New Delhi: A detailed report by the Citizens and Lawyers Initiative into the sharp spike in events leading to communal violence during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti in April 2022, which involved targeting Muslim places of worship or residences, pointedly on the occasion of festivals, has found “commonalities” in how religious events have been used to perpetrate violence against the minority community.
Titled, “Routes of Wrath: Weaponising Religious Processions”, the 174-page report, has dealt with various aspects of the systemic violence including “nature of instigation”, “tactics of mobilising the majority” and “the administrative response as collective punishment”.
The report, for which the foreword has been written by former Supreme Court judge Rohinton F. Nariman and the prologue and introduction by senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, notes that despite the well-known lessons from earlier riots, “religious processions in state after state have been granted licences or permissions to pass through the most congested and sensitive areas.”
The report was released on March 25, Saturday.
As Singh writes in the introduction to the report, “In April 2022, India witnessed communal violence breaking out in as many as nine states, along with incidents of provocation and low-grade violence in three others. In all of them, the catalyst for the violence was the same: religious processions celebrating the Hindu festivals of Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti, followed by targetted attacks on Muslim-owned properties, businesses and places of worship.”
Stating that at least 100 people were injured in these incidents across the concerned states – which included Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Goa and West Bengal, the report has dedicated a chapter to each to the states. It also pointed out that there was one accidental death in Gujarat and one incident-related death each in Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. The report also says that some states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar “saw similar attempts at instigation but with low-grade violence”.
Singh writes that “the state-sponsored violence has also caused a crisis of displacement of Muslim families in riot-hit areas, either rendered homeless by the demolitions or having been forced to flee from their homes in fear of further state harassment.”
He writes that “Ram Navami processions, in particular, have been taken over by militant Hindutva organisations over the years, as the figure of Ram is central to the political imagination of the Sangh.”
But “despite the increasingly violent nature of such processions in recent years – Ram Navami processions led to scattered incidents of communal violence in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019”, they are portrayed “by the Hindu Right and mainstream media as innocuous displays of religiosity, and blame is typically assigned to those who would challenge such displays.”
Going into the “commonalities” between the events and how violence has been provoked, the Insight section of the report notes: “There are distinct and eerie patterns amongst the Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions in April 2022 across all the states covered in this report. They all comprised of larger-than-usual gatherings of saffron-clad men drawing swords, waving trishuls and even (in some cases) firearms, taking deliberately mapped paths that crossed major mosques and Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods, and raising provocative slogans about the coming of a Hindu Rashtra, the conditions under which Muslims would be allowed to live in this nation, and even justifying violence against Muslims.”
The section finds that “many of these processions were accompanied by large flatbed trucks with concert-sized, high-decibel amplifiers and mega-speakers, on which DJs blasted hate-filled anti-Muslim music.”
Pre-Independence India also witnessed similar violence
The report also gives a detailed account of communal violence in both pre- and post-Independence India which took place on account of similar provocations caused by religious processions.
In the “prologue”, a deep dive consisting of summaries and findings of various commissions set up in previous cases of communal conflagartion and clashes, Chander Uday Singh mentions how “Indian history is rife with instances of religious processions that led to communal strife, riots, inexcusable violence, arson, destruction of property and the tragic deaths of innocent residents of the riot-hit areas.”
He said “no cause of interfaith riots has been as recurrent and widespread as the religious procession” and added to good measure that “if one factor were to be singled out as the most important catalyst for communal riots flowing from religious processions, and equally for the prevention of such riots, it would have to be the route chosen by procession organisers.”
“This,” Singh wrote, “appears to have been recognised as early as 1860, when Thomas Macaulay’s Indian Penal Code was enacted. Section 153 prescribed a punishment of six months imprisonment for wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot, and one year if the provocation resulted in rioting.”
Processions along communally sensitive routes led to various riots in Independent India
Singh finds that “post-Independence, we have faced numerous communal riots in diverse parts of India, under different political regimes, and the vast majority of these have been caused by the deliberate choice of communally-sensitive routes by processionists, and the pusillanimity of the police in dealing with such demands, or even their collusion and connivance in licencing such routes.”
The report then goes on to mention examples of such riots to make the point. In the case of the riots of Sholapur in southwest Maharashtra, the report of the “Commission of Inquiry on Communal Disturbance at Sholapur – September 17, 1967” revealed that “communal outbreaks had occurred on the occasions of ‘Rath Processions’ in 1925 and 1927, in connection with ‘Ganapati Immersion Processions’ in 1927 and 1966, and 18 cases of stabbing were spurred by the shouting of objectionable slogans during a procession by the Arya Samaj Satyagraha in 1939.”
Similarly, the “Commission of Inquiry to Inquire into the Communal Disturbances at Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad in May 1970” noted that the riots in Bhiwandi were the “direct consequence of a massive Shiv Jayanti Procession comprising about 10,000 processionists armed with lathis, which insisted on a route which passed the Nizampura Jumma Mosque.”
These communal disturbances had resulted in loss of 78 lives, of which 59 were Muslims. Likewise, the violence in Jalgaon claimed 43 lives, of which 42 were Muslims; while no lives were lost in Mahad.
Provocations included ‘stopping in front of mosques, shouting provocative and anti-Muslim slogans’
The one-man inquiry by sitting Bombay high court judge D.P. Madon had “found that 1963 was an important year in the communal history of Bhiwandi, for that was when the Hindus started taking out processions which did not stop playing music while passing by a mosque. He found that 1964 was the year when the Shiv Jayanti Procession began its practice of stopping in front of mosques, shouting provocative and anti-Muslim slogans, and throwing excessive ‘gulal’.”
Justice Madon found that “the immediate or proximate cause of the Bhiwandi disturbances was the deliberate misbehaviour of the processionists in the Shiv Jayanti procession, which was taken out in Bhiwandi on May 7, 1970, in order to provoke the Muslims….”
Ahead of Jamshedpur violence, RSS/VHP had insisted on taking Ram Navami procession through Sabirnagar in 1978
In the case of the Jamshedpur violence of 1979, the prologue stated that “In 1978, the RSS/VHP insisted that the traditional Ram Navami procession should follow a new route that would pass through the congested Muslim area of Sabirnagar.”
It said though “a ‘deal’ was struck, based on the promise that the main procession would continue on the roads and highways, while a small “sample procession” would pass through Sabirnagar, accompanied by local Muslim elders, and would then rejoin the main procession on the highway,” the 15,000-strong main procession broke away from the licensed route and followed the sample procession.
“Once they reached the Sabirnagar Masjid, they were halted by BJP MLA Dinanath Pandey, who refused to allow the procession to move, and insisted that they had a right to remain there while he made provocative and anti-Muslim speeches. Stone-throwing inevitably ensued, followed by rioting and arson by the 15,000 processionists. This led to a conflagration all over Jamshedpur, culminating in 108 deaths”, of which 79 were Muslims and 25 Hindus.
Subsequently, it said, “a commission of enquiry headed by Justice Jitendra Narain, a retired judge of the Patna High Court, found the RSS and Dinanath Pandey primarily responsible.”
Lessons not learnt from Kota and Bhagalpur violence of 1989
The report also mentioned the 1989 riots in Kota in Rajasthan during the Anant Chaturdashi procession for the immersion of Lord Ganesh which was “deliberately taken on a route through a congested Muslim mohalla, and halted in front of the largest Mosque, enabling the processionists to shout communal slogans and hurl abuses at the Muslims.”
The subsequent violence led to the killing of 16 Muslims and four Hindus while the businesses of thousands of Muslim street vendors and traders were torched.
The one-man “Commission of Inquiry on Communal Riots in Kota in 1989”, consisting of sitting Rajasthan High Court Judge S.N. Bhargava, held the view that “it was the processionists who had started shouting objectionable and provocative slogans and it was only on account of the provocation by these objectionable slogans that the Muslim community also reciprocated the same.”
Coming to the violence in Bhagalpur in 1989 which had followed the Ramshila procession, the prologue said the procession was “diverted from the licensed route and taken through the congested Muslim area known as Tatarpur.” It carried bricks (shila) consecrated by priests over a holy fire, ostensibly to be used for the construction of a Ram Temple which was proposed to be built after the proposed destruction of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya.
Following the violence, which claimed the lives of over 900 Muslims, a commission of enquiry consisting of Justice Ram Nandan Prasad, Justice Ram Chandra Prasad Sinha, and Justice S. Shamsul Hasan, all retired judges of the Patna high court, found that though tension over Ramshila processions had already been building up in Bhagalpur for at least a year prior to 1989, yet the administration and police allowed the procession through Tatarpur.
It said the “mob consisting of thousands of miscreants” was permitted by the police to deviate from the licenced route, enter Tatarpur, and wreak havoc against the defenseless Muslim populace.
‘India slipping as an electoral democracy’
Meanwhile, in his foreword to the report, Justice Rohinton Nariman says that it was an initiative by a group of private lawyers to “research and bring out a report which gives us an indication of the present state of affairs in the nation, in the context of various Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions that were taken out in April 2022.”
He recalled how the University of Gothenburg has with a report titled “Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Annual Report 2023” that speaks of democracy all over the globe. “When it comes to India, the report reveals that in the period from the year 1972 to the year 2020, save and except for the years 1975 and 1976 when there was an Emergency declared in the country, and in the years 2015 and 2020, India belonged to the second group of electoral democracies. Significantly, in recent years, India has slipped into the third group of electoral autocracies.”
Justice Nariman further added that “another graph shows that there is a constant downward movement from the years 2012 to 2022 insofar as democratic values are concerned. Also, the Academic Freedom Index shows that there is a substantial decline in the freedom to think and write as one pleases during these years.
‘Need to sensitise police, tell them Muslims in India are Indians’
He says the report by the Citizens and Lawyers Initiative only corroborates these findings. “It finds that in nine states of this country, during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti celebrations in April 2022, there were widespread acts of hooliganism and violence.”
Given the Preamble and the fundamental duties chapter of the Constitution of India, the former Supreme Court Judge says: “I believe that it is of primary importance to sensitise the police force in all the States of India to these constitutional values and fundamental duties of the citizens. This can be done by first informing them that Muslims situated in India are Indians.”
He goes on to say, “once this basic fact is drilled into the police force in all the States, things could become much better. Also some way must be found to stop political interference with the functioning of the police in all the States.”
You can read the full report, Routes of Wrath here.