Communalism In Chhattisgarh: Arrest Of SIMI Activists Points Towards Dangerous Possibilities

By Surabhi Singh:

Chhattisgarh has been fighting a battle of its own since the last several decades. Billions of dollars worth of land, forests and mountains are being systematically plundered by a bunch of corporate zealots with active co operation of the state’s machinery. While 70 percent of Bastar remains malnourished and incapacitated, the other half of it remains engaged in a war of identities and existence. However, this war remains constricted to the forests and rarely ever has the issue encompassed the cities thronged with Malls, and concrete jungles. Even the holocaust of Godhra had failed to instigate much communal tension in the state. However, if there is an ounce of truth in the facts about a growing nexus between the SIMI activists and Maoists, then the fight for identities, and shredding the tag of geographical and religious minorities could emerge as a major war for the entire state.

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But, the recent arrest of the SIMI activists here might change this comfortable equation for good. “The majority population here is pre dominated by professionals and businessmen hailing from other states. The aboriginals are cooped up in the forests or pursue minuscule works. But, there is a major divide between the two communities here. The Muslim neighborhoods are identified by ghettos and umbrage, when compared to the rest of the society. When communal tension hits, it might envelope the entire society. The trigger could be anything from a Moharram march to Diwali celebrations. The scenario here that has been exceedingly peaceful, might exceed to threatening heights in days to come,” says Mohammad Khan, a resident of Rajatalab area.

Although the political clan, cutting across the party lines, have been utterly gripped in spiking terror through the jungles, mountains, dams and rivers- the systematic expansion of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram’s activities amongst tribals in Chhattisgarh shows that communalism is not entirely a forgotten chapter here. The late Bastar Tiger, Dileep Singh Judeo had propagated Hindutva through several strategic moves like re converting Christians to Hinduism and then washing their feet. Several other Hindutva outfits in Jashpur, for example, delineate how communalism works to crystallize religious identities by playing upon the socio-political and cultural background in this war torn area. The fact remains that with growing economic divide, people remain extremely vulnerable to communalism since religion seems to provide them the much needed escape from the sad realities of life. The specific combination of political, economic and religious factors during this period is one of the most crucial factors that resulted in BJP winning its hattrick during the recent elections. Since communalism is nothing but a socially engineered mobilization of frustrated youth by hard core fundamentalists and opportunists for gaining political or financial foothold, it is unlikely that this state would remain de-alienated by the idea for long.

Like the rest of the nation, in Raipur, the predominant areas of Muslim habitats are thronged with people belonging to lower economic strata. They pursue trades in illegal scrap, tailoring and butchering. It would suffice to say that frustrations ranging from escalating inflation are high. At a time like this, sleeper cells in the areas could ignite a war against the rest of the society. Recovery of live bullets in garbage at different places in Raipur, several months back, only goes on to underline this fact. Police sources said several bullets neatly packed in cigarette packets were recovered accidentally at garbage dustbins at three places, one of them being right behind a police station, in the state capital recently. “The bullets were sent to ammunition testing laboratory at Jabalpur to find out where they were sourced from. Although it could not be confirmed so far from where the bullets were sourced, two arms manufacturers in India have denied having made them. SIMI activists were found to be using such ammunition”, a senior police officer had been quoted in a leading daily requesting anonymity.

So, even as the police and the politicians doggedly pursue the connections of red and green, people in the state capital city remain more or less apathetic to the entire development. As Sana Tamkeen, a journalist, puts it “The day these four were arrested for their SIMI connections, I had refrained from getting online at the social media websites, because the witch hunt was on. For the layman, every Muslim here is wearing a communal hat, and things just do not get easier for us. However, being a girl, my fight is completely different from them. My fight is to establish my womanhood and independence. Communal tension does not top my priority list.”

Similarly, Firoz Khan, a mid level businessman says, “The arrested guys are all Wahabis. We do not get along with them. I have several Hindu friends in Raipur, since I am born and brought up here. There have been difficult days for us, but, right now, growing inflation is more on my mind than anything else.”

So, while the recent developments remain unavoidable examples of a growing misanthropy in the society, the crucial economic and social dynamics are yet to come to terms with the arrests of the SIMI activists. It would do well, for the BJP government to breach the economic divide in both urban and rural diaspora. Otherwise, the supposed link between the Maoists and the SIMI might be the new reality of this state that throngs the conundrum of identities- religious and geographical- to a level of cataclysmic ruthlessness and the end game might be heaped with collaterals.

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