By Abul Kalam Azad:
“This time the riots were massive-
it rained blood, quite a downpour
Next year will see a grand harvestÂ of votes.”
– Gorakh Pandey
Two sets of images graced my eyes today morning in the news – one regarding the communal mahapanchayat held at Delhi (Yes, Delhi. The national capital of the largest democracy) without any glitches whatsoever, and the other concerning the brutal police repression of the Kiss of Love protest at Kochi – the disproportionate deployment of police force is just ridiculous.
A mahapanchayat – a caste/religious congregation convened for something inevitably regressive was conducted in Bawana, attended by around 2000 people (a significant number gathered from other areas of Delhi and Haryana) including “the heads of several local Jat-dominated villages”, and “local elected representatives, BJP MLA Ghuggan Singh and congress councillor Devinder Poni”. They collectively asserted that no Muharram procession would be allowed to pass in their area, with a declaration, that was more of a warning, submitted to the police with 3000 signatures, saying, quite shamelessly, that they should not be held responsible for any violent acts if the march passes through there.
Bawana had been in the news this Eid, for reports that “organized mobs of Hindu fundamentalist forces, who go by the name of ‘Hindu Kranti Sena’, …..have been creating a situation of fear and terror in the name of Cow protection”. This mahapanchayat seems to build upon the foundations of communal hatred already planted deep in the collective psyche of the area. And to add to the absurdity of this gathering, the muslim residents of the JJ colony have already agreed to confine their march to their colony and submitted documents regarding the same to the local authorities. What then is the purpose of this hate-filled abhorrent congregation, if not to blatantly assert their majoritarian dominance and further polarize the already wounded neighborhood, and terrorize the muslim community with violent threats?
Speeches filled with vicious bigotry and prejudice percolated like an incurable epidemic among the communally charged gathering. The rhetoric of “us and them”, the Moolnivasis and the Invaders, the cow lovers and the cow slaughters, settled like fog in the ears of the warped minds.
A false sense of persecution, an illusion, that has been systemically imbibed, nurtured and persisted for decades – the repulsive inheritance of a communal country – was put into action once again. The saviours of Hindu women, and cows (do cows have a religion?) were waxing eloquent about the need for resisting this assault of Muslims on their culture – the culture of Hindustan, in which many Indians are not a part of, definitely not the 170-million odd Muslims, most of them wallowing in deplorable socio-economic conditions. And this chauvinist charade happened in the auspicious presence of the ACP, who, as expected, did zilch to reprimand the speakers for their hideously prejudiced comments. As my friend Ayushi, who attended the Mahapanchayat, aptly describes it – ‘vulgar state-Hindutva nexus’.
An atmosphere of fear and stigma, a paralysing pull of alienation, of ‘otherness’, surrounds, like a haunting shadow, the muslim community across the nation, bowing down to the whims of the majoritarian hegemony, especially post May 16, when a self-confessed Hindu Nationalist party rose with overwhelming power, thus undoubtedly showing the Muslim community their place in the workings of this representative democracy. Their food, their livelihoods, their festivals, their processions, their dignity – everything is under attack. They are being humiliated/killed/raped/rioted into dancing to the tunes of such mahapanchayats, such elected representatives who deliver these condemnable speeches with undeniable impunity – 170 million kites without any control over their fates. This is a community that has been systematically marginalized, stripped of any representation in the holy echelons of elected bodies, whose vote has been rendered irrelevant, whose voice has been completely silenced except when some Imam or some Owaisi spews condemnable comments.
Does this nation have an answer to the young Muslim man who asks, “Today, they are asking us to not take out the holy procession in the market. Tomorrow they may ask us not to mark Muharram at all. How long can we take this!”? Should we not, as a civil society, reel with shame, for instilling fear for their lives in small children asking their parents if they will be killed in the riots?
How many times, in how many words/articles/poems can we condemn people like Pradeep, one of the conveners of the Mahapanchayat, when he complains, “If they can’t respect our decisions, they should go away”? Who confers this arrogant power of ownership over this land (and the rules of this land, again as dictated by their diktats), this snobbish sense of entitlement stinking with impunity on such people? The apathetic government and state machinery, whose passiveness betrays their complicity and condonment? Or the audience of this Mahapanchayat, who are more than happy to be led into this path of bigotry by the pied pipers of Hindutva? Or us, who are helplessly staring at our screens and our newspapers with a rage that has no outlet and with a sorrow that seems futile?
Last year, in the month of October, an eerily similar mahapanchayat was convened in Muzaffarnagar – which preceded the heinous riots, now twirling in the whirlpool of collective amnesia, causing forced displacement of lakhs of people, gang rapes, deaths, loss of livelihoods, shelter etc. generations scarred for life, still rotting in the relief camps, probably being evicted out of them as I write. The project of communal polarization, which, it seemed, was the responsibility of Amit Shah, was achieved with such morbid precision that BJP witnessed a never before ‘grand harvest’ of seats from the state of Uttar Pradesh. The people involved were accordingly rewarded with glittering positions in the central ministry and other crucial positions – who says riots do not pay? The blood of the killed decorates the carpets of their lavish homes, the tears of the raped dissolves in the personal swimming pools, the anger of the displaced lights their kitchen stoves.
One is forced to ponder, to what grand harvest is this endeavour aimed at? In whose grand narrative is this a vital part?
Silence scalds my trembling head, searching for answers, for questions, for safety, for a sense of belonging, which, it seems to me, is hard to find.
The imminent thing for activists, students and concerned citizens to do is to conduct mass protests against this atrocious communal activity and be a source of support to the minorities in terrible danger of communal attacks.