Hate speech at Jantar Mantar rally latest attempt by Hindutva forces to stoke communal passions

The hate speech at Jantar Mantar in Delhi is the latest in a string of attempts by right-wing organisations to stoke communal passions ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections. And Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s silence is deafening.

Published : Aug 26, 2021 06:00 IST

Video grab of anti-Muslim sloganeering at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on August 8.

On August 8, rabid anti-Muslim slogans pierced the air at a rally organised by Hindu nationalist groups at Jantar Mantar in central Delhi. Some of them were highly communal and inflammatory:

Jab mulle kate jayenge, Ram Ram chillayenge [Muslims will be cut in the name of Ram]

Suaron ki karo vidai, Hindu Hindu bhai bhai [Farewell to the pigs/Muslims, Hindus are brothers]

Hindustan mein rehna hoga, Ram Ram kehna hoga [If you want to stay in India, you must chant the name of Ram]

Band karo band karo, mullo ke vyapaar band karo [Shut down the businesses of Muslims].

Hundreds of people attended the rally, and the slogans were raised in front of media crews and a Delhi Police force that stood by mutely. Anmol Pritam, a journalist with the news portal National Dastak, was heckled and shoved by the mob and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Anmol held his ground and said he would chant the slogan only if he felt like it, and refused to do so. They called him a jehadi.

A pamphlet distributed at the rally by children as young as 10 years old was addressed to fellow Hindus asking them how they would massacre Muslims if they kept falling into the trap of law and the Constitution. It said: “Don’t protest, become vidrohi [rebel]. Don’t make noise, do sanhaar [annihilation]. Those who want to finish Islam, call us.” It went on to state that terrorism had put Islam on the verge of extinction. It urged Hindu organisations to go beyond protesting against Muslims through legal means and fight terror with terror.

Loosely translated, the pamphlet read, “Muslims engage in love jehad, cow slaughter and terror in Allah’s name, but all that the Hindus do is to protest. Merely making a noise will not destroy Islam. If you [Hindus] don’t wake up, you will live the life of a hangman. Muslims did their work in Shaheen Bagh [in south Delhi, where women led the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)] and in Bengal, but when and how will Hindus take their revenge? We must eliminate them [Muslims] from India, it is not impossible. Only when you are fearless, can they be destroyed. The earth on which Parasuram, Ram and Krishna were born must be freed from the tyrants. Where is the war within you? The crusade is bigger than legalities. Join me, and I promise that I will eliminate Islam not only from India but the whole world.”

Also read: The virus of hate

The rally was organised by Supreme Court lawyer Ashwani Upadhyay, a former spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Delhi unit, under the banner of the Bharat Jodo Andolan [unite India movement], professedly to oppose colonial-era laws. The police had not granted permission for the event because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shipra Srivastava, media in-charge of the Bharat Jodo Andolan, confirmed that the protest had been held under Ashwani Upadhyay’s leadership.

Modi’s message

Incidentally, on the eve of Kargil Vijay Diwas on July 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people in his Mann ki Baat radio talk to lead a Bharat Jodo Andolan as it was every Indian’s duty to bind the country that is so diverse. He said many programmes were being organised under the Amrit Mahotsav as India entered its 75th year of Independence on August 15. He said: “Just as the Quit India Movement (Bharat Chhodo Andolan) was steered under Bapu’s leadership, every countryman today has to lead a Bharat Jodo Andolan…. Amrit Mahotsav is not a programme of any government; nor is it a programme of any political party… it is a programme of crores and crores of Indians… a bow to our freedom fighters by every independent and grateful Indian…. Just as champions of freedom had joined hands for the cause, we have to come together for the development of the country.”

Pinky Chaudhary, leader of the Hindu Raksha Dal and a close aide of radical Hindutva preacher Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, admitted in a television debate that the men who raised slogans at Jantar Mantar had gone there on his behalf. He said they should be forgiven if they had made a mistake and that he was not afraid of getting arrested. Narsinghanand Saraswati was booked in April for insulting Islam and the Prophet at an event at the Press Club of India.

Calls for action against hatemongers

The hate speech and open call for genocide drew condemnation from several quarters. The Delhi High Court Women Lawyers’ Forum wrote to the Supreme Court seeking action against those involved in the sloganeering. The letter said: “These slogans whipping up hatred against the Muslims is not protected speech under the Indian Constitution, and is prima facie hate speech. The speeches made at the rally must not be confused with the right to freedom of dissenting or critical speech. The speeches at the rally were directly and explicitly invoking violence against a religious community, and the audience was charged and espousing violence. In Rwanda, the systematic hate speech against the ethnic minority, Tutsis, enabled the 1994 genocide. The videos of the above incident are shocking and cannot be dismissed lightly.” The letter also pointed out that the rally was held in violation of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority’s COVID guidelines.

Also read: Imaginary enemies

The All India Lawyers’ Association for Justice (AILAJ) sent a letter to the Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, stating that this incident could not be viewed in isolation. It was just one of the numerous events unfolding across the country that aimed to demonise and dehumanise the Muslim community while undermining their status as equal citizens, it said. The AILAJ sought the filing of a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) petition in the light of the open call to genocide of Muslims on the streets of Delhi.

The letter pointed out that statements calling for the elimination of an entire religious community fell within the internationally accepted definition of genocide, and that the police had acted as mute bystanders. It called for a court-monitored investigation and prosecution, along with appropriate police action and an inquiry into why the police had not intervened to stop the sloganeering.

Shabnam Hashmi, social activist, and Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, filed a complaint with the Deputy Commissioner of Police seeking action against the hate speech. Their complaint said that a criminal case under 295A should be registered against all those who were present in the gathering, which was malicious and deliberate.

Arrest and bail

On August 9, the Delhi Police filed a first information report (FIR) against six persons, including Ashwani Upadhyay, under Sections 268, 270, 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code, Section 3 of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and Section 51B of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (refusal to comply with any direction given by the government). Under pressure to act, the next day the Delhi Police arrested Ashwani Upadhyay and Preet Singh, Deepak Singh Hindu, Deepak Kumar, Azad Vinod Sharma and Vinit Bajpai, all members of different right-wing organisations.

Also read: The lynch mob

Ashwani Upadhyay was released on bail by Metropolitan Magistrate Udbhav Kumar Jain within 24 hours. The court observed, “As far as the offence under Section 153A IPC is concerned, except for mere assertion, there is nothing on record to show that the alleged hate speech to promote enmity between different groups was done in the presence or at the behest of the accused. Even during the hearing, this court has inquired and so far, there is nothing against the accused in the alleged video.” However, the court rejected the bail pleas of Preet Singh, Deepak Singh Hindu and Azad Vinod Sharma.

The court observed: “In one of the video clippings, [the] accused, as identified by the investigating officer, can be seen making scathing remarks which are undemocratic and uncalled for from a citizen of this country, where principles like secularism hold the value of basic feature imbibed in the Constitution…. While the freedom to express oneself is indeed allowed to be enjoyed by the citizens to the fullest possible extent, with every right there is a corresponding duty attached…. The principle behind Section 153A IPC is to preserve religious/communal harmony and it is the duty of every citizen that while he enjoys his right to express himself, he preserves religious harmony.”

However, on August 13, a Delhi court granted Bhupendra Tomar alias Pinky Chaudhary interim protection from arrest, stating that no coercive action should be taken against him until August 16. He was directed to join the investigation as and when required and to cooperate with it. He was also instructed not to try and influence witnesses or tamper with evidence.

Pinky Chaudhary has a track record of committing communal crimes. In a video posted on Twitter on January 2020, he claimed responsibility for the attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University students. The Hindu Raksha Dal he formed in 2013 reportedly takes up ‘issues’ of love jehad and gau raksha (cow protection). In January 2014, he was arrested after his group vandalised the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Kaushambi office over advocate Prashant Bhushan’s comments on Kashmir.

Gang of right-wing criminals

More recently, an FIR was lodged against Pinky Chaudhary at Sahibabad police station in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, after he announced a reward of Rs.51,000 for the head of Aam Aadmi Party MLA Amanatullah Khan in a live session on social media. In a YouTube discussion posted on the Cybersipahi channel in March 2021, he claimed to have burnt Bibles distributed in a school in Delhi and threatened to burn down the school. In July, standing next to Narsinghanand Saraswati inside a temple in Ghaziabad, Pinky Chaudhary threatened to destroy all mosques in the area if anyone moved even a single stone of that temple.

Also read: Hate culture

Deepak Singh Hindu, who is in police custody, is also a known face of anti-Muslim violence in the capital. He is the leader of an organisation called Hindu Force and was present at the Press Club along with Narsighanand Saraswati when he insulted Islam. On February 23, 2020, the day BJP leader Kapil Mishra made an inflammatory speech at Maujpur Chowk in North East Delhi, Deepak put out a call on his Facebook page asking mobs to assemble at Maujpur Chowk to participate in a dharam yudh (war of religions). He spreads anti-Muslim sentiments through violent Hindu protests on his social media page.

Azad Vinod Sharma, a Sudarshan Vahini leader, is often found participating in violent anti-Muslim protests. He also uses his social media profile to mobilise supporters and advocates a social and economic boycott of Muslims in Delhi.

Attacks against Muslim vendors and traders are on the rise in the capital. In January, just before skirmishes broke out at Singhu border in North West Delhi where farmers are protesting, both Vinod Sharma and Deepak Singh Hindu had urged their followers to teach the farmers a lesson. Both are often seen with self-proclaimed Hindutva leader Ragini Tiwari, who has a number of anti-Muslim videos to her credit, including those during the North East Delhi riots in which she is seen inciting mobs and throwing stones.

Haj house controversy

The two also had a hand in the recent Haj house controversy where a group of residents protested against the construction of a Haj house in Dwarka, Delhi, meant for pilgrims. They mobilised mobs to protest against it under the banner of the Hindu Shakti Sangathan after the All Dwarka Residents Federation (ADRF) wrote a letter to Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal demanding that the allocation of land in 2008 for construction of a Haj house be cancelled. Slogans such as ‘Ek hi Nara Ek hi Naam, Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram’ [one name and one slogan, Jai Shri Ram] and ‘Yeh Bhoomi hamari hai, Iska Faisla hum karenge’ [this land is ours, we will decide] were raised at the protests.

The letter claimed that a Haj house would disturb “brotherhood, harmony and peace in society” apart from disturbing law and order. It went on to say that “there will be every possibility of riots, migration of Hindus and repetition of situations like Shaheen Bagh, Jaffrabad [anti-CAA protests] and Kashmir”.

Also read: ‘Structurally, we have already arrived at a Hindu Rashtra’

Hundreds of Dwarka residents wrote a counter-letter appealing for rejection of the politics of hate and divisiveness. Referring to the ADRF’s letter, they said, “The letter is highly objectionable and it denigrates Muslims and is spreading hatred against them. We demand that the local police authorities take suomotu cognisance of this and file a case on the signatories for spreading hatred with the intent to cause public disorder and disharmony, as well as create ill-will between different religious groups.”

From Jantar Mantar to Dwarka and elsewhere, the capital is witnessing an increase in the number of cases where right-wing organisations are trying to stir up the communal cauldron. Political observers believe that this polarisation is intended to sound the bugle for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections.

Kejriwal’s silence

Even as the Delhi Police arrested some of the sloganeers, the Delhi government under Arvind Kejriwal maintained a studied silence. Muslims in Delhi, who had supported the AAP against the BJP in the last Assembly elections, are growing weary of Kejriwal’s silence, first during the North East Delhi riots and then during the arrests of students and activists. They can no longer ignore the red flags that have appeared since the anti-CAA protests began. In fact, during the Shaheen Bagh agitation, Kejriwal said that if the Delhi Police were under the State government’s jurisdiction, it would have opened the Shaheen Bagh road, which the protesters were said to have blocked, in two hours. He also spoke against JNU scholar Sharjeel Imam’s call for a chakka jam (road blockade), and called for his arrest.

Journalist Alishan Jafri pointed out on Twitter that Kejriwal’s ministers had also, time and again, made problematic comments. AAP spokesman Raghav Chadha had politicised Bajrang Dal member Rinku Sharma’s murder in the capital by asking, “Is raising the Jai Shri Ram slogan not safe now?” Rinku Sharma was allegedly dragged out of his house and stabbed to death by a group of men on the night of February 10.

Also read: Scarred & scared

Manish Sisodia, AAP leader and Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, said in Gujarat that it was unfortunate that people were murdered for chanting Jai Shri Ram. He said, “Today, it is unsafe to even say Jai Shri Ram in this country. If this slogan cannot be raised in India, then where can it be raised? In Pakistan?”

Alishan pointed out that the AAP had also tweeted a list of countries, all Muslim, to show that the BJP is anti-Hindu and is giving India’s COVID essentials to “them” (Muslims). This misinformed communal tweet drew a lot of flak and had to be updated after outrage.

The Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque in March 2020 had received widespread criticism for being a COVID-19 super-spreader event. Said Alishan: “No, it was not Adityanath or Amit Shah who started a separate category for ‘Markaz Masjid’ cases and attacked Muslims, it was done by the AAP government and Kejriwal. One can revisit their vile statements attacking Tablighis at this point.”

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