All in the name of GOD: festival celebrations turned into clashes between Hindus and Muslims

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Since independence, India has always maintained a constitutional commitment to secularism. Ironically, large-scale religious violence and riots have periodically occurred in India sparked by underlying tensions between sections of the Hindu and Muslim communities. Apart from the loss in terms of lives, the communal riots caused widespread destruction of property and adversely affected economic activities.

The root cause of religious violence often run deep in history, religious activities, and politics of India. Communal violence has increased quantitatively and qualitatively ever since politics came to be communalised. Following destruction of Babri structure in Ayodhya in December 1992, and bomb blasts in Bombay in early 1993, communal riots in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala have considerably increased. Taking Political landscape after Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party came into power; India has suddenly become communal and intolerant. According to official statistics, India witnessed more than 700 outbreaks of communal violence last year that killed 86 and injured 2,321 people. The actual number, however, could be higher as many cases go unreported. The card of Hindutva, as an electoral saviour of the incumbent regime, is being played out in utter desperation. With 2019 parliament election nearing the communal violence is also increasing across the country. West Bengal has suddenly gained notoriety after becoming the epicentre of a communal earthquake which has ominous portents, not only for communal harmony but also for national security. Communal violence incidents had sharply increased over the past three years in West Bengal, a data compiled by the Union Home Ministry said. While the State recorded 27 incidents of violence in 2015 in which five persons died and 84 suffered injuries, the number of incidents almost doubled by 2017 when 58 incidents of violence were recorded, in which nine people lost their lives and 230 were injured. In 2016, there were 32 incidents of communal strife in the State. The biggest spurt in such incidents occurred between 2016 and 2017. However, West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress has failed to ideologically counter the BJP-RSS combine by indulging in soft Hindutva.

Bihar remains no indifferent to this hatred and bloodshed. Communal violence over the last five years has taken a huge toll on minorities, including Christians and Sikhs. But Muslims – who form 15 per cent of the country’s population – have borne the brunt of these hate crimes, such as lynching, threats, attacks on places of worship and forced conversion. In view of the ongoing clashes in Bihar and its adjoining areas, BJP leaders were arrested on Thursday in Bihar’s Samastipur district on the charge of disturbing communal harmony that resulted in clashes during the Ram Navami procession. Dinesh Jha and Mohan Patwa were arrested on the basis of a video footage of the incident in Rosera town of Samastipur along with 10 others. After the arrests, workers and supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party — which is part of the ruling alliance along with the Janata Dal-United in Bihar held a protest against the police action on Thursday and termed the action “one-sided”. BJP’s Samastipur district President Ramsumran Singh demanded the release of the two leaders without delay. Communal tension again gripped Rosera town in Samastipur where more than 60 persons, including policemen, were injured and dozens of shops and vehicles were torched in during the clashes. Reports of communal tension in districts like Bhagalpur, Siwan, Aurangabad, Munger, Nalanda, Sheikhpura and Jamui were also received. The Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has attacked Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for allegedly failing to prevent communal disharmony.

Communal clashes during festivals have become the order of the day. The month of March this year has alone witnessed numerous communal tensions erupting almost every other day in some place or the other. To begin with, the first round of clashes erupted between two communities in Bhagalpur’s Nathnagar area on March 17 during an unauthorised procession taken out by BJP, Bajran Dal and RSS activists. The procession was led by Arijit Shashwat, son of Union minister Ashwani Choubey. Over 35 people including policemen were injured and several shops and vehicles were set afire. A clash between two communities took place on March 24 following an alleged effort by some people to stop a Ram Navmi procession at Hassanpura (Siwan). Both sides indulged in stone-pelting, three vehicles were burnt. Six people were arrested. On the very next day, i.e, on March 25, communal clashes erupted in Aurangabad following a stone-pelting incident during a Ram Navmi procession. Clashes continued for two days, leaving over 25 people injured and 50 shops gutted. Curfew was clamped in the town and internet services were withdrawn. Cops arrested over 122 people. Moving ahead on March 27, a mosque is vandalised in Rosera, Samastipur. Some people forcibly hoist a saffron flag on top of a minaret of the mosque. These incidents take place a day after a slipper was allegedly thrown at a Ram Navami procession. Ten people, including a probationary IPS officer, were injured and three vehicles were set afire. Curfew was imposed. Three people were arrested. The very same day, Munger (Bihar) too witnessed communal disharmony as Clash between two communities erupted after some people protested against a controversial song being played and inflammatory slogans being chanted during an immersion procession of Chaiti Durga. Stones were pelted and shots were fired by both sides at a thoroughfare. Violence spreads to several parts of the town. Property and vehicles were set afire. Bihar’s Silao also witnessed heavy stone-pelting after a dispute over the route of a Ram Navami procession on March 28, and police had to resort to mild use of force besides firing tear gas shells to quell the mobs. More than 20 people, including a policeman, were injured. Fourteen people were arrested. On the very same day, participants of a Ram Navami procession clash with police after their demand to use a route other than the permitted one in Girhinda area of the district is rejected. Police was forced to resort to lathicharge.

Sadly person like Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar and Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal who are respected for their secular credentials are failing to stop the cycle of communal violence. It is said that Mamata Banerjee’s cavalier attitude towards governance combined with relentless appeasement of Muslims has become a deadly brew. Mamata Banerjee has provided honorariums to Imams and Muezzins from state government funds. As an extension of the mode of appeasement, Durga Puja immersion processions were prohibited after 4 pm to accommodate Muharram processions, disregarding the common Bengalis’ attachment to the festivities. The Calcutta High Court, in a scathing indictment, called the government order banning immersion procession an act to “appease the minority section of the public”. However, she condemned the incidents of violence that occurred during the Ram Navami rallies in the state. She said that her government would strongly deal with each miscreant.

On the other hand, Nitish Kumar has been facing a barrage of criticism over his government’s less-than-impressive record in dealing with communal violence. The Congress has called him “helpless” and leader of opposition Tejashwi Yadav has accused him of letting the BJP drive its agenda. Bihar, like many parts of West Bengal, has been engulfed in communal tension and violence. Religious processions (Ramnavmi and Chaiti Durga; in late January it was Saraswati Puja) carrying illegal weapons, entering Muslim mohallas, shouting incendiary slogans, ransacking masjids and madrasas (at Rosera in Samastipur) were the order of the day in the last few days. So much so that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is not able to prevent it even in Silao (Nalanda), his home district. Nitish Kumar has lost a certain amount of credibility among general voters and instil a sense of confidence among the people. There is a pattern in the violence and mainstreaming of the fringe, which is a clear attempt to prepare the ground for the BJP ahead of the 2019 general elections. Hence, Nitish Kumar looks helpless and as things are moving ahead it seems in coming general election BJP will fight election on Hindutva plank and abandon the politics of development.  Thus, the number of communal violence is expected to rise.

Religious fanaticism, casteism and mixing of religion and politics have increased in varied dimensions. While some political parties tolerate ethno-religious communalism, a few others even encourage it. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Shiv Sena and the RSS are the or­ganisations which claim to be the champions of Hinduism. Likewise, the Muslim League, the Jamait-e-Islami, the Jamait-Ulema-a-Hind, the Majlis- e-Ittehadul Musalmeen, and the Majlis-e-Mushawarat use Muslims as their vote banks by championing their religious sentiments. The social anger and frustration of these rootless and impoverished people often find expression in spontaneous violence whenever opportunity arises. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had failed to prevent hundreds of incidents of communal violence, usually involving members of the Hindu majority pitted against Muslims or other minorities. Instead, ruling party lawmakers and politicians were fueling religious tensions with provocative speeches and justifications for the violence. During his monthly radio address on Sunday, he had once said that violence in the name of faith, whether it is communal belief systems or subscribing to political ideologies, whether it is allegiance to a person or customs and traditions, would not be tolerated and law breakers would be punished. Sadly, Modi and his government have remained largely unmoved by the criticism. Although Modi has tried to reorient his image around business and economic development, Hindu extremist groups have been emboldened under his rule. Modi’s reluctance to condemn these attacks is reflected in the stringent, discriminatory laws his government has recently passed, including a ban on cow slaughter. This, along with “long-standing social, economic, and cultural discrimination, has left India’s religious minorities feeling increasingly insecure.

The country is going through a difficult time. Politicians for the sake of power are hell bent on dividing people on religious line. Hindu right wing groups are on rampage and if this violence continues it will badly damage social fabric of the country. The recurrence of communal riots in different states from time to time even now points out that so long as the political leaders and religious fanatics continue using communalism as a powerful instrument to achieve their goal or so long as religion remains politicised, our country will remain ever so vulnerable to communal tension. It is time secular political leaders and political parties ignore political and electoral considerations and condemn and take action against those religious organisations which disrupt peace and stability through statements and threaten the unity and pluralistic identity of India. Ironically, this kind of hatred runs deep and difficult to wash off. While the hope of a peaceful society has not completely died down, with each incident of communal clash that hope begins to fade a little.

“Come on! O, the saner people,
Let us strive for India’s bloom,
Now break the chains of hate,
And end this ugly era of gloom”