THIRTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD SUDHEESH MINNI lives in the rather obscure village of Ayikkara near Koothuparamba town in Kannur district of Kerala, thousands of kilometres from Gurugram and Faridabad in the National Capital Region. He does not have any inclination for the affairs of Archbishops Anil Couto and Filipe Neri Ferrao of Delhi and Goa respectively. But there is a sense of horrific deja vu that Sudheesh experiences when he comes across news of Ramzan prayers held in open spaces in Gurugram and Faridabad being disrupted by Hindutva outfits guided and inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar.
The concerns expressed by the Archbishops about India’s future as a secular republic on May 25, the very day the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government completed four years in office, have a special relevance for Sudheesh. As an active pracharak of the RSS until about four years ago, he has a more involved and intricate understanding of the diverse mechanisms that go into the assaults of varied Hindutva outfits on minority communities and the mounting sense of fear and insecurity they are building up among them. Sudheesh’s perception is that these rampant attacks have intensified across different parts of the country, especially north India, in the past six months as part of an unequivocal aggravation of the Hindutva game plan. “What India is witnessing at the moment is an intensified advancement of a systematic programme to subjugate and marginalise the Muslim and Christian communities,” he said.
Talking to Frontline in Kannur, Sudheesh pointed out that many political analysts and close observers of the Sangh Parivar might be aware of the anti-minority game plan of the RSS and its affiliate organisations, including the way it has been progressed tactically and strategically in the past many decades, but the perspective one obtains as a designated long-term “Hindu Senani” (Hindu warrior) who is trained to launch periodic assaults on the followers of Semitic religions such as Islam and Christianity is much more than theoretical. “The Sangh Parivar is replete with varied organisational hierarchies, but there are certain things that are central and common to the drill in every stage of the hierarchy. One of these things is the steady inculcation of hatred towards all Semitic religions, especially Islam and Christianity, as also the non-religious philosophy of communism. This drill starts from the initiation into the RSS, with the concluding prayers of that ceremony. The prayer talks about designating one as a ‘Hindu Senani’, and protecting the Hindu dharma from its enemies as the primary task of every such ‘Senani’,” he said.
According to Sudheesh, this goes on day after day, meeting after meeting, ceremony after ceremony, and at the end of it one starts seeing every individual in minority communities as someone who is to be repressed under Hindutva hegemony. “If they do not fall in line, the RSS drill drives it home to the pracharak that the minority individual or group has to be eradicated mercilessly. The Sangh Parivar builds up in its cadre nothing short of an urge to carry out ethnic cleansing. What I have observed is that normally this brainwashed mindset never leaves the so-called ‘Senani’ whatever exposure to the outside world he gets,” Sudheesh said.
Sudheesh said he could get out of the brainwashed mindset because he managed to regain the ability to think and analyse objectively. “Once I regained that mental faculty, many Sangh Parivar shibboleths, including its projection of the so-called Hindu superiority, lay thoroughly exposed before me,” he said. One of the highlights of the myth-busting experience was when he realised that the Maratha warrior legend Shivaji was actually helped by Muslim soldiers. “This was consciously covered up in all the glorious RSS narrations about Shivaji,” he said.
After the final break with the RSS approximately four years ago, Sudheesh has joined hands with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the Left’s campaign against communalism. He has also penned down his experiences as a “Hindu Senani”. The book in Malayalam, titled Naraka saakethathile ullarakal: Oru RSS pracharakante kuttasammatham (Cellars of the Inferno: Confessions of an RSS Pracharak), recounts Sudheesh’s induction into the Sangh Parivar fold at the very early age of five and his trajectory in the organisational hierarchy of the RSS over 25 years, starting from his village and then at the district, State and national levels. The book depicts his travels across the country on behalf of the RSS in an intense phase of activity during the last 10 years of his association with the organisation. “What I did during that period was practically the kind of horrific things that are unfolding in different parts of India. When I come to know about these incidents, my sense of repentance for the activities I carried out as a ‘Hindu Senani’ also rises.”
Sudheesh is of the view that the current stage of assaults on minorities is very important in the Sangh Parivar scheme of things. “The Sangh Parivar outfits and their members are trained to advance the ethnic-cleansing project tactically and opportunistically. Thus, when the larger sociopolitical situation is opportune, the drive to eradicate minorities becomes more aggressive and widespread. When the situation is not favourable, it is covert and less physical, but still the machinery of hate propaganda is active. What we are witnessing now, around the fourth anniversary of the Narendra Modi regime, is one of the most aggressive phases against the background of the realisation that the current dispensation has only one more year to go,” he said.
A closer look at the series of assaults since November-December 2017 underscores the relevance of the “insider analysis” that Sudheesh placed before Frontline . Indeed, assaults by Sangh Parivar outfits on minorities, through manifold operations, grew in scale right after the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government assumed power in May 2014. These consisted of the ghar wapsi and love jehad campaigns across large parts of India, including in big States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Assam.
Another widespread form of assault has been in the name of cow protection. According to informal estimates by human rights groups, as many as 32 people were killed by cow vigilante groups between May 2014 and May 2018; of them 28 were Muslims. Around 100 people were injured in violent incidents relating to cow protection in four years. The brutal killings of Mohammad Akhlaq, 52, in September 2015; Mazlum Ansari, 32, and Imteyaz Khan, 15, in March 2016; and Pehlu Khan, 55, in April 2017 evoked outrage across the country and abroad. Akhlaq of Dadri in western Uttar Pradesh was lynched by a mob instigated by Hindutva outfits and cow vigilante groups. They accused him of stealing and slaughtering a cow and keeping its meat at home. Cattle-protection vigilantes killed Mazlum Ansari and Imteyaz Khan in the Balumath forests in Latehar district in Jharkhand and hung their bodies from a tree. A mob of around 200 cow vigilantes lynched dairy farmer Pehlu Khan in Alwar. Hailing from Nuh district in Haryana, he was transporting cattle with all the necessary documentation when the mob attacked him.
Apart from the cow vigilante attacks, there have been cases of barbarous assaults based on social discrimination, such as the one that resulted in the killing of 15-year-old Junaid Khan in June 2017. A group of people stabbed the boy to death on board a Delhi-Mathura train after taunting him with religious slurs on account of the cap that he was wearing. Khan was headed home to Ballabhgarh after Eid shopping in Delhi.
In February 2016, even an Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police was subjected to social discrimination and assault at Latur in Maharashtra. A Hindutva mob attacked Yunus Sheikh, 50, who has a decades-long service record in the Maharashtra Police, made him hold a saffron flag, and forced him to parade through the streets. His crime was that he, along with a fellow policeman, K. Awaskar, had prevented activists of a Hindu right-wing group from hoisting a saffron flag near an area designated by the authorities as communally and socially sensitive. These brutal physical attacks were supplemented in the 2014-18 period with various administrative and legislative measures such as the imposition of a ban on cow slaughter, the blatant Hindutvaisation of academic institutions and syllabi, and the parading of Hindu mythology as history (see story on page 21).
Complicity of the administration
But the rampancy and spread of all this, especially physical assaults and violent social discrimination, increased towards the final months of last year. The complicity of the administration in BJP-ruled States in terms of facilitating the Hindutva marauders has also risen since December 2017. One of the most striking signs of this came from Satna in Madhya Pradesh when 32 Christian priests and seminarians were detained after activists of the Bajrang Dal, the so-called militant arm of the Sangh Parivar, attacked them for singing carols on Christmas eve. Instead of taking action against the Bajrang Dal goons, the police detained the priests and treated them like criminals, forcing them to sit on the floor of the police station through the winter night. The police looked on as the mob continued to attack the priests in the police station and burnt their car outside.
The tone for this type of rampant social and religious discrimination at the level of everyday administration was set, barely four months before the Satna incident, by none other than Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP. Openly justifying the use of police station premises to celebrate the Hindu festival of Janmashtami, Yogi Adityanath said he could not stop this because Muslims were using streets to offer namaz . The logical fallacy was evident from the fact that offering namaz on streets was a case of ordinary citizens exercising their freedom of religion, while opening up police stations for Janmashtami celebrations was a clear misuse of the official machinery. By justifying this unambiguous act of communalisation, the Chief Minister of the most populous State in the country was giving a clear message to both minorities and Hindutva warrior groups. The import of that message became increasingly clear in the following months with the violent assaults on namazi s in Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and the vitriolic social discrimination against Christians in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Goa (see separate stories on pages 19 and 16 respectively).
A reflection of this horrific social climate, points out Dr D.K. Giri, spokesperson of the Sharad Yadav-led Loktantrik Janata Dal, shows up in various study reports too. Referring to a 2017 study (published in January 2018) by the Mumbai-based Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS), Giri pointed out that it highlighted how the pattern, aim and modus operandi of communal aggression had changed in the past four years.
“The report has studied various sources, including government data, media output, and reports from the field. Taken comprehensively, the pattern has changed as follows: Earlier a number of people from a community or neighbourhood were targeted for collective punishment for an alleged wrong or any trigger of conflict, but since the BJP government came to power in 2014, individuals from the Muslim community have been targeted by vigilante groups, largely on the pretext of cow protection or love jehad. This is in the form of mob lynching or hate crimes. Hindu supremacists act as vigilantes without fear and the state is complicit as can be seen from the cases. The most trivial dispute between members of different communities is given communal hues. The study of violence in 2017 also shows violence is directed against individuals from the Muslim community. In that sense, it is controlled violence and not large-scale. This is achieved through lynch mob violence and justified through communalised discourses. What is particularly disturbing is that violence becomes brutal and gory and turns into a public spectacle. These gory spectacles add to the sense of fear and persecution among minorities,” Giri said.
The CSSS report contains a comparative analysis of violence in different years of the Modi regime. The report says that “in 2017, 15 individuals were killed and 49 injured in mob lynching incidents”. According to data released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in Parliament, until September, the year 2017 witnessed a total of 296 incidents of communal violence, with 44 deaths. The MHA data for 2014 and 2015 recorded 703 and 751 communal incidents with 86 and 97 deaths respectively. The highest number of communal incidents, 60, occurred in Uttar Pradesh. Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal also figure high on the list.
The CSSS report further states that only a fraction of the communal incidents were reported in the media, and the MHA data were not direct as they were a compilation of data given by State governments, which in turn collected them from police stations. The report also points out as to how the MHA has stopped putting the data on communal incidents in the public domain since 2016, and how this has added to difficulties in ascertaining the number of communal incidents recorded by the police throughout the country.
Apart from the CSSS report, The World Watch List 2017 has stated in no uncertain terms that India is becoming increasingly unsafe for its Christian minorities. It has ranked India as the 15th most dangerous place for minorities practising their faith. There has been a drop of 31 places in this regard in the past four years. Even more disturbing is the fact that there are several studies which show that administrative and police action are taken only in one-fourth of the reported cases involving social discrimination and assaults against minorities.
Parallelly, the social and ideological climate to justify these assaults are created by Sangh Parivar associates through an elaborate blame game wherein Christian groups are accused of evangelist conversion and the Muslim community of jehadi terrorism. Official documents, however, do not support these claims but actually expose them as canards. Only a microscopic minority of the Muslim community in India supports jehadi terrorism and even a large number of persons detained on terrorism-related charges are finally found to be innocent. Equally importantly, India’s Christian population has not risen beyond 2.5 per cent in the past several decades despite all the propaganda on conversion. The plain and simple fact is that these canards are used to manufacture popular resentment and hatred against minorities in order to justify the systematic assaults that are now being intensified.
An interesting development in this regard is the classification of the Sangh Parivar outfits Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as “militant religious organisations” in the World Factbook report published by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in June 2018. Evidently, Prime Minister Modi’s jaunts across the globe with the ostensible purpose of enhancing India’s goodwill have not been of much use when it comes to the evaluation of Sangh Parivar organisations by his international friends.
Sudheesh also pointed out that the “propaganda game of the Sangh Parivar facilitates the aggravation of anti-minority feeling, leading to the inculcation and stabilisation of an urge to advance ethnic cleansing”. He said: “A document prepared by a Sangh Parivar associate organisation and spread globally warns Bharatiya Hindus against participating in minority celebrations, especially Christmas. It states that many Hindus unwittingly participate in or celebrate Christmas without knowing that Christianity actively talks ill about Hindus and that the Bible derides idol worship. The document goes on to say how Christianity destroyed many civilisations and that the conversion of Hindus takes place using money flowing in from foreign countries. The document concludes with this vitriolic statement: ‘They believe that Jesus gave them the right to deceive, convert, subjugate, conquer, and proselytise any nation or religion, by any and all possible means. They are entitled to such methods as allurement, fraud, coercion and violence in converting, but they criticise Hindus even if they talk about their atrocities of conversion.’ When I saw the concerned letters and statements of the bishops, I was reminded of this document.”
Sudheesh stressed the point about the high manoeuvrability of Sangh Parivar operations on various fronts, including in imposing Hindutva hegemony on minorities. “As I said, it is also designed according to the larger social and political climate; the various levels are well planned and executed. In contrast, however, most of the secular opposition parties and their leaderships have failed to deduce this larger game plan, its methodical advancement and the big dangers it poses to the country,” he said.
Sudheesh had this interaction with Frontline barely a week after former President Pranab Mukherjee went over to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur as chief guest of one of the organisation’s major “hierarchy designation ceremonies”, the Tritiya Varsha Sangh Shiksha Varg, where the most senior and active members are initiated to a new level of organisational activity. The former RSS activist from Ayikkara had also partaken in a similar ceremony many years ago. His observation is that the Sangh Parivar makes these seemingly secular or liberal presentations with well-known leaders or personalities and sometimes through organisations, too, just to cover up the rabid advancement of its diabolical projects. “Even when the smaller and basically secular allies of the BJP get a sense of some parts of the rabid Hindutva game plan, their expressions of protest or reservations are not taken seriously by the Sangh Parivar leadership,” he said.
Sudheesh cited the give and take in a recent meeting between BJP president Amit Shah and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Parkash Singh Badal in this context. The meeting took place against the background of the recent serial defeats of the BJP in the Lok Sabha byelections and the Karnataka Assembly election. These electoral reverses had led to murmurings against the BJP leadership from allies ranging from the Shiv Sena to the Janata Dal (United). Shah reached out to leaders of alliance partners individually as an overture to quell these expressions of disquiet. He held a closed-door meeting with Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal, his son and SAD president, for nearly an hour. Leaders of the SAD themselves said after the meeting that they had asked Shah to dispel the growing insecurity among minorities. They went on to explain that this was the party’s way of acknowledging the disturbing state of affairs in relation to minorities in the country.
But even as Badal was making this demand, Pranab Mukherjee was addressing the RSS meet in Nagpur. “This parallel development absolutely divested the SAD statement of any punch it aspired to have. Here, a senior leader of an ally talks about dispelling minority fears even as a bigger leader, a former President of the country, attends an important public event of the very perpetrators of the climate of fear among minorities, according them respectability. In any case, the Sangh Parivar leadership knows that the periodic protestations of the smaller allies will dissipate before the crumbs of power. That is the premise on which I have seen the Sangh Parivar leadership work when I was part of the RSS machinery,” Sudheesh said.
He said his sense of despondency over the plight of minorities aggravated when he saw pathetic political and personal charades played out by some big leaders. In the final analysis, he said, these bigwigs were driven only by vested interests and not the national interest on which they swore repeatedly. Sudheesh was also of the view that these “time-server bigwig politicians” were as harmful for minority existence and their safety and security as the carefully manipulated and advanced Hindutva sectarian agenda.
While broadly agreeing with the former RSS pracharak’s views on “time-server bigwig politicians”, two Christian priests of south Indian origin associated with churches in western Uttar Pradesh and central Bihar told Frontline that there were exceptions to the rule among big-time politicians of India. They specifically referred to Lalu Prasad and Akhilesh Yadav as political leaders who had never compromised with Hindutva sectarianism. The parties they lead—the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) respectively—reflect the characteristics of their leaders. The priests also pointed out that the Left parties had been steadfast in their opposition to the machinations of the RSS and its associates.
Professor Sudhir Panwar, S.P. leader hailing from Shamli district in western Uttar Pradesh, is of the view that the recent byelections in Kairana of western Uttar Pradesh have underscored a greater awareness among the secular opposition about the overbearing presence of the Hindutva communal agenda (see story on page 23). The byelections witnessed the rallying of secular forces under the leadership of the Akhilesh Yadav-led S.P. and the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, with parties such as the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Congress joining in. The seat was contested by the RLD’s Tabassum Hassan—as the nominee of the combined opposition—who defeated the BJP’s Mriganka Singh with a comfortable margin.
It was clearly a defeat of the Hindutva sectarian game plan of the RSS, too, since the area had witnessed widespread communal riots in 2013-14, engineered by Sangh Parivar outfits. At that time, the Sangh Parivar had enforced a big Hindu-Muslim divide, bringing about a social divide between Muslims and the landowning Jat Hindu community, supplemented by a social coalition of Jats and Dalits. Panwar pointed out that the replication of this carefully planned Janus-faced social divide-cum-coalition was resolutely defeated in the recent byelections by a political coalition that brought together Muslims, Jats and Dalits. “Nurturing this sort of social and political coalition across India is the primary requisite to take on Hindutva communalism’s sectarian and fascist excesses that are growing by leaps and bounds in the last year of the Modi regime,” he said. Panwar’s projection and Kairana’s electoral path bring some reassurance to India’s minority communities though their larger contemporary story continues to be one of widespread persecution, which gets aggravated by the opportunism of “time-server leaders”.