Two recent incidents lay bare the sad state of affairs in the country for everyone to see. From these incidents, it is now clear that a new phase of anti-minority violence has begun, one in which Muslims and Christians are targeted not just by mob violence that is unleashed by organised groups but also through the hatred of radicalised individuals.
The two incidents are the brutal murder spree on a moving train and the violence that rocked Haryana’s Nuh. The killings on the train by a railway protection force constable were a solitary act, not committed on behalf of any organisation or commanded by any organised groups. Yet, we saw from the hateful rant of the police constable after he murdered three Muslims – whom he had selected based on their appearance after killing his superior officer – that he was driven by the same ideology as the ruling establishment. He even hailed two leaders of the ruling party.
How is he different from those policemen who assaulted a group of Muslim men during the 2020 Delhi riots on the street in full public view? With some level of certainty, one can say that the number of such policemen has been on the rise in the country. They are not officially affiliated with any political party. But they do have an ideology which is coincidently the ideology of the current ruling party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
The RPF constable’s act shows that militant Hindutva groups no longer need to train or arm people to commit violence against Muslims. They are now in the state apparatus and they will do it voluntarily or habitually.
When Muslims resist hate, all hell breaks loose
In a situation of mob violence in which both Hindus and Muslims are involved, the chances of Muslims getting arrested in greater numbers are high. As we saw in Nuh recently, instant punishment was meted out to one side without following any procedure, by bulldozing their houses and business establishments. It has now become a norm to inflict such retribution on Muslims after every communal incident. We ask, without getting any response, why the houses of Muslims who were not involved in the violence are being demolished – as if instantly demolishing the houses of those who might have been involved in any manner is somehow justified.
There are other questions: Has the bulldozer now been accepted as the first instrument of justice or punishment for any crime, even before the examination of all aspects of the incident? Why is it that it is directed only against Muslims? For example, has the house of the police officer accused of four murders on the moving train been demolished? What about the house of the likes of cow vigilante Monu Manesar? ‘Justice’ is after all about equality.
Some people argue that since the political party in power wants a certain kind of action, the administration does not have an option but to implement it. Is that really so? After all, our Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers are the most powerful people in the country. They have the protection of the constitution and the rule book if politicians demand illegal action from them.
Why is it that officers like Prabhakar Chaudhary – who stopped a procession of Kanwariyas in Bareilly from going down an unauthorised route – are an exception? Either all our officers have turned cowards or they themselves believe in the bulldozer as a form of punishment for Muslims. What does it say about us or the Indian state? And, about the understanding of the rule of law that does not follow the process, as defined in the rule book.
When not subjected to physical violence, Muslims are abused, insulted, and humiliated using social media platforms and physical assemblies. Hate assemblies and processions take place despite prohibitory orders. Political leaders indulge in anti-Muslim hate slogans, directly and as dog whistles. Even the courts seem to be tolerant towards them. They argue that their anti-Muslim speech is only meant to excite and enthuse their constituency and does not actually mean violence. Since this view is dominant among the police, administration, and judiciary, the chances of hate spreaders being restrained or getting prosecuted are very slim.
Muslims are expected to allow the hate spreaders to enjoy their freedom of speech and restrain themselves. Wasn’t the Haryana administration apprised of the hate videos circulating before the yatra which led to violence in Nuh? Why did the administration not take the threat of violence seriously? Why did the police not think it necessary to at least lodge cases against those who made the videos and others who circulated them? Was the administration helpless or unwilling? Why was it not interested in assuaging the feelings of Muslims, against whom open threats were being issued? Why did it not matter to them?
The administration’s job is to maintain peace. But in many parts of the country, this has taken on a warped form. For administrations, ‘maintaining peace’ can also mean letting the Hindutvawadis do what they want, by not resisting or restraining them. For example, it is not arresting those who claim that they are demolishing mazars in Uttarakhand. Is it not true that demolishing mazars amounts to a breach of peace? But, the moment Muslims resist or oppose this, a law and order situation arises.
Similarly, hate assemblies calling for the annihilation of Muslims are not seen as disturbing the peace. Similarly, if people barge in when Christmas is being celebrated in a church and raise ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans, it is not seen as a problem by the police.
There is a breach of peace only when these elements are stopped from doing what they want. The police officer Prabhakar Chaudhary stopped the VHP and Bajrang Dal from playing loud music outside a mosque in Bareilly and creating a ruckus there. He ordered a lathi charge to disperse them. As a punishment, the officer was transferred.
Imagine a similar situation in which a group of Muslims do what the VHP or Bajrang Dal do regularly. Would they be allowed? The fate of Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan is before us. His legislative assembly membership has been taken away after he was sentenced to three years in jail for a hate speech against chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Just recollect some of the speeches made by BJP leaders, including the prime minister. If the same standards were applied to them, they would also be in jail. But, we know that will never happen.
The targeting of Muslims on TV channels every day is seen as a legitimate exercise of free speech. No breach of the peace here! Muslims should just switch off the TV if they do not want to listen to abuses.
Leave aside the organised hate campaigns, now unaffiliated individuals promote this hate campaign voluntarily in their family or school or neighbourhood groups and friend circles. Everything remains peaceful till the hate is challenged by some ‘crazy’ member of the group. Then she or he is blamed for disturbing the tranquility.
We need to shift the focus from Muslims and instead talk about the leaders of the Hintuvawadi groups – their actions and their speeches – and about Hindu society in general. If you are Hindu and your peace of mind is not disturbed even after this, then the Hindu community is surely doomed.