Inflammatory, anti-Muslim slogans were raised by a group of people during a demonstration at Jantar Mantar, Delhi on August 8, 2021. The demonstration in question was held protesting the construction of a Hajj House – a government-funded building meant to accommodate Muslims before they commenced their annual Hajj (pilgrimage) to the Islamic holy city of Mecca.
The building was to be constructed in Dwarka which prompted the Hindu residents of the area to hold a Mahapanchayat to object to its establishment. According to Al Jazeera, some of the residents of Dwarka are of the opinion that since it is a Hindu-majority region, this building would affect the “brotherhood, peace and harmony” of their neighborhood. Additionally, some also opined that this may lead to communal tensions.
The protest was spearheaded by the All Dwarka Residents Federation (henceforth, ADRF) and the demonstration saw a crowd of more than 100 people, all raising provocative slogans against Muslims. Ajit Swami, the president of the ADRF, spoke to some reporters suggesting that their demand for dropping the construction of the Hajj House was related to concerns of the Hindu residents of the area. Couched in the language of “causing inconvenience” to the Hindus of the area, Swami offered bigoted explanations for the protest suggesting that the presence of Muslims might create conditions conducive for riots in the area.
But if one were to blame Muslims for the communal riots that we have witnessed in the recent past, for instance if we take the case of the northeast Delhi in February 2020, it would be wise to mention here that at least 53 people were killed in these riots, and over two-thirds of them were Muslims. He also suggested that since Muslims were non-vegetarians, it would “lead to foul odours and disease outbreaks” causing the Hindus to migrate to other regions. Ironically, after stating his opinions, Swami went on to say that they were not communalising the issue, but merely stating practical problems with this construction.
At least four members of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP)-led government were seen at the site, supporting the protest happening at Jantar Mantar. Former spokesperson for the Delhi unit of the BJP and Supreme Court lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay made several tweets asking residents of the city to join the protest in large numbers. Gajendra Chauhan, another BJP leader was also spotted at the gathering. The Delhi police meanwhile filed an FIR against six “unknown” persons for raising inflammatory slogans, despite these “unknown” persons including Upadhyay and Chauhan.
This is reminiscent of Anurag Thakur and the total number of days he spent in jail (read: one) even though he suggested shooting the “traitors”, referring to Muslims who were protesting at Shaheen Bagh. Anurag Thakur was then the junior Finance Minister of this country, and currently, after the recent Cabinet reshuffle is the Minister of Sports, Youth Affairs and Minister of Information and Broadcasting.
Similarly, another BJP minister, Parvesh Varma, a Lok Sabha MP from West Delhi insinuated that if the protest at Shaheen Bagh continued, the protesters would “rape and kill”, a comment which did not receive much condemnation from the ruling party, unsurprisingly so.
According to Upadhyay and his team, he had called a gathering at Jantar Mantar on Sunday morning to talk about the substitution of colonial-era laws by indigenous laws, and so his meeting cannot be conflated with the protest by the ADRF which was in the evening.
These are, of course, not one-off incidents. Muslims have continuously had to face a discriminatory and intolerant climate in the country for an invariably long time now. With the BJP in power at the Centre, the discrimination faced by Muslims in the country are now out in the open, making it difficult to turn away from.
Since the time the BJP returned to power for a second term, they have abrogated Article 370 which granted special status to the territory of Kashmir, while simultaneously putting Kashmiri politicians like Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah on indefinite house arrest. They also passed the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens (CAA and NRC) to provide citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from the Muslim-majority neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, according to the new amendment can become Indian citizens if they belong to any of the three countries of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan and have lived for six years in India, instead of the previously regulated 11 years.
The passing of the CAA and the NRC saw the beginning of one of the most iconic protests that this generation has seen – the Shaheen Bagh protests which lasted more than hundred days until it was finally stopped because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 8th August protest was termed as a “fringe phenomenon” by some media, yet the opposition parties of India state that that is not the case, and that the BJP has encouraged the development of an Islamophobic sentiment in the country. That is very evident by the location of this protest – less than a kilometer from the Parliament – and the impunity with which protesters were seen to be forcing people to chant Jai Shri Ram (Hail Lord Ram).
In one of the videos doing the rounds on Twitter, Anmol Pritam, a young journalist is seen to be warding off a crowd that has surrounded him on all sides, asking him to say Jai Shri Ram. It is, of course, important to remember here that the journalist in question was not a Muslim, because then the consequences would have been even more grave. That such inflammatory calls can be given in the heart of the national capital, in the presence of police forces, without any immediate consequences suggests something very potent about the character and identity of our ruling party.
The growing immunity of Hindu supremacist forces for inciting hatred against the minority community continues unabated. Even as I write this, I get news of a 45-year old man beaten by members of the Bajrang Dal in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and paraded through a street, forced to chant Jai Shri Ram. I don’t even have to open the news story to know that the man in question was a Muslim. His daughter reportedly clung to him while he was getting beaten, imploring with the attackers to spare him. This attack was in relation to a “forced conversion” case, which has been a highly controversial law passed by the Uttar Pradesh government against the “growing” crime of ‘love jihad’, despite the fact that even before the law was passed, UP had registered less than ten cases of forced conversions.
The attacking of Muslims with false narratives of threat, harm and injury as is seen in the case of the love-jihad law, or the Tablighi Jamaat controversy during the COVID-19 pandemic, while Hindus continue to enjoy all forms of liberty at gatherings like the Kumbh Mela held earlier this year is so transparent a strategy, that one wonders about the protection that is accorded to the ruling government of this country. Children, as young as 10 years old, were seen holding banners calling for “Islam ka vinaash” or the annihilation of Islam, standing close to their parents at Jantar Mantar.
Political prisoners like Umar Khalid languish in prison for participating in protests – a fundamental right of all Indian citizens – without bail, while the teenage shooter who shot at protesters at Jamia Millia Islamia earlier last year screaming Jai Shri Ram, was finally recently arrested last month because of an incendiary speech he gave in Pataudi last month. But I wonder about the effectiveness of these arrests in the discriminatory milieu of the country right now. The slogans of the kind that were raised were reprehensible, to say the least.
The FIR mentions “unknown” persons despite the fact that the faces of those shouting the derogatory slogans are visible. One cannot help but wonder about these stop-gap measures that only serve to distract from the larger picture, which is that in a right-wing led government the secular ethic that our Constitution espouses becomes only a nominal characteristic of the Indian society.
The intolerance shown towards Muslims is not only shameful but more so, because it is done behind the charade of condemning such “fringe” events, even though the frequent news reports about discriminatory attacks against Muslims testify otherwise. At what point do these incidents become worthy of the state’s attention?
Featured image source: Siasat.com