How hate is brewed in Hindutva’s laboratory

Print edition : February 26, 2021

A signboard in Gujarati that reads “Welcome to Hindu Rashtra of Mogri”. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The report titled “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth”, compiled by Buniyaad and a fact-finding team led by Alp Sankhyak Adhikar Manch, states that communal polarisation is actively supported by the State government. Photo: By Special Arrangement

A report on recent trends in communal violence in Gujarat notes a shift in the scene of violence from urban to rural areas, the use of social media to spread hate, and the different ways in which communal polarisation has manifested itself over the years.

IT is not without reason that Gujarat is called Hindutva’s laboratory. Experiments may appear slow currently, but it should never be assumed that they will stop. Buniyaad, an Ahmedabad-based civil society organisation monitoring communal violence and promoting peace, has made it its mission to publish annual reports that expose the real picture in Gujarat. In its most recent report titled “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth”, compiled along with a fact-finding team led by Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch (AAM) and released in January, Buniyaad categorically states that the divisive processes are alive and actively supported by the ruling dispensation.

The report presents trends in communal violence in Gujarat based on findings derived from the media and fact-finding missions. Among the report’s main findings is the disturbing news that Hindu nationalist organisations with a mission to polarise society have moved from overt attacks in urban areas to under-the-radar skirmishes in the rural belt. The report says “Hindu Rashtra” signboards have begun to dot the rural landscape. Combining data from 2019 and 2020, the report adds that an increasing number of incidents and volatility caused by small tussles between communities prove that the destabilising efforts of Hindu nationalist organisations have been successful. It states: “In fact, polarisation along religious lines, hatred, distrust and hate speeches have become more intense, adversely affecting the social fabric in the State.”

Misleading numbers

Analysing facts from recorded incidents, the report calls out the State government of Gujarat on the misleading numbers it has issued with regard to communal incidents. It states that since the police do not record cases, the State shows a decline in communal cases. It adds that in 2019, “the echoes of national politics can now be heard at the local micro level”.

The report addresses issues such as the use of social media to spread hate and how polarisation over the years has manifested in different ways such as mob lynching and violent reactions to petty conflicts. Buniyaad states that it was necessary to compile the report especially since the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has stopped publication of data on communal riot cases after 2017.

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Shamshad Pathan, a member of the team, said that for the 2019-20 report, official data were not easily available and resources were limited. Gathering data from newspaper reports and non-government organisations, the AAM concluded that in 2019, there were as many as six significant communal riots and two incidents of mob lynching. Pathan said: “The aim was to expose the role of the state and the mechanisations of Hindu supremist organisations in sowing tension, particularly in rural areas. We analysed the six communal incidents to make this point. Sadly, we are unable to get the total number of incidents in the year. Such data are not available, which itself is indicative of the state concealing facts.”

In 2018, Buniyaad attempted to compare the number of communal incidents they recorded to data available from the NCRB. As the bureau does not have a specific chapter on communal crimes, Buniyaad searched for the numbers from sections such as attacks on minorities or Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes. Hozefa Ujjaini from Buniyaad said even though the graph showed that the NCRB had a higher number of cases, Buniyaad believed the NCRB was under-reporting incidents as Buniyad’s teams, which had been on the field, reported a different picture. In 2018, Buniyaad reported 13 communal riots while the NCRB reported (the information culled from published data) a total of 39 incidents. The report stated: “The higher numbers of the communal riots reported by NCRB can be attributed to the comprehensive collection of data by NCRB from different police stations and the overall access to the figures from the criminal justice system. It would not be inaccurate to anticipate much higher number of communal riots if NCRB publishes its numbers.”

Urban to rural spread

In previous reports, Buniyaad had sounded an alert about the instigation of communal violence in areas that had no history of communal violence. The present report says this trend from 2018 continues, wherein those parts of Gujarat which had not witnessed communal riots in 2002 have experienced regular incidents of violence post 2014. The report states: “The theatre of violence has changed from urban Gujarat to rural Gujarat which holds true for rest of India”. The fact-finding mission observes that post 2002, places such as Chattral, Vadavli, Khambat, Himmatnagar, Idar, Kheda and Halwad have witnessed communal riots. In 2019, five of the six incidents of communal violence took place in small towns, blocks and villages, including Khambhat, Kotda Gadi village of Sabarkantha, Nandoliya of Kadi taluk, and Dhunadra of Kheda district.

The case of Khambhat

Under the section titled “Geographical mapping of riots”, the report highlights the case of Khambhat. A coastal town in Anand district, Khambat has emerged as a “hotbed” of communal conflicts. In February 2020, an incident of looting in the Hindu-dominated area of Bhavsarwad was used by the Hindu Jagran Manch to inflame simmering tensions into a rally where aggressive slogans were raised exhorting Hindus to oust Muslims from the town. It culminated in riots on February 23.

Using Khambat in the context of the shift of the right wing’s agenda from urban to rural areas, the report says: “The salient point to note here is that though the social relationships in rural areas are definitely marked by hierarchies and inequalities, these tensions and resulting conflicts don’t often manifest themselves in the form of communal violence. However, the increasing presence of supremacist organisations and their deliberate attempt to instigate violence is leading to more riots in the rural areas and permanently altering the social equation in the areas.”

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According to the findings, the trigger points for the riots have moved from national-level issues to local enmities and issues such as sexual harassment and “love jehad”. In 2019, two of the six riots in the State were owing to relationship entanglements. In Kotda Gadi, Sabarkantha district, the relationship between a minor Adivasi girl and a Muslim boy led to a clash between the communities, resulting in 12 Muslim families fleeing the village. Another case took place at the M.S. University in Vadodara, when a group of Muslim boys were ragged for “luring” girls. Youth groups from different religions got into an altercation which led to a minor flare-up and tension in the city.

At least two riots were the result of petty fights that flared into communal violence. On February 5, 2019, a Muslim boy in Nandoliya village, Kadi district, was accused of verbally abusing a Hindu youth while cutting his kite during the Uttarayan (kite-flying) festival. The altercation led to tension, resulting in the Muslim boy being asked to leave the village. The reaction from the Hindu quarter was so intense that 35 Muslim families fled from the village for fear of being attacked.

The second incident stemmed from the communal tension already simmering in Khambat. Two children from different communities pelted stones at each other, resulting in a larger crowd getting involved and leading to a riot. The report says the clashes in Khambhat were preceded by another communal riot on February 22, where two religious groups clashed in the ‘teen darwaza’ area of Khambhat over a social media post about the Pulwama attack.

The report stated: “This incident is significant because it highlights two important aspects. One being is the role of social media in stroking communal flare-ups. Social media is increasingly being used as a medium by communal groups to spread hatred. Second, that national issues and contested narratives are finding an echo at local level and fuelling communal tension.”

Under the section “Religion wise breakup of the losses resulting from the communal riots”, the report emphasises that Muslims and the marginalised not only undergo physical and emotional trauma, but also face arrests (given the open bias of the State police towards minorities) and delay or denial of justice during trials.

In the riot in Khambhat on February 23-24, one Muslim youth was shot at. In the second communal riot there, 52 persons were named in the first information report (FIR), of whom 35 were Muslims. All six houses set on fire belonged to Muslims. In the communal riot in Kotda Gadi village, the Adivasi community looted and attacked 12 houses of Muslims, causing their residents to flee.

The report states: “Communal riots are (a) tangible form of communal violence in a way that there is a physical manifestation of violence. However, communal violence encompasses attitudinal or symbolic violence also.… In 2019, Gujarat experienced communal tensions arising out of attitudes which although didn’t result in communal riots but nonetheless led to spread of hatred and polarisation in society.”

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Providing examples, the report says that the Babri Masjid verdict in 2019 allowed Hindutva extremists to provoke people into demanding that various mosques ostensibly built over ancient temples in Gujarat be destroyed. Fortunately, timely intervention by the police and civil society groups saved the 14th century Tanka Masjid in the town of Dholka from demolition. Encouraged by the Babri Masjid verdict and instigated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which submitted a memorandum stating that the masjid was built at the site of the mythical kitchen and the school of the Pandavas, mobs went on the rampage in the area.

In a section titled “Sub radar riots and polarising of society”, the report says a trend of small-scale communal riots, that is, just below the radar so to speak, started around 2016. The report states: “The impact of recurring small-scale riots can be witnessed in rapid polarisation of society along religious lines and increasing intolerance among communities, creating an impression that communal riots are not taking place in Gujarat.”

Mob lynching

The report finds the recent phenomenon of mob lynching to be a matter of deep concern. While 2018 saw five incidents of mob lynching in Gujarat resulting in at least three deaths, 2019 saw two serious mob lynching cases resulting in one death. Individuals from tribal, Dalit, denotified tribes (DNT) and Muslim communities testified to fact-finding teams that the deaths were owing to lynching arising out of suspicions of theft and child-lifting and cow vigilantism. However, in spite of several attempts, the police did not register cases.

Citing incidents such as the beating of a Muslim cycle rickshaw driver for ferrying passengers in a Hindu area to beating a Dalit youth accused of drinking water in an upper-class neighbourhood, the report says the horrific pattern of mob lynching is widespread in the State.

The report also questions the NCRB’s data on lynching. In 2018, the NCRB recorded four incidents of mob lynching across India. The fact that three of these cases were from Gujarat suggests the increasing impunity enjoyed by vigilante groups. The report alleges that this kind of vigilantism and the implicit patronage it receives directly or indirectly has led to a breakdown of law and order.

‘Hindu Rashtra’ signboards

Reports compiled by Buniyaad have spoken about the rise of Hindutva groups warning that the patronage they enjoy from the ruling party leaders will one day result in a repeat of the 2002 pogrom. In the latest report, under the title “Role of supremacist organisations”, the team provides ample evidence to show that the VHP, the Hindu Jagran Manch, the Sri Rama Sene and the Hindu Samaj are groups that must be monitored.

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Signboards that say “Welcome to Hindu Rashtra” are to be found across the State. The report says incidents such as the Khambat violence, the demand to demolish the Tanka Masjid, description of inter-faith marriages as “love jehad”, and the escalation of personal disputes into communal conflict are traced to Hindu supremacist groups who use tools such as social media to spread hate messages and false information. As a team member said, “Each time there is an incident, a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ signboard will come up in that town.”

Controversial laws

Observers of Gujarat agree that the State perpetuates communal discord in many ways. Two laws passed in 2019 will attest to the fact that policymakers find ways to polarise and sow seeds of mistrust. The report points out that in 2019, the Gujarat government passed the controversial Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) Bill, whose key feature is allowing interception of telephonic conversations and using them as evidence. The government amended the Disturbed Area Act to give more powers to the District Collector. The Act does not allow the sale of land in areas classified as “disturbed”, all of which happen to be Muslim-dominated blocks.

In its conclusion, the report says: “There is also a concerted effort on the part of the ruling dispensation to create a narrative that Gujarat is a peaceful State with no communal riots after the 2002 riots. This falsehood is repeated time and again to create the illusion of communal harmony and peaceful coexistence. These figures and statistics can work as resources to create a counter narrative and demand state accountability.”