do you do after identifying them? The PM leaves you guessing. Home Minister Amit Shah wanted his voters to press the button of the voting machines so hard that the current emanating from them reaches Shaheen Bagh and shocks the protesters, forcing them to end their dharna. This is of course the poetic, metaphorical use of Hindi. How can you treat it as a call for violence?
A Central minster asked his people to shoot the anti-CAA protesters as they were traitors. The slogans “Goli Maro” seems to have turned into a theme song at BJP rallies. But it is explained away as a language game. One of the leaders says that it is only a rhyming exercise. We are being playful with language, you have to appreciate. But shooters did appear on the protest sites and bullets were fired. And then the looting, burning and killing started. Leaving 53 people dead, many from bullet wounds. More than a dozen mosques were badly devastated. Hundreds of houses and business establishments were destroyed. Thousands were displaced.
Could there be a link between this provocation for violence at different levels in diverse styles and the actual act of violence? Could it be that those who planned and executed the violence felt assured of protection from the top?
The Delhi Police doesn’t even think that this link needs to be probed. Narsinghanand called for Muslims to be killed before the Delhi riots of 2020 and is still saying the same thing. Ragini Tiwari, who boasts repeatedly about her role in the violence of North East Delhi, moves around freely, issuing new threats. Those who have claimed responsibility for the violence in JNU are allowed to remain free to tell the ‘traitors’ and ‘anti nationals’ that they will repeat their act if need be. The police refuses to believe any of them. They are just boastful, we are told. They are incapable of what they claim to have done.
We know what the pathology is. We know that there is an alignment in the ideology of the ruling establishment – the Bharatiya Janata Party and Sangh parivar – and the state apparatus. But ordinary Hindus who have a life beyond politics need to think deeply about this process in which hate against Muslims and Christians is being deliberately spread. This hate campaign is decentralised and mostly autonomous but is part of a larger ecosystem which guarantees that the processes of law will never operate against them.
The police is being wilfully negligent in assuming this propaganda does not engender hate and violence in a section of Hindus. Online messaging has made the calls for violence against Muslims especially potent. There are thousands of videos with incendiary messages circulating and each of them of them is viewed by millions.
Research shows that online hate campaigns do produce recruits for hate armies.The ISIS has lured young minds all the way from Europe. There are instances of white supremacists who have actually committed violence after being educated into violence. Some join in as active participants but online campaigns also create a consensus around the ideas of hate and violence propagated by it. So, a culture of violence which legitimises violence and does not feel remorse when killings take place is crafted through this campaign.
The last decades of the 20th century witnessed the emergence of babas and gurus who claimed to give us easy spiritual solutions to the challenges we face in life. And then emerged monks and swamis who were preachers of hate and violence. Some of them control large and traditionally respected shrines while the smaller ones have captured temples in mofussil towns and villages.They don saffron robes and preach anti-Muslim hate with the impunity that the saffron garb gives them. There is nothing religious or spiritual about them.
What makes them powerful is that their diatribes are tolerated even by the secular parties. They seldom criticise them. But one such statement from a Muslim and all of them start preaching the values of non-violence and secularism and condemn them for inciting violence. Secular leaders and parties are reluctant to criticise the hate campaign by persons like Narsinghanand. Their argument is that it will give them undue prominence and make them popular. But they are wrong. If hate goes unchallenged, it gains more legitimacy. Its grip over society becomes stronger.
In the face of the silence of the political class, the inaction of the institutions of the state and encouragement from the media, Muslims are left to react to this humiliation and violence by themselves. As if their humiliation is only their concern and all of us remain untouched by it.
Well, Muslims are reacting. It is natural. But they must keep in mind that reacting violently against this hateful and violent majoritarian culture and politics only reinforces it. An alternative, humane language of politics needs to be proposed and practiced against this vile project. The Narasinghanands seek to mould all of us in their own image. Becoming like him is the easiest thing to do. And the laziest.
Friday witnessed huge demonstrations after the Juma namaz which were expressions of anger against the blasphemous remarks of Narsinghanand and his gang members. We also saw many Muslims saying that they can tolerate insults and violence upon themselves but cannot allow blasphemy. This approach needs rethinking. Violence against real lives, living people and their humiliation should not be accepted or normalised as a ‘lesser’ evil.
We need to understand that insults to the Prophet are a way of sending a message to Muslims that there is no respect for their faith in India. There is no doubt that this must be opposed. But to treat this as only a religious issue and ignore the political project driving these insults would be sheer folly. If Muslims can come out to protest against blasphemy in such huge numbers, they can also protest the killing of 20 Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and the anti Muslim violence in Delhi. They need to protest the arrest of scores of anti-CAA protesters. This has yet to happen.
Secularism should not be seen as a burden. Secularism also means a non-hateful approach towards the other, an accommodative and hospitable approach to the stranger. An insistence on equality and justice. An ability to fight with one’s own biases and push one’s own boundaries. Hindutva groups are trying hard to make Hindus lose this sense. Muslims must not follow that agenda.
To Narsinghanand’s delight, the public debate has shifted to blasphemy. We need to remember that what Narsinghanand and his huge ecosystem does is far deadlier. By reacting only to Narsinghanand’s vile attacks against Islam and the prophet, we are ignoring far more heinous and indefensible crimes that he’s committed.
Shuddhabrata Sen Gupta rightly notes, “He has not confined himself to insulting the prophet. He made specific calls for genocidal violence against Muslims. He called for murder, for targeted killings. He defended assaults on children. He asked for ethnic cleansing. And all of that requires a response far more robust than contempt and disdain. These are enough reasons to immediately imprison Narsinghanand that have nothing whatsoever to do with blasphemy, real or imagined. It needs to be said without a moment of doubt and hesitation: any person who does not demand the immediate arrest of Narsinghanand and the leading members of his gang is an enemy of a free and open society.”