WESTERN UTTAR PRADESHAnother laboratory
Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta in Aligarh and Hathras
FOR many political observers, western Uttar Pradesh has evolved as the biggest north Indian Hindutva laboratory over the past two years. The period leading up to the April-May parliamentary elections witnessed more than 50 big or small communal riots, including the Muzaffarnagar riots in September 2013. Such incidents of violence have had a significant political impact. The region, which was known for its Jat-Muslim political alliance in favour of the Rashtriya Lok Dal led by Ajit Singh, is now divided along communal lines. Such sharpened social identities have not only changed the region’s socio-economic balance but also created possibly irreparable communal fissures.
The beneficiary, clearly, is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won in all the 18 constituencies of the region. As reported in Frontline earlier, the BJP and other Sangh Parivar affiliates led a hate campaign against Muslims and succeeded in devising a larger narrative of Hindu victimisation (which was perpetuated by non-BJP governments). The campaign intensified after Amit Shah took over as the party’s poll manager in Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP particularly targeted caste groups that had historically been antithetical to the Sangh Parivar’s vision of a Hindu Rashtra and politically inclined towards the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Among them were Dalit groups such as Valmikis and Jatavs, and agrarian communities such as Jats and Lodhs. The Sangh Parivar’s parallel campaign to incite communal sentiments, which led to riots, provided the immediate trigger for an unprecedented Hindu consolidation in the region, cutting across castes, the harvests of which pushed the BJP closer to power.
However, the repercussions of such communal polarisation can go beyond immediate political gains. Helped by such a polarised political context and the Union government’s silence, affiliate organisations of the Sangh, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, have been carrying out hate campaigns against minorities across the region.
The Sangh Parivar has a three-pronged strategy, planned differently for rural and urban regions of western Uttar Pradesh. The first and the most important is an aggressive attack on what the Sangh Parivar calls “love jehad”. Many BJP leaders, including the State president of the party, Laxmikant Bajpai, threatened to make “love jehad” an issue in the byelections scheduled in 11 Assembly constituencies and one parliamentary seat on September 13. The Sangh Parivar has been campaigning door to door among Hindu households warning them to protect their daughters and sisters from good-looking Muslim men whose political task is to marry Hindu women and convert them to Islam.
Under the aegis of the VHP, organisations such as the Hindu Kanya Raksha Samiti and the Beti Bachao Bahu Bachao Samiti are working across western Uttar Pradesh to campaign against “love jehad”. The campaign relies on rumour, forged lists, and other falsities to create an environment of fear among Hindus. In this way, the Sangh Parivar has been reaping immediate political benefits and also successfully propagating its sexual politics, a project in which women are supposed to be preserved within the patriarchal institution of the dependent figures of “ma (mother), bahu (wife and daughter-in-law), beti (daughter), and behen (sister)”. This campaign is most aggressive in rural areas of western Uttar Pradesh where endogamy is considered the most important virtue (“Sensational grist”, Frontline , November 29, 2013).
The Parivar’s second campaign in western Uttar Pradesh is about conversion. This surfaced only after the BJP assumed power at the Centre. In many places, instances of forced conversions have come out in which unknown organisations, which have mushroomed only in the last few months, are canvassing for shuddhikaran (purification, ritual expiation) of minorities, or what some of them call ghar wapasi (homecoming, return to the fold).
For instance, on August 28, in Asroi village, Aligarh, a two-month-old group, Dharam Jagran Vivad, converted 72 Christian Valmikis (an extremely poor Dalit community) to Hinduism. After the conversion, the group claimed that the church compound in the village had earlier been a temple and placed a Siva idol inside the shrine. “The Valmikis have been practising Christianity for many years now. However, in the past few months, this group has been campaigning among them and telling them how they were forcibly converted to Christianity, and that they are actually Hindus, and this nation is only for Hindus. How can political groups decide the faith of so many people? If I trace my lineage, I am half-Muslim and half-Brahmin. India in its Constitution has guaranteed us the freedom to practise any faith. If people choose to convert, we have no problems, but we will not tolerate if our places of worship, our pastors and priests are violated in the way it happened in Asroi,” said Osmond Charles, an advocate campaigning for minority rights.
At least four cases of churches being attacked and Sunday masses being disrupted by Hindutva groups have been reported from western Uttar Pradesh in the last four months. Charles told Frontline : “We have never been scared but we are now. Almost every day, I hear about a pastor being threatened or a church being vandalised.”
When asked about such canvassing, Rajeshwar Singh of the Dharam Jagran Vivad said: “The Christians in the area have been converting our people for a long time. It is time we brought them home. We are only reclaiming our space. In times to come, we plan to build temples in all these converted villages.” Asked whether it was appropriate to damage the church, he said a temple had been demolished to build the existing church.
The Asroi case is not an isolated one. Hathras and Mathura districts have been witness to many such incidents. Some of the villages where shuddhikaran has been organised are Samdhan, Singaicha, Sultanpur, Sarera, Undi, Baati and Bharatpur. These are villages where Rajputs converted to Islam in pre-colonial times. Yet, their religious practices are a mixed bag of Hindu and Muslim rituals.
A new group called the Hindu Mahasangh has been targeting this particular community for shuddhikaran and ghar wapasi . This correspondent visited Samdhan, where more than half of the village has been brought into the Hindu fold. “We live like before. We have our own set of rituals, but recently some people have been telling us that we are actually Hindus and have promised us benefits if we become Hindus. This lure has convinced many people to convert,” said Mahendra Singh, who is a practising Muslim.
The Parivar pursues its campaign in a third field as well—colleges and schools. Many Hindutva groups, along with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), harp on the narrative of Hindu victimhood when canvassing among the Hindu youth. Young people are told that they may not get any employment because the State has a namaazwadi sarkar (pro-Muslim government).
The college programmes are particularly vociferous. The ABVP’s renewed campaign in the local colleges of Aligarh affiliated to Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar University (Agra) demands that these colleges be inducted into the Aligarh Muslim University. Nafees Ahmad, a professor in AMU, told Frontline : “Beneath this campaign is an anti-Muslim pitch. Since AMU is a Muslim majority university, ABVP activists say that Muslims are allowed better facilities in India.”
According to Ahmad, schools funded by Islamic organisations in western Uttar Pradesh have recently been facing numerous threats. “I run a school called Saleema Mansoor affiliated to the CBSE [Central Board of Secondary Education] board, where at least 35 per cent of the students are Hindus because we provide quality education. The Hindu Mahasangh has been campaigning among Hindu children to leave the school and join the Saraswati Shishu Mandir, a chain of schools run by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). On our annual day the students performed a play on Hindu-Muslim unity where a Hindu woman was shown to be protected by a Muslim man and vice versa. But the Hindu Mahasangh made it a communal issue, saying the play projected Hindus in a bad light. It was a play about humanity. It was completely absurd,” said Ahmad.
In many RSS-funded schools across western Uttar Pradesh, the administrations have started conducting a class called Mukha Katha on loudspeakers. The class teaches the difference between carnivorous and herbivorous animals. Carnivorous animals are projected as detrimental to nature and herbivores as the ones who contribute to nature. It goes on to equate Muslims and Christians with carnivorous animals.
Many such loudspeakers in various Hindutva organisations have come up in the past few months. The Sangh’s pracharaks defend the phenomenon as a response to the loudspeakers in local masjids. However, instead of prayers, these loudspeakers echo the precepts of Hindutva. It is clear that the Sangh Parivar has identified the education sector as fertile ground.
The impunity that Hindutva demagogues enjoy at present is a result of the Hindu consolidation which the Parivar has successfully managed in the region through many such hate campaigns.
EASTERN UTTAR PRADESH, BIHAR
Coping with reversal
ON September 1, 2014, the RSS began a three-day camp at Muzaffarpur with the stated agenda of strengthening and widening the Hindutva ideology in Bihar. The immediate backdrop was the electoral setback suffered barely a week earlier by the BJP’s unit in Bihar in the Assembly byelections. The recently formed Janata Dal (United)-Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress alliance had won six out of the 10 seats, and the BJP the remaining four. It was a reversal for the BJP so soon after the party’s spectacular electoral performance in the Lok Sabha elections, for it had won six of these seats in the previous Assembly elections. This naturally came up for intense discussion at the camp, leading to the identification of specific goals and the formulation of plans to advance them. The byelection verdict was obviously seen as a reassertion of caste politics over the BJP’s pan-Hindu thrust.
Several Bihar-based senior activists of the RSS and the BJP told Frontline that the consensus at the camp was to intensify the campaign on a number of issues that had been taken up by Parivar outfits across the country. Prominent among them are issues such as the “infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh and Nepal to Bihar”, “the threat of Islamist terrorism” and, of course, “love jehad”, described as “the contamination of Hindu culture by organised operation of Muslim youth outfits to seduce Hindu girls and convert them”.
Hardly a week after the camp, Bhagalpur witnessed widespread violence by Parivar outfits led by the VHP. VHP activists went on the rampage in several parts of the district alleging forced conversion of a teenaged Hindu girl. Hundreds of shops and vehicles were vandalised, trains were halted by blocking railway tracks, and markets and schools were forced to shut down. Bhagalpur Senior Superintendent of Police Vivek Kumar told the media that police investigations had revealed that the girl had gone voluntarily with the young man in question, though her mother had objections to the relationship. Both the boy and the girl are minors and, at the time of writing this, are in remand homes.
Several political parties, including the RJD, the JD(U) and the Left parties, as also social and cultural organisations have started a counter campaign highlighting the facts about the Bhagalpur case as well as the Sangh Parivar’s insidious plans on the issue of love jehad. Anisur Rehman, a resident of Bhagalpur, told Frontline that this counter campaign had had a positive impact. “The VHP and the RSS are taking up isolated cases of love and elopement and trying to convert them into a political and social controversy. The resistance to this nefarious design is building up well.”
Rehman’s views were echoed by Nivedita, leader of the Bihar Mahila Samaj affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI). Nivedita , who is married to Shakeel, a doctor, felt the Parivar campaign would boomerang in Bihar. “So many BJP leaders of Bihar, including Shahnawaz Hussain and Sushil Modi, have married from different communities. Don’t they have any moral compunction when the RSS and the VHP are misinterpreting inter-community relationships?” she asked.
In eastern Uttar Pradesh, however, there is hardly any counteroffensive to the Sangh Parivar’s communal games. The issue of love jehad is being exploited by Sangh Parivar outfits throughout the region. Sensitive local issues are raked up in many towns and rural centres. Most of these local controversies are built around land disputes, especially involving temples, mosques and the local population. Scores of cases of this type have come up in districts such as Bahraich, Jaunpur and Gonda.
In several places Christian missionary groups have been targets of sustained attacks. Father Vijayakumar of Mirzapur told Frontline that these attacks were not being effectively countered politically and socially at the ground level by secular parties and organisations. “The help from the administration too is not consistent across all places. These issues need to be addressed for maintaining social and communal harmony.”
The context of the byelections to 12 seats in Uttar Pradesh in mid-September and the elevation of Yogi Adityanath, the symbol of aggressive Hindutva, as the chief campaigner for these elections have further aggravated the situation. Signals emanating from other Sangh Parivar outfits like the VHP in other parts of the State, including Ayodhya, also point to this. Evidently, the situations in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are a study in contrast. While in Bihar the communal games are sought to be countered at the grass-roots level as also at the level of the administration, the response in Uttar Pradesh is inadequate.
Show of might
T.K. Rajalakshmi in Mewat district
MEWAT district lies almost contiguous with its more prosperous neighbour, Gurgaon. The culture of Mewat, inhabited by Meo Muslims, is distinct from the rest of the hinterland for historical reasons. Despite the general socio-economic backwardness of the region caused by sustained neglect by successive governments, several Meos have made their mark in Indian politics. And despite the labelling of the community as cattle smugglers and purveyors of petty crime, the area has been relatively peaceful barring certain recent instances that threaten to tear the peace asunder. A rumour here or an accident there appears enough to provide the spark for a flare-up and, interestingly, despite the impression that the Meos rule the roost in the region, in most instances of violence Meos have come off worst.
On June 8, a small truck cruising on the Pataudi-Mohammadpur stretch of the State highway in Tauru block collided with a motorbike, killing one of the two young men riding it on the spot. The driver of the truck ran away but the cleaner and another helper were caught by the townspeople and thrashed. A rumour spread that the two men had succumbed to the beating. While Tauru town is dominated by the majority community, the villages nearby are inhabited by Meos. The two men belonged to the minority community while the bikers were from the majority community.
The police intervened and took the injured men away, but the two were snatched from the custody of the police and beaten up again. “Whoever entered the area and looked like a Muslim was beaten up,” said Abbas Khan, former chairman of the Tauru Block Samiti. The police were also pelted with stones. The violence continued the whole day from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The newly elected BJP Member of Parliament from Tonk, Sukhbir Singh Jaunapuria, who originally belonged to Sohna in Haryana, landed there and, according to the local people, made inflammatory speeches. In the presence of the police, shops and religious structures of the minority community were looted and burnt. It was surprising that in an area dominated by Meos, it was their property that witnessed the maximum destruction. “All the arson incidents, the burning of a soft drink agency, a showroom, and two mosques, took place within a radius of two kilometres,” said Ramzan Chaudhary, a social activist.
Members of the Meo community Frontline spoke to confirmed that matters got inflamed after the MP landed there. Tension prevailed for almost a week. But it was in the interests of Meos to maintain peace; after all, their property had been targeted and their people attacked. The elders constituted a peace committee with senior officials from the Mewat administration, but members of the majority community declined to participate in it. Instead, on June 13, in neighbouring Gurgaon, BJP State president Ram Vilas Sharma, Jaunapuria and Gurgaon MP Rao Inderjit Singh (who quit the Congress after three decades to join the BJP) addressed a meeting where inflammatory statements were made. “They could not have the meeting in Mewat because of administrative restrictions but they could do so in Gurgaon. It was very unfortunate. Statements like ‘ Hum do ka pahada jaante hain; woh ek maarey, hum do marengey’ [we know our two times table; if they kill one, we will kill two] were made,” said Meo elders. Meanwhile, the police did not arrest a single person for the vandalism and arson but rounded up some Meo youths instead.
The incident in Tauru was the second such to occur in the past nine months. In September 2013, in Pataudi block of Gurgaon district, a government convoy ferrying stray buffalo to a gaushala (cow shelter) in Mathura was attacked. A rumour that the vehicles were transporting cattle for slaughter was circulated and within no time several vehicles and shops belonging to the minority community were set afire. Residents fled the affected area. Around the same time, the killing of a youth from the majority community following an altercation was given a communal colour by describing him falsely as a gau rakshak , or a protector of cows.
The town of Tauru and the villages nearby are interdependent: most of the shops are owned by the townspeople and their customers are Meos living in the villages. People Frontline spoke to said that even during Partition there was no tension or anything resembling a communal flare-up there. It remained the same even in the aftermath of the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition or the 2002 post-Godhra riots. “With Mr [Narendra] Modi at the helm and Mr Rajnath Singh as Home Minister, some elements feel they can get away with anything,” said a Meo elder, requesting anonymity.
R.P. Sharma is the district president of the RSS. He is also a well-known medical practitioner; his clinic, Jeevan Jyoti Hospital, sees a steady stream of patients, many of whom are Muslims. His receptionist is Zubair Khan. Sharma said that he was associated with the Sangh right from the beginning. He was going to collect money for the victims of the Jammu and Kashmir floods, he said. About Tauru, he said that the reaction to the accident was inevitable. He admitted that the region had got communally polarised. He felt it was because of the “appeasement politics” of the government. “If the younger sibling decides to take on the older sibling, there will be problems. The head of the family has to see to it that peace is maintained.”
He said that ideological affiliates like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal were relatively active. “We are there in Himachal too. Jawaharlal Nehru discovered this for himself when he went to Kangra once,” he said with pride.
“These people,” he said, pointing to his assistant Zubair, “are all converted. At least 99 per cent are converts. Our ideologue Indreshji is trying to find out what gotra they belong to. He is doing serious work. The Muslims share a lot of cultural traits with us. Hinduism is not a religion. It is sanatan . It assimilates everyone,” he said. He professed ignorance about the peace committee, but said that the “terms of reference” of the committee were not clear and that was the reason why members of the majority community had stayed away. Referring to the September 2013 skirmish in Pataudi, he said that “everybody should be concerned about cow protection, including you,” pointing to this correspondent.
The Congress-led government set up a cow commission and passed a Bill called the Gau Sewa Aayog Bill, 2010. The functions of the commission include the development, preservation and welfare of cow species as well as working for the proper implementation of laws for the prohibition of cow slaughter and cruelty to cows.
“It is an irony that no one bothers when the shopkeepers beat up stray cattle and cows eat all kinds of things, including plastic materials,” said a local person. The bogey of cow slaughter surfaces during election time, and truth and peace are the casualties.
Purnima S. Tripathi
CHHATISGARH’S Bastar region looks seductive in its tranquil beauty. The calm on the surface, however, is deceptive because the area is simmering with a hate campaign, spurred by the Hindutva organisations led by the VHP. There has always been a subterranean terror campaign against members of the minuscule Christian community in this region, but the arrival of a BJP-led government at the Centre has emboldened these organisations to such an extent that a particularly systematic campaign to drive Christians out of the State has begun. To make matters worse, even the police turn a blind eye; no first information reports (FIR) get registered and representations to the Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary, or the police chief have no impact on the ground reality.
It all began on May 10 in Sirsiguda village when a meeting of the gram panchayat was convened and a resolution passed under Section 129(G) of the Chhattisgarh Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, which sought to “preserve the traditional cultural unity of the village; prohibit non-Hindu religious practitioners from either practising, preaching or propagating any other religion; banning the entry of non-Hindus in the area; and prohibiting the construction of any religious place without the prior permission of the gram panchayat”. The resolution stated that anyone violating these clauses would be liable for action. The resolution (a copy of which is with Frontline ) was signed by the village sarpanch and other office-bearers of the gram panchayat. As many as 50 gram sabhas have passed similar resolutions.
The 50-odd Christian families in Sirsiguda village have been denied their PDS rations on the grounds that their ration cards are fake. They filed a complaint with to the district Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection Department on June 16. After the authorities arrived in the village to investigate the issue, those who deposed before them, mainly Christians, were beaten up by a group of 150-odd VHP activists, in full public view, with the local policemen remaining mute spectators. Even though an FIR naming the perpetrators of the violence was lodged the next day, so far no arrests have been made ( Frontline has a copy of the FIR). The shops in the village refuse to sell their goods to the Christian families, who have been repeatedly warned by VHP activists to either convert to Hinduism or leave the place.
Arun Pannalal, president of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, told Frontline that this incident had triggered a chain reaction in the entire Bastar region. Efforts to apprise the Chief Minister and other senior Ministers have been in vain. “We have sought an appointment with the Chief Minister more than 50 times, but he has not given us time. Complaining to other State government officials has been of no help as they only give assurances and nothing changes on the ground,” Pannalal said. (The forum filed a writ petition in the Chhattisgarh High Court on September 5 challenging the constitutionality of the resolutions adopted by the village councils. On September 8, the court asked the State government to file its reply within three weeks.)
Attacks on Christians, systematic and in full knowledge of the authorities, have become frequent since the Modi government took office in New Delhi. On July 27, in Parapur village, where only two Christian families have been living for the past several years, Sukhram, 22, was beaten up by VHP activists and the police refused to register an FIR. Instead, his family was told either to compromise or to face the consequence. Intimidation and attacks have been happening in and around the Dhamtari area, which has a concentration of Christian families, too.
“No one is doing anything for us. We are totally helpless, at the mercy of Hindutva goons. The government does not listen to us, the police take no action, the political parties just don’t care. Where do we go? What do we do? We are not even allowed to pray in peace,” Pannalal said, conveying the despondency and frustration the community as a whole is experiencing in the State.
Attacks on Christians in Chhattisgarh are not a recent phenomenon. In January 2012, activists of the Hindu Dharam Sena created a ruckus in the Catholic Convent School in Korba, protesting against the principal not allowing Saraswati puja in the classroom. In February 2008, BJP Minister Renuka Singh led an attack on a Christian meeting at Fatakpur village in Sarguja district. Eleven pastors, accused of conversion, sustained injuries in the attack. They were arrested and later put in jail where they continue to remain. In June 2006, five practising Christian women from Bothili village in Durg district were disrobed at a public meeting by goons led by BJP MLA Pritam Sahu, who was accompanied by one Madanlal Sahu.
But the difference now is that with the BJP in power at the Centre, the attacks have become more brazen and the indifference of the authorities has become starker. Take for example the Sirsiguda gram panchayat resolution. The gram panchayat sabha is a local government meeting attended by local body representatives, but a copy of the resolution banning non-Hindus in the area was sent to the local VHP head. This raises serious concerns about the state officially encouraging non-state actors in matters as sensitive as religion. According to Chhattisgarh Christian Forum members, even the police are in cahoots with VHP functionaries. “In such a scenario, where do we go?” one of them asked.
“Physical violence was something that has been present over the years, but now structural violence also has begun, which is far more dangerous because it aims at systemically targeting Christian believers. This is more dangerous because Christianity has been in existence in the Bastar region for the last 100-125 years and to suddenly displace people, calling them outsiders, accusing them of conversion, is painful. It breeds hate, causes pain and frustration, and polarises society communally,” said Akhilesh Edgar, honorary regional secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, an organisation that has been taking up such issues with the State government over the years, without much success.
As for the role of the secular parties, “the less said, the better”, Edgar said. The CPI, however, has tried and intervened effectively sometimes, but the Congress could not care less, he said.
Recipe for tension
Purnima S. Tripathi
THE coming to power of the BJP at the Centre has led to the communal temperature going up in Madhya Pradesh, where Muslims form over 8 per cent of the population. Eighty per cent of the Muslim population is concentrated in the Indore division, which has witnessed the most number of communal clashes in the past three months. The region has turned into a communal tinderbox, where clashes erupt at the slightest provocation.
On July 30, Khandwa witnessed communal clashes following a post on a social networking site that allegedly hurt the feelings of a particular community. The clashes led to one person being stabbed to death. The police fired 10 rounds of teargas shells in the Mohghat police station area and opened fire in the air thrice in the Kotwali area to control rioting mobs. Two persons, including a police constable, were injured in the violence. Prohibitory orders and an indefinite curfew were needed to bring the situation under control.
Clashes have also been reported from the Burhanpur, Ujjain and Shahdol areas. Even though the situation was brought under control quickly, tension continues to simmer.
In other parts of the State, too, communal tension has been simmering. On July 6, clashes erupted in Raisen town, about 45 kilometres from Bhopal, over a petty fight for a bus seat between members of two communities, one of whom belonged to the Bajrang Dal. The bus was going from Bhopal to Raisen. The fight led to Bajrang Dal activists running riot in Raisen town when they were confronted by the members of minority community after the bus reached there. They threw stones at and burnt shops and other establishments belonging to Muslims. Although the police resorted to lathicharge and fired teargas shells, it took quite a while to bring the situation under control. A police vehicle was burnt in the melee.
“It appears there are certain people bent upon creating communal tension at the slightest provocation. And these people belong to both the communities. The situation is extremely volatile,” said Ibrahim Quereshi, a senior Congress leader and former Chairman of the State Minorities Commission.
That there seems to be a definite design in these clashes is corroborated by even minority community members. “Otherwise, how can you explain such rioting when it becomes known immediately that the post on the social site was fake and even one person was arrested? It was clear there were people who wanted to foment trouble. Though credit should be given to the State government that so far it has managed to control the situation,” said Dr Ishrat Ali, the shahr qazi of Indore.
According to him, more than communal tension, it appears to be feuding within the BJP that is playing itself out in the State, creating a situation of strife. “There are people in the BJP who want [Chief Minister] Shivraj Singh Chouhan removed and that perhaps is the reason for this trouble,” he said.
There could be some truth in this as there is no dearth of leaders who are fishing in the communally troubled waters. For example, the MLA from Indore, Usha Thakur, issued a diktat recently that minority community members should not be allowed to enter the garba pandals during Navratri. She has instructed the organisers to issue photo ID cards to all visitors. This certainly is a recipe for tension that could be exploited by those fomenting trouble.
JAMMU & KASHMIR
THE BJP, which won three of the six parliamentary seats in Jammu and Kashmir in April-May, is pitching for power in the country’s only Muslim-majority State, where Assembly elections are due by the year-end. The State has an 87-member House, with 46 seats in the Kashmir Valley, 37 in Jammu and four in Ladakh. The Valley is almost entirely Muslim. In Jammu, while Hindus are in a majority in two districts and a half, Muslims form the majority in the others, including Doda, Poonch and Rajouri. In Ladakh, Leh has a Buddhist majority and in Kargil Muslims are the majority.
To come to power in the State, a political party needs 44 seats. So the slogan for the BJP after it romped home to power in Delhi was “Mission 44-plus” in Jammu and Kashmir. However, inclusiveness does not seem to be on the BJP’s agenda. In the Lok Sabha elections it won the Jammu and Udhampur seats purely on the basis of communal polarisation and the Modi wave that swept the country. In Ladakh, it managed a freak victory on a margin of just 65 votes. Ladakh is highly polarised and many Muslim candidates in the fray divided the votes on the other side.
The party has now renewed its efforts to polarise voters on the basis of religion. In 2008, the BJP worked on the same plank in the aftermath of the Amarnath land row and took its tally to 11 from just one in 2002. Whether or not it succeeds this time, the thrust on communal polarisation will further alienate the State’s population from the national mainstream. The BJP is not only talking about a possible “sweep” in the Hindu-dominated areas of Jammu, giving sleepless nights to Congress leaders, but is also trying to open its account in the Kashmir Valley.
According to the grapevine, the party has its eye on a few seats that have sizable votes of Kashmiri Pandits who live outside Kashmir. These are areas that have often witnessed widespread election boycotts at the behest of the separatists. The calculation seems to be this: if that happens again, the vote of the Pandits will ensure a huge BJP victory.
The BJP is looking at Assembly constituencies such as Habba Kadal, which has the highest number Pandit votes, more than 17,000, and, interestingly, Sopore, the bastion of the hard-line separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. It may not be easy for the party to win these seats on the strength of Pandit votes. But the push will strengthen the agenda of polarisation. The Narendra Modi government has also repeatedly talked about the rehabilitation of these Pandits in Kashmir. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked the State government to identify land for Pandit “enclaves” (though strongly opposed in Kashmir). The rehabilitation plan has been renewed ahead of the elections.
When the BJP president Amit Shah recently visited Jammu, he called for a “nationalistic government” in the State, presumably meaning a “BJP” government. The party is also probably looking at the possibility of having the first Hindu Chief Minister in Jammu and Kashmir. Its leaders have not stated such an intention. Ironically, it was the Congress, in its efforts to beat the BJP at its own game, gave expression to the idea. One of its leaders, Sham Lal Sharma, said: “There is nothing in the Constitution which prevents a Hindu from becoming the Chief Minister. The next Chief Minister should be a Hindu. There is nobody to take care of the interests of Jammu.”
There is of course nothing in the Constitution that prevents any citizen from holding a post on the basis of religion. But in a State where Muslims make up 71 per cent of the population, and which has a long history of agitations against the Indian Union, this kind of rhetoric can be provocative and divisive.
Immigrants as scapegoats
Sushanta Talukdar in Guwahati
AT a meeting of party office-bearers in Kaziranga on May 31, the BJP’s Assam unit launched its Mission 84. The objective is to win at least 84 of the State’s 126 Assembly seats in the elections due in 2016. That meeting came within a fortnight of the BJP assuming power at the Centre. The party had won seven of Assam’s 14 Lok Sabha seats. Altogether, 120 party delegates from 36 district committees, including all party legislators and Members of Parliament, attended the meeting.
Union Minister of State (Independent) for Sports, Youth Affairs and Skill Development Sarbananda Sonowal, who chaired the meeting, told journalists that his party had selected Kaziranga as the venue “to send a strong message to illegal Bangladeshi migrants who have been encroaching on the national park for quite some time”.
Sonowal alleged that the Congress-led State government was dismissive of the problem of illegal immigration and of the killing of the one-horned rhinoceros. He claimed that the Congress government even “conspired to provide safeguards” to the immigrants.
It was decided at the meet that the party’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Marcha, would launch a campaign to drive out “illegal Bangladeshi migrants” from the Jorhat parliamentary constituency. “In the first phase of the campaign, we will appeal to illegal immigrants to leave our land voluntarily in the next 15 days. We are also going to launch a house-to-house campaign urging people not to engage these immigrants in any kind of work,” said Kamakhya Prasad Tasha, BJP MP from Jorhat, as he briefed journalists about the decision.
State Environment and Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said there was no encroachment in the notified areas of the Kaziranga National Park, which includes the park’s core area (429 sq. km), the first addition (43.79 sq. km) and the fourth addition (0.89 sq. km). He also said the State government was ready to pay a compensation of Rs.10 lakh each to families that would require to be resettled elsewhere for acquisition of land in other proposed additions. However, many families who possess land certificates (land patta) are reluctant to relocate, which is preventing the park authorities from getting possession of three of the six proposed additions. The total area of Kaziranga, including all the proposed additions, is 893.42 sq. km. The 90 poachers arrested from 2013 up to the first week of August this year belong to different communities. Eight of the 18 poachers killed in encounter could be identified, and they, too, belonged to different communities. They were Gaonburah Killing (25), Raju Basumatary (35), Thaneswar Hazarika (55), Dilip Rangphar (32), Sanjib Terang (28), Horen Doley (20), Muhammad Ali (32) and Sattar Ali (27).
Apart from the BJP and its frontal organisations, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and various student and youth bodies such as the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) also accuse the State government of protecting “suspected illegal Bangladeshi encroachers in Kaziranga” and blame the immigrants for the spurt in rhino poaching.
The BJP favours giving protection to Bangladeshi Hindus; its anger is only against “illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators”, meaning Muslims. However, the AGP, the AASU and the AJYCP want all post-1971 Bangladeshi migrants expelled, whether Hindus or Muslims. They have also opposed the State Cabinet’s recent decision to move the Centre for “a policy of granting asylum to those persons who were subjects of British India at the time of Partition and who have had to face religious persecution and discrimination later, compelling them to come to India for shelter”.
The tag “suspected illegal Bangladeshis” has been in circulation from the days of the anti-foreigners agitation spearheaded by the AASU from 1979 to 1985. It culminated in the 1985 Assam Accord, which provided for the detection and deletion of immigrants’ names from the voters’ lists and the expulsion of all immigrants who entered Assam illegally after March 25, 1971. The State government informed the Assembly on August 6 that between 1986 and May 31 this year, altogether 59,512 Bangladeshis had been indentified by tribunals and courts. Of them 2,446 had been expelled; 13,900 registered their names with the Foreigner Regional Registration Office; 636 filed writ appeals; 70 were in detention camps; and 42,460 Bangladeshis were absconding. The government also said that so far 64,387 Bangladeshis, including 27,372 Hindus, 36,992 Muslims, and 23 of other religions, had entered Assam with legal passports; 64,160 of this number had returned to Bangladesh and 277 were still in Assam.
Parties and organisations targeting “suspected illegal Bangladeshis” often do not make a distinction between the Muslim families of East Bengal origin, who speak Assamese and a Bengali dialect, study in Assamese medium, list their mother tongue as Assamese in successive census counts, and the Bangladeshis identified by tribunals and other post-1971 migrants with similar physical and linguistic features.
These parties and organisations play upon the fear among indigenous Assamese populations, both tribal and non-tribal, of being reduced to a minority. But they do not highlight the ground realities such as erosion of land that forced many families of erstwhile East Bengal origin to migrate to urban growth centres to work as cheap labourers in the absence of government measures for rehabilitation. This adds to the confusion among the general public about the actual identity of such migrant families they come across. People thus tend to suspect the citizenship of even Indian Muslim families of East Bengal origin.
There is a political consensus in the State that updating the National Register of Citizens, 1951, by including the names of all persons whose names figure in the 1971 electoral rolls, and their descendants, is the only solution to the vexed foreigners issue. The updated NRC, it is believed, will be an effective means to protect genuine Indian citizens from harassment in the name of detection and expulsion of foreigners. However, the delay in updating the NRC, coupled with the failure of successive governments to implement the Assam Accord, and the failure to completely seal the India-Bangladesh border have allowed the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to leverage the situation for political consolidation in Assam.
Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay
ALTHOUGH the Muslim vote, which constitutes around 28 per cent of the total electorate in West Bengal, has always been a crucial factor in the State’s politics, it is only of late that polarisation of votes on religious lines is taking place. Until 2011, when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, in alliance with the Congress, seized power in West Bengal, ending the 34-year rule of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front, communal factors played little role in the politics of the State.
In fact, one of the key factors behind Mamata’s massive victory over the Left Front was that she managed to wrest from the former ruling alliance its share of the minority vote, which was traditionally part of the Left Front’s support base. But it was her anti-land acquisition campaign against the Left Front’s sudden industrial drive that shifted the bulk of the rural Muslim votes in Mamata’s favour, and it had nothing to do with religious sentiments. The vast majority of Muslims in rural Bengal felt that their land and livelihood were under threat, particularly after the violence in Nandigram in Purba Medinipur district and Singur in Hooghly district against the forcible acquisition of land for industrial purposes.
The new trend of communal politics began to surface not long after the Trinamool Congress assumed power, resulting in the BJP gaining considerable political ground. “The advent of Mamata Banerjee and her brand of politics—playing the religious card—has given rise to a kind of competitive communal politics with the BJP and the RSS on the one hand and the Trinamool Congress on the other. Mamata took her cue from the Sangh Parivar. Just as they project Hindu religious leaders in their politics, Mamata began to do the same with Muslim religious leaders,” CPI(M) Lok Sabha member Mohammad Salim told Frontline .
Even the BJP attributes its sudden political rise in the State to Mamata’s politics. “Mamata Banerjee has been appeasing Muslims in a shameful manner, which has exasperated the people of the State. Her secular image has been erased. In fact, the so-called secular people are the ones who practice the worst kind of communal politics. Moreover, her scam-tainted government’s maladministration is alienating people, who are increasingly turning to the BJP as the only alternative,” senior BJP leader from West Bengal Tathagata Roy told Frontline .
Not only have important Muslim clerics been seen to share public podiums with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, they have also been seen to interfere in political matters and pressure the State government on various issues. In return, she got their public support and endorsement during elections. Just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, an influential cleric, Noor-ur-Rahaman Barkati, the shahi imam of the Tipu Sultan Mosque in Kolkata, warned Mamata not to have any political association with Anna Hazare, who allegedly had links with the RSS. In January this year, the State government bowed to the demand of radical Islamist forces and did not allow Salman Rushdie to set foot in Kolkata, and in December 2013, a television serial scripted by the exiled Bangladeshi writer, Taslima Nasrin, was “postponed indefinitely” at the instance of a handful of fundamentalist groups.
But what drew widespread criticism against the Trinamool government was the April 2012 announcement that the government would extend a monthly honorarium of Rs.2,500 to the imams in the State and a stipend of Rs.1,000 to the muezzins who performed the task of calling the faithful to prayer. In September the following year, the Calcutta High Court struck down the State government’s decision. “The State cannot patronise or favour any particular religion. Secularism is part of the basic structure of our Constitution. The State therefore cannot identify itself with or favour any particular religion,” the court said.
Though of late Mamata has been trying to maintain a balance in her approach by attempting to give equal importance to all fundamentalist forces of all religions, the damage was already done. In the recent Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won two seats, secured an all-time high of 17.6 per cent of the votes, and took a lead in 23 Assembly segments, including some with sizable Muslim populations such as Basirhat in North 24 Parganas. The RSS, which hardly had any presence in the State, has today more than 1,100 shakha s and a presence in over 4,300 villages.
It is not surprising that the BJP’s rise is also seeing a concomitant rise of radical Islamist parties, and West Bengal, which for many years has been among the top five States with the least number of communal incidents, has been witnessing communal clashes of late, particularly in North and South 24 Parganas and in some of the areas bordering Bangladesh. In fact, radical forces that have always been on the fringes of mainstream politics are now expressing aspirations of having for themselves a greater slice of the political pie.
The influential Muslim leader Siddiqullah Chowdhury, who heads the West Bengal wing of Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front, told Frontline : “As the BJP gets stronger in the State, a new powerful alternative political force will arise to counter it. My party will be a part of this new force, along with several other political outfits. Let me tell you, already its assembling is taking place and people are looking towards us as an alternative.” Attributing the rise of communal tension in the State to the BJP’s machinations, Chowdhury said, “If riots take place here in Bengal, I fear it will assume a terrible form, and nobody can tell where it will lead to.”
Although it would be incorrect to say that Bengal society has been free from any communal overtones, 34 years of CPI(M) rule, and prior to that a Congress tenure, had ensured a secular approach to politics. However, even as fundamentalist forces grow strong in the State, many feel that it is a temporary phase in Bengal’s politics and the polarisation of votes that worked to the BJP’s advantage in Uttar Pradesh may not yield similar results in West Bengal.
The senior Congress leader and academic Om Prakash Mishra has pointed to several factors that will act as a deterrent to communal tensions escalating in the State. The Muslim population in West Bengal, which is much higher in percentage than in Uttar Pradesh, is, except in a few districts, evenly distributed all over the State. More importantly, the State has a long tradition of Hindus and Muslims living harmoniously in the rural regions, with little to tell them apart except for their names. Muslim representation in grass-roots-level politics is quite strong and is not restricted by religious factors—a Muslim panchayat leader will undoubtedly have many Hindu supporters. “It is this almost even distribution of religious groups with its own checks and balances that will prevent fundamentalist forces from causing tension, and ultimately, it is this that will be the undoing of the BJP,” Mishra told Frontline .
AS the Sangh Parivar works to strengthen its base in Odisha with an eye on the 2019 elections, a sense of apprehension continues to oppress the minority community across the State.
Six years after Kandhamal district witnessed the worst ever anti-Christian violence, more than 5,000 Christian people who had left Kandhamal in August 2008 are yet to return to their homes. The violence had followed the murder of the VHP leader Swami Lakshmanananda, allegedly by Maoists. Church activities have slowed down drastically after two rounds of anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008. The Sangh Parivar is now working in an organised way to counter the churches in the tribal-dominated regions.
Many of the BJP’s national leaders have visited the State in the past few months. The Parivar seems to be adopting the tactics that had benefited the BJP in rural Bihar and Chhattisgarh. BJP leaders have identified 35 Assembly seats that are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes and another 15 Assembly seats that have more than 25 per cent tribal voters.
Now with a BJP government at the Centre, an elated Parivar has decided to increase the number of Ekal Vidyalayas, one-teacher schools, by ten times in the tribal areas. Ekal Vidyalayas, funded by the Friends of Tribals Society, are being strengthened with the appointment of one supervisor for 10 such schools, to impart non-formal education to tribal children not attending regular schools. Those managing the affairs of the Parivar are happy that in Kandhamal and Boudh districts, the majority of Sanskrit teachers working in the schools belong to the tribal Kondh community and were educated in the two Ashram schools that were run by the late Lakshmanananda.
Besides, the Parivar is also planning to unite and strengthen the Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools across the State. With the Shishu Mandirs emerging as an alternative to the poorly managed government schools, many dissident Shishu Mandir schools have come up in all parts of the State in recent years. The Odisha BJP organising secretary, who is on deputation from the RSS, is likely to take charge of the Shishu Mandir schools before the next elections.
In fact, as many as 40 Sangh Parivar outfits are covertly trying their best to polarise Odisha on communal lines. Using Odisha as a Hindutva laboratory, the Parivar had succeeded in polarising the State after the Kandhamal riots in 2008, but the BJP did not separate itself from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) immediately after that. As a result, the party failed to get votes when the BJD broke the alliance a few days before the 2009 elections.
The anger that Chief Minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik had generated in the minds of BJP leaders in 2009 has not died down. Hence, Parivar workers in the rural areas are all charged up following Narendra Modi’s assumption of office as Prime Minister. In a State where Muslims and Christians hardly have a presence, they try to make the BJP’s hands stronger by wooing Dalits and taking up issues relating to the Jagannath temple in Puri.
When there was a rift between the administration and the Shankaracharya of Puri with regard to the rituals surrounding the Rath Yatra in the recent past, the Parivar organisations as well as BJP leaders sided with the Shankaracharya. An organisation has now started working in Puri in the name of cleanliness and for the closure of liquor and meat shops in the temple town.
No other party has so many outfits working with different social groups in Odisha. The Sangh Parivar and the BJP, meanwhile, carry on with their determined efforts to make their organisation broad-based by inducting people from Other Backward Classes and Dalit and tribal groups.
Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed
FOR a few decades now, coastal Karnataka, consisting of the three districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada, has acquired a reputation for being a “laboratory of Hindutva”. This happened gradually because of the prevalence of certain socio-economic conditions and a simultaneous decline of secular and Left forces in the area, providing a favourable ground for the growth of Hindutva consciousness.
While “love jehad” has assumed a controversial status and entered the communal discourse of northern India over the past year, it has often been a convenient issue to rake up trouble along the coast of Karnataka at least since 2009. Vigilante groups of right-wing Hindus and, to a lesser extent, Muslims have often waged pitched street battles over inter-communal fraternising among Hindu and Muslim youth over the past decade. The problem has become so severe that there is an unwritten rule that young men and women from different communities are just not supposed to meet.
Fervent support for the candidature of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, which stemmed from his strong identity as a Hindutva mascot, was built up in the region almost a year before the 2014 general elections. A “NaMo Brigade”, consisting of Modi’s supporters from among the youth, was formed in Bangalore on July 14 last year and it gained tremendous popularity in Mangalore and other parts of the coastal region. Its intention was to mobilise support for Modi. Cars bearing stickers of Modi’s grim visage along with the message “I want my nation to be Modified as a secure, prosperous and dignified nation. Do you?” were commonly seen across Mangalore over the past year.
In the 2014 general elections, it did not come as too much of a surprise to observers that all the three communally polarised constituencies of coastal Karnataka elected BJP candidates: Ananthkumar Hegde, Shobha Karandlaje and Nalin Kumar Kateel from Uttara Kannada, Udupi-Chickmagalur and Dakshina Kannada respectively.
Trouble began in this restive area even as the election results were being declared on May 16 assuring the victory of Modi. A group of inebriated celebrators pelted two mosques in Dakshina Kannada district with stones apart from bursting crackers in their vicinities. While swift action was taken by the police, this act clearly proved that Modi’s supporters felt emboldened by his victory to target mosques.
The Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum) is an organisation that routinely counters the rhetoric of the Hindutva elements while also engaging and encouraging a secular discourse in the State. Earlier this year, its Dakshina Kannada district president, Suresh Bhat Bakrabail, was attacked after an event of the Vedike. Certain Hindu right-wing miscreants, who disrupted the meeting, went on to smear the face of Bakrabail with cow dung.
The transport of cattle in the area draws the ire of the Hindutva brigade and is often the trigger for more severe communal confrontations between Hindus and Muslims. Cattle transporters are routinely targeted and attacked even as they go about their business legitimately.
In a shocking case last month, a Hindutva vigilante group brutally assaulted three Muslims who were transporting cattle near Pumpwell in Mangalore. The three young men—Abdul Sameer, Sadiq and Shoukath Ali—had to be hospitalised. According to reports, they were dragged out of their vehicles and kicked and punched by a group of men who were shouting “Jai Sri Ram”. They also used stones and batons to pummel the trio.
With a Congress government led by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in place in Karnataka, the saffron outfits cannot go about easily implementing their agenda as happened during the time when the BJP government was in power in the State, but it is clear that Modi’s elevation as Prime Minister has come as a shot in the arm for the Hindutva forces in the State.
NOTWITHSTANDING its strong base in the temporal principles that the social reformer ‘Periyar’ E.V. Ramasamy propagated, Tamil Nadu has been witness to communal disturbances, the most serious one being the Mandaikkadu riots in March 1982 and the Coimbatore serial bomb blasts in February 1998.
Until the late 1990s, the State effectively prevented attempts by communal forces to take centre stage in its political, economic and cultural life. But the transformation in its secular profile began when the BJP gained a foothold in the State in electoral terms owing largely to the competitive politics practised by the two Dravidian majors, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), who claim to be the inheritors of Periyar’s legacy of self-respect and secularism. Their personalised politics, shorn of ideology, and their scrambling for a share in power at the Centre opened up the political space for Hindutva forces in the State. The AIADMK stole a march over the DMK by forging an alliance with the BJP in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. The very next year, the BJP found in the DMK a trusted ally.
But the BJP’s bonhomie with the Dravidian parties did not last long. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the Dravidian parties dumped it. After a decade of isolation, the party managed to get a “second life” when it sewed up a ragtag alliance, which included a few smaller parties such as the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam and the Pattali Makkal Katchi, for the 2014 elections. The BJP won a lone Lok Sabha seat, Kanyakumari, in the State.
This, along with its comprehensive victory nationally, encouraged the BJP and other Sangh Parivar groups such as the Hindu Munnani, formed after the Meenakshipuram conversions in the 1980s (where Dalits converted to Islam after caste riots) in Tamil Nadu, to pursue their plans of strengthening their majoritarian agenda. But their political advance in Tamil Nadu has fomented a sense of insecurity among the minorities. Of late, mischievous campaigns, misrepresentation of facts and provocative acts aimed at alienating the minorities, especially Muslims, have been reported in the State.
On the ideological front, too, their subtle pan-Indian moves of saffronisation and Sanskritisation have started showing up. Union Minister of State for Heavy Industries Pon. Radhakrishnan said at a function in Thiruvananthapuram that had Hindus remained united, Kerala would not have lost Kanyakumari (to Tamil Nadu), and Tamil Nadu, the temple town of Tirupati (to Andhra Pradesh). His speech drew instant protests, prompting him to maintain that he was misquoted. Union Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, addressing students in Vellore in Tamil Nadu recently, said: “Hindustan is our national identity and education should be Indianised.”
The Sangh Parivar plays the dubious role of “custodians of culture” even in tier-II towns in the State by taunting and tormenting young couples on Valentine’s Day. A Dalit activist in Madurai claimed that Hindutva ideologues had started infiltrating subaltern groups to wean them away from Christian missionaries and social groups in order to forge a “common Hindu identity”.
Hindutva’s perception that Muslims pose a demographic threat to the religious majority manifests itself in acts of hostility. “Though not blatantly open at present, disquieting manoeuvres to sow the seeds of disharmony and hatred among communities, particularly between Hindus and Muslims, have begun,” said M.H. Jawahirullah, a senior functionary of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), a socio advocacy outfit of Muslims.
He cited various incidents that caused interfaith friction. “They appear to be innocuous and insignificant. But they are too frequent to be dismissed outright. Provocative speeches, Vinayaka Chathurthi processions through Muslim areas, makeshift temples on disputed land, and so on, are reported from many parts of the State. These incidents need to be monitored closely since they have the potential to cause full-scale communal disturbances,” he said.
His fears are not unfounded. Two recent incidents that were dangerously close to becoming explosive were reported from Muthupettai in Tiruvarur district and Kayalpattinam in Tuticorin district. In Muthupettai, Hindu and Muslim groups clashed over the Vinayaka Chathurthi procession route, and in the heavy stone-throwing that ensued a few persons sustained injuries. In the ancient port town of Kayalpattinam, where Muslims are predominant, tension prevailed between Hindus and Muslims after the thatched roof of a makeshift temple that had come up on encroached land was found burnt. A senior police official told Frontline that it was an “inside job”, indicating the hand of Hindu fundamentalists in the incident. Civil rights activists and Muslims in Muthupettai have requested the administration to decide on an alternative route for the Vinayaka Chathurthi procession.
In Tirupur, a Hindu group protested against a mosque functioning in a private hall. In the same town, the thatched roof of a Christian prayer hall was found damaged. In Chennai’s Besant Nagar locality, a scuffle broke out when Hindus protested against a Muslim vendor preparing biryani on common land. Peace talks had to be held to defuse the tension.
Jawahirullah, who represents Ramanathapuram in the Legislative Assembly, said Hindutva forces in the district attempted to sow the seeds of hatred between different religious groups by spreading misinformation and resorting to misrepresentation. Ramanathapuram district has a Muslim population of 14.65 per cent, which is the highest in the State. Jawahirullah said that by planting a story in an up-country English newspaper, a Parivar outfit had tried to divide the people of various faiths who had been cohabiting harmoniously in the district for long.
“We were shocked to see a false report in the newspaper that Muslims in the district had issued a fatwa against the entry of ‘outsiders’ into the villages where they are living in large numbers,” he said. On inquiry, it was found that no such fatwa had been issued, he said. “In fact, a few instructions found in some villages are in the public interest, asking people to desist from damaging public property and defacing walls,” he said.
Incidentally, Tamil Nadu is one of the few States with a sizable Muslim population—34 lakh, constituting 5.56 per cent of the population as per the 2001 Census. The decadal population of the Muslim community grew by a mere 13.7 per cent in Tamil Nadu and by 15.8 per cent in Kerala (from 1991 to 2001) against the average national growth of 21.5 per cent. The literacy rate among Muslims in the two States is higher compared with other States, and members of the community are also financially better off. The Christian community, with a population of 38 lakh, constitutes 6.02 per cent of the State’s population.
Addressing Collectors and top police officials recently, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa claimed that “Tamil Nadu has largely been free of communal and left-wing extremist and religious fundamentalist violence”. But many observers say that the situation is changing fast.