There seems to have been a clear attempt by Hindutva outfits to use Ram Navami processions to create communal tensions in at least three states in India: West Bengal, Bihar and Telangana.
The pattern of the processions was eerily similar in all the states: large processions, in many cases armed, were carried out and made to pass through Muslim-dominated areas. Local administration’s directives were violated, either in the carrying of arms or in the route passing through Muslim areas. Provocative, anti-Muslim songs were played. In all the three states violence began with stone pelting, either by people in the procession or those residing in the areas it was passing through.
Another common aspect is that in all three states, BJP leaders are under the scanner for allegedly playing a role in spreading communal tensions.
West Bengal and Bihar have been the worst hit by the communal violence over the past four days. At least thee people have been killed and over a hundred have been injured.
The violence began in West Bengal’s Purulia district on Sunday, when local Hindu Right wing groups took out armed processions across the city on the occasion of Ram Navami. This was in violation of the administrations orders that arms were not to be carried during the processions. Despite this, the organisers not only went ahead with the processions but also made it a point to go through Muslim dominated areas in Purulia.
On Monday, a similar pattern of violence took place in Raniganj in Asansol district after Hindutva outfits took out armed processions in the city, playing provocative songs. According to locals, migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh formed a majority of those in the processions.
Union Minister and Member of Parliament from Asansol Babul Supriyo was scheduled to be part of the central Akhara which, along with different Akhara committees, had organised this procession.
Despite the police’s orders, the Hindutva outfits went ahead and took the armed processions through the neighborhood of Rajban where Muslims were celebrating the Urs of a Sufi saint. Locals say that provocative songs targetting Muslims were played during the procession. One of the songs said:
“Jis din jagega Hindutva to yeh anjaam bolega, ki topi wala bhi sar jhuka ke Jai Shri Ram bolega;
Jis din khaula khoon mera dikhladenge aukat teri, phir to hum nahi bolenge bas bolegi talwar meri;
Ki Har Har Mahadev ka nara Hindustan bolega, ki topi wala bhi sar jhuka ke Jai Shri Ram bolega”
Violence is said to have begun after one of groups began pelting stones. In the rioting that followed, 8-10 shops belonging to Muslim business owners were burnt. This included Taj Shoes, Haq General Stores and a prominent crockery store owned by a Muslim. The rioting also extended to a government run haat where mostly Muslim vendors sold fresh produce.
Similar processions were carried out in West Bengal’s Siliguri, North 24 Parganas and other districts as well. In Kankinara in North 24 Parganas, right wing goons destroyed a statue of freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
In Kolkata, BJP workers reportedly attacked a police officer who tried to prevent them from taking out an armed procession.
In Bihar, the violence began with a minor clash in Siwan on Sunday but by Monday, the clashes had intensified and spread to Aurangabad and then to Munger and Samastipur districts. Minor clashes also took place in Kaimur and Gaya.
Even in Bihar, there have been reports of violence after Hindu Right Wing outfits taking out armed processions through Muslim neighbourhoods during the immersion of Chaitri Durga. In many cases, the processions were in violation of the orders from the local administration. Like West Bengal, there are reports of provocative, anti-Muslim songs being played in the processions in Bihar as well.
For instance in Munger, the procession was taken out through Muslim majority areas like Kaali Tazia Dilawarpur, Mir Ghyas Chowk and Topkhana Bazaar. But also through mixed commercial areas like Neelam Chowk and Bata Chowk. The same anti-Muslim song played in Asansol – ‘Topi wala bhi sar jhuka ke Jai Shri Ram bolega’, was played in Munger as well.
In Bihar’s Aurangabad district, processions were taken through Muslim neigbourhoods despite the administration imposing Section 144 in these areas. In the ensuing rioting around 30 shops belonging to Muslims were gutted and a local Muslim ambulance driver, Naeem, was shot in police firing. He is presently undergoing treatment in Patna..
On 17 March 17, there was communal violence in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district after Arijit Shashwat son of Union Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey took out an armed rally shouting provocative slogans through multiple Muslim neighbourhoods.
Communal polarisation in Bihar has increased since the BJP-JD(U) alliance assumed power in July 2017. Since January 2018, communal tensions have affected several districts of Bihar including Gaya, Arrah, Champaran, Muzaffarpur and Vaishali, especially during festivals.
In 2017, there were 85 incidents of communal violence in Bihar that left three persons dead and 321 injured, while in West Bengal, there were 58 incidents that left nine persons dead and 230 injured.
In Telangana’s Nirmal district, some people present in the Ram Navami procession organised by a Hindutva outfit, targetted a local mosque.
According to The News Minute, “A pro-Hindutva outfit took out a procession on Ram Navami. The procession, which started at Devarakota temple, almost reached its end point in Gulzar Mosque market without incident, when suddenly a group of people began pelting stones at the mosque”.
Speaking to The News Minute, District Superintendent of Police Vishnu S Warrier has confirmed that those who attacked the mosque were part of the procession.
Some glass panes in the mosque got damaged and a saffron flag was reportedly thrown inside.
On hearing of the mosque being attacked, Muslim community members gathered near it and staged a protest demanding justice.
A clash soon erupted between the two sides, in which five persons were injured.
In a separate incident, two cases have been filed against BJP MLA from Goshamahal in Hyderabad, T Raja Singh, for making provocative speeches on Ram Navami.
A video has gone viral in which Singh can be seen threatening to “rewrite the history of Telangana” if the administration disallows loundspeakers on Ram Navami.
A case has been registered against Singh under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which deals with “Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”.
Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh
An attempt was made to create a communal polarisation in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. In Rajasthan’s Jodhpur, Hindutva outfits took out a tableux glorifying Shambhu Lal Regar, who hacked an elderly Muslim labourer Mohammad Afrazul to death in the Rajsamand district of the state last year.
In Agra in Uttar Pradesh, Hindu Yuva Vahini took out a procession with swords and other weapons. But communal tensions were averted due to the conscious efforts of the local Hindus and Muslims. In fact, Muslims in the city even came out and offered Sharbat to the people in procession, much to the surprise of Hindu outfits.
Communal polarisation during Ram Navami, the emphasis on armed processions and the use of similar provocative songs and speeches are common threads that run through the violence in West Bengal, Bihar and Telangana. In addition to this, we have the alleged role played by figures associated with the BJP in the build-up to the violence: Babul Supriyo in West Bengal, Arijit Shashwat in Bihar and T Raja Singh in Telangana. These are extremely sinister signs. And with the verdict in the Babri Masjid case coming up, politics around Lord Ram is only going to intensify in the months to come.