Recently, the Karnataka high court dismissed petitions filed by Muslim students to uphold the ban on hijab, stating that the hijab is not an “essential religious practice in Islamic faith” and calling the ban “a reasonable restriction.” Additionally, a district court in Delhi granted bail to the two men accused of creating apps that hosted photos of Muslim women in a fake online auction. Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals creators have been given bail on ‘humanitarian grounds.’
Now, the Delhi high court has returned its verdict on a plea that sought to initiate criminal proceedings against Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma for hate speech made prior to the northeast Delhi riots in 2020. Presided by Justice Chandra Dhari Singh, the single-judge bench recorded, “If you’re saying something with a smile, then there is no criminality, if you’re saying something offensive, then definitely.”
Addressing a rally in support of the BJP candidate from Rithala, Union Minister Anurag Thakur was heard shouting “desh ke gaddaron ko,” to which the crowd responded “goli maaro saalon ko.” The ‘traitors’ to whom Thakur alluded were the people protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act. Parliamentarian Parvesh Verma similarly warned voters that the “lakhs of protestors” gathered in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh locality would enter their homes to “rape their sisters and daughters and kill them.” When the Election Commission of India ordered the BJP to remove Thakur and Verma from its list of campaigners for the Delhi Assembly elections, Thakur defended the claim that he had violated election guidelines. Talking to The Indian Express that he had simply wanted to ask “what is [was] to be done with traitors of the country,” adding that it “was the people who reacted so.”
In their respective addresses, both Thakur and Verma invoked anti-CAA protestors. When the counsels for CPI leader Brinda Karat, who had submitted the plea, pointed out that Thakur’s reference to “ye log” specifically targeted one community in definite terms, the judge asked, “Where is the communal intent in the speech?” The judge added that there was “no material to show” that the protestors being invoked in the two speeches, particularly in Thakur’s speech, belong to only one community.
Granted, the anti-CAA protesters did not belong to a single religious community, but the extension of such a claim in a dialogue involving the use of the slogan “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” is absurd, given how the slogan has, time and again, been weaponised as an instrument of violence against Muslims by BJP activists and political leaders. As can be seen from the contexts in which it is used, the slogan has become a method of intimidation now used rather frequently to implicate Indian Muslims as ‘traitors’ of the country who must ‘go back’ to Pakistan.
Why, for instance, was the “desh ke gaddaron ko” slogan used by viewers of The Kashmir Files (2022) in a movie theatre? What could have prompted the audience to collectively chant the slogan while watching a film that mischaracterises the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and vilifies all Kashmiri Muslims as terrorists? The evidence of the video featuring the slogan’s use can be located in an OpIndia article, which mimics the state’s convenient claim that ‘gaddar’ is simply a reference to the enemies of the nation, when, in fact, ‘gaddar’ is pointedly used to position Muslims as traitors. It is worth asking: who arrogates unto themselves the unquestionable authority to designate others as enemies of the nation? More importantly, who are the enemies of the nation?
Consider the anti-CAA protests and unanimous state opposition to organised protests. The protestors objecting to the Citizenship Amendment Act were guided by a shared concern for the consequences of the Act, particularly for Muslims, among many others. Several important stakeholders who oriented themselves in opposition to the ‘traitorous’ protestors repeatedly painted the protests as non-secular gatherings organised to suit the interests of Muslims.
Most recently, the prosecution opposing Umar Khalid’s bail in the northeast Delhi riots case told a Delhi court that all the 25 anti-CAA protest sites in the city were picked due to their proximity to mosques. What the prosecution stated is the reproduction of a concern voiced by several state agents in the past, with Modi claiming that the protestors can be “identified by the clothes they are wearing,” and Adityanath pledging “revenge” against the protestors. Following Adityanath’s pledge, sixteen Muslims were killed on the next day in Uttar Pradesh.
Since the protests were viewed as spaces of Muslim sociality by the political arsenal of terror and tyranny that the BJP has become, public calls for ‘revenge’ resulted in the enactment of violence primarily on Muslims. In the Delhi riots, for instance, it was the Muslims who were chiefly targeted by the mobs. In response to the riots, hate speech by BJP leaders was ignored and arbitrary arrests against Muslims and activists were made. 2,456 people have been arrested in the past two years and about 1,610 accused have been identified in chargesheets, of which 798 are Hindus and 812 are Muslims. The riots investigation by the Delhi Police was recently commended by none other than Amit Shah, who contended that it was “being handled well.”
Meanwhile, Umar Khalid, who was booked for allegedly conspiring to provoke violence, remains in prison. Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, and Asif Iqbal Tanha were similarly charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in May 2020 in an alleged connection with the northeast Delhi riots case. The three received bail in June 2021 as the court concluded that it can “discern no specific or particularised allegation, much less any material to bear out the allegation, that the appellant incited violence.” Gulfisha Fatima continues to languish in jail. A bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambani also noted that “line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred” in the state’s mind. If Khalid had smiled during his speeches, would he receive the same special treatment that is being granted to Thakur and Verma?
In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes, “Terror becomes total when it becomes independent of all opposition; it rules supreme when nobody any longer stands in its way.” “Desh ke gaddaron ko” slogan has become naturalised and the political reality that its speakers attempted to materialise now manifests itself openly, even in theatres. Anyone who dares to resist the naturalised narrative is beseeched to provide objective evidence. Meanwhile, the apparent guardians of justice claim that if a speech is given by a speaker who is smiling, there is “no criminality.” What we see is the exploitation of instruments of tyranny in social conditions where any form of suspicion is not allowed to thrive.
Featured image source: India Today