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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 31 New Delhi July 20, 2019

Tabrez Ansari, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and Hate Killings

Saturday 20 July 2019

by Ram Puniyani

In the 17th Meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council the issue of the rise in hate crimes and mob lynchings against Muslims and Dalits in India was raised. While Prime Minster Modi stated that minorities will be protected, the incidents of lynching are on the rise. A Muslim youth, Tabrez Ansari, was tied to the pole, beaten mercilessly and asked to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Another Muslim, Hafiz Mohammad Haldar, was thrown from the train; another Faizul Usman, a taxi driver, was beaten up near Mumbai. The list is long and continues to rise.

The response of the state is best exemplified by the Prime Minster himself when in his statement he diluted the crime and focused on Jharkhand (where Ansari belonged to) being defamed due to highlighting such incidents. The lax attitude of the state is visible in most of the cases. Meanwhile there were many a meeting, nationwide, in which the Muslim community and others also protested against these incidents. In one such incident in Meerut, police lodged complaints against hundreds of slogan-shouting youth, who were protesting against such incidents in a peaceful manner.

These incidents, particularly of Tabrez Ansari, have drawn worldwide attention. Michael Pompeu, the US Secretary of State, called for speaking in favour of religious freedom. The place of India in the index of religious freedom and security of minorities has been slipping down during the last few years. The issues related to security of minorities have been drawing our attention time and over again. These incidents are scattered but the pattern is very clear. The Muslims are caught hold of in matters related to petty crimes or on some other pretext; the mob collects and resorts to beatings and asking the victims to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in particular. These incidents are coming in the backdrop of the so-far-widespread lynchings in the name of cow-beef.

The violence, the mob aggression is not just spontaneous at one level. These actions have been possible due to two basic processes which have gone on unchecked. At the core of this is the spread and rooting of misconceptions about Muslims in particular and also partly against Christians. The misconceptions, which have been actively instilled and promoted, relate to Islam being a ‘foreign’ religion. The truth is Islam has been part of the religious diversity of this land for centuries. As such religions do not have national boundaries. The Muslim kings have been projected as aggressive temple-destroyers, who spread their religion here by force. The matter of fact is Islam spread mainly due to interaction of Arab traders in the Malabar coast to begin with and later many embraced Islam to escape the caste tyranny. Muslims are also held for the partition tragedy, while partition was a multi-factorial process, with the central role being played by the British, who wanted to have a base in South Asia for their political and economic ambitions.

There is a long and expanding list of these misconceptions which by now have become part of the ‘social common sense’. On a regular basis events are given an anti-Muslim slant, be it the issue of Azan or the land required for burying the dead, be it the poverty of large section of Muslims (Sachar Committee report) or be it the promotion of Al-Qaeda and its progeny to control the oil wells of West Asia by the dominant hegemonic global powers. In sum and substance the social common sense demonising Muslims has become a ‘thinkable thought’. The major accused in most of the cases are the deprived sections of society, while the instigators may be sitting in their homes.

A sort of consent has been manufactured against the Muslim community. This pheno-menon has been well assisted by a few social groups where the battles between Hindu-Muslim kings are given a religious slant, and the young impressionistic minds are fed with anti-Muslim hatred as the selectively presented actions of Muslim kings are reflected onto the Muslim community. The added element is to bring in Pakistan. The anti-Muslim rhetoric is reflected onto the Muslims here in India today. Ultra-nationalism thrives on the creation of an enemy image. Pakistan has been made the scapegoat and that in turn becomes the mechanism to target Indian Muslims. All in all today, the Muslim community has been made the target of identity-related emotive issues.

The communal violence, which has dogged the Indian society, was a mass spectacle and polarised the society till a few years ago. Today the mass phenomenon has been substituted first by the beef-related violence, and now any pretext of some crime is the precipitating point for the series of violence. The slogan of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has been given a twist and the most common way of greeting Jai Ram, in large parts of North India, has been endowed by an aggressive political slant.

While each of the incidents can be discussed in detail, the base of the ‘hate crimes’ remains the communalised social common sense. During the freedom movement, Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, drew out the integrative aspects of all the communities, and they could fight against British rule shoulder to shoulder as ‘India as a nation in the making’. The process has been reversed by the sectarian streams and diverse religious communities have been filled with a degree of hate which is not compatible with the concept of fraternity, that is in the Preamble of our Constitution. While on one hand the minorities need to be made to feel secure; the foundation of hate, the social misconceptions against them need to be combated. The foundation of hate, these misconceptions, need to be eradicated.

The issues faced by the Indian society relate to the problems related to material existence, health and education. The divisive politics, masquerading in the name of religion, has to be undone. We have a gigantic task on hand, the one of uniting the nation, which is the prerequisite for peace and progress.

(Courtesy: Secular Perspective)

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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