Ram Navami rally
The report finds that in April 2022, nine states saw widespread violence during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti celebrations. Three others saw “communal provocation and low-grade violence”. Image shows Ram Navami procession in Burdwan Town, Purba Bardhaman, West Bengal, in 2019. iStock

Ram Navami-Hanuman Jayanti clashes: ‘India has reached stage of perpetual violence’

Report looks into April 2022 clashes, finds “distinct and eerie patterns” aimed at spreading communal unrest

India has reached a stage of perpetual violence. This disturbing conclusion is drawn by a report that looked into incidents of communal violence in the country during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti festivals a year back, in April 2022.

This year too, Ram Navami processions in West Bengal and Bihar have seen widespread communal violence. With Hanuman Jayanti to be celebrated on Thursday (April 6), police across various states are likely to be in a state of high alert.

Prepared by Citizens & Lawyers Initiative, the report, titled ‘Routes of Wrath: Weaponising religious procession’ and edited by senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, is based on information available in the public domain and on “work of fact-finding initiatives that are publicly available, as well as news reportage during and after the days of the violence.”

The report finds that in April 2022, in nine states — Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Goa and West Bengal — there was wide-spread violence during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti celebrations. Karnataka, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh saw “communal provocation and low-grade violence”.

Also read: Days after Ram Navami clash, fresh violence erupts during BJP procession in Bengal

Telangana shines

Telangana was the only state that provided a ray of hope where peace prevailed despite processions. As Justice Rohinton F Nariman, former judge of the Supreme Court, points out about Telangana in his Foreword, “Both the police chief and the High Court have taken the lead in ensuring that the constitutional right of the Hindu community to take out their processions is exercised in peace and harmony without disturbing members of other communities, given that we are a secular nation.”

In other states, the report saw “distinct and eerie patterns amongst the Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions in April 2022 in all the states.”

Eerie pattern

These patterns included “larger-than-usual gatherings of saffron-clad men drawing swords, waving trishuls and even (in some cases) firearms, taking deliberately mapped paths that crossed major mosques and Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods, and raising provocative slogans about the coming of a Hindu Rashtra, the conditions under which Muslims would be allowed to live in this Nation, and even justifying violence against Muslims.”

The report minces no words when it says, “States that saw the most violence are also those where Hindutva groups and extremists enjoy the highest levels of political patronage. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its proxies and fellow travellers, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Hindu Jagran Manch, and others have clearly played a direct and proximate role in all such states in spreading communal unrest.”

Also read: Won’t allow hooliganism: Bengal Governor after visiting violence-hit Rishra

The report, however, makes a distinction in the nature of provocation between some states. While in Goa or Maharashtra, it says, “the procession organisers appear to have been satisfied with mere intimidation of members of the minority community,” in states like Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Jharkhand, “they used the garb of religious festivities to openly target, attack, and even destroy Muslim shops, handcarts, businesses, livelihoods, and even homes.”

“The events of April 2022 have…been instrumentalised to lend credibility to the notion of ‘Hindu khatre mein hai’ (Hindus are in danger),” the report says.

Instilling fear

Pointing out that “processions…were the primary catalyst for the violence, in a multitude of ways,” the report singles out mainstream television media that “played a leading role in manufacturing fear amongst the Hindu majority, helping to galvanise public opinion against minority communities.”

Detailing the nature of instigation, the report says that it was no coincidence that Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti were used for such mobilisation in April 2022 as the two festivals happened to fall during the month of Ramzan.

“The processions concertedly targeted places of worship by gathering in front of mosques and chanting anti-Muslim slogans, either at the same time as namaz was being offered, or at the breaking of the fast after sunset, thereby ensuring that the confrontation would coincide with the largest possible number of Muslim people being present and vulnerable,” it says adding, “The processions used offensive slogans and music that openly called for violence against non-Hindus and particularly the Muslim community.”

Hateful music was a common thread in these processions across all states. “Incendiary and anti- Muslim songs have been reported from every one of these processions, and have in general become a mainstay of Hindu religious processions in recent years,” the report says concluding that “hateful music inscribes religious bigotry into ‘culture’ as everyday life, and the presence of DJs at all of these processions contributes to this.”

Also read: Bihar violence: 77 arrested, normalcy restored, say police

‘The common enemy’

The report also points at an emerging trend. “Caste-based polarisation is being replaced by a religion-based one, by appealing to all caste groups to identify themselves as superior to non-Hindus, especially Muslims,” it says. The Dalits and lower castes were the targets in this endeavour and this was seen prominently during riots in Jharkhand and Delhi — “a way to assert their credentials as part of a pan-Hindu identity against a common enemy: Muslims.” The report says the call to boycott Muslim businesses was a step in the direction to bring various caste groups under one ‘Hindu’ fold.

The report notes with concern the distribution of weapons “openly taking place in recent years, especially in BJP-ruled states.” “That the processions were all armed with swords, tridents, bricks and bats is testament to the politicisation of Hindu festivals and their takeover by paramilitary groups operating with impunity due to State support,” it adds.

In this regard, the report also points out calls for mass violence against “Muslims in general… taking place, with tacit endorsement from the authorities, in the form of Dharma Sansads and Hindu Maha Panchayats in Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana.”

The role of state

“While there have been earlier phases of communal violence in India…they did not undermine state control over society or its authority over institutions in the manner that is being seen today,” it says, pointing out at the coordination between Hindutva outfits, the police and the district administration that was seen in April 2022.

“The relationship between them has become institutionalised in many parts, sustaining a violently undemocratic model of governance that is anathema to the rule of law,” it says, citing the examples of Khargone and Sendhwa in Madhya Pradesh, Jahangirpuri in Delhi and Himmatnagar and Khambhat in Gujarat, where “the district administrations and local police carried out demolition drives in the immediate aftermath of the violence.”

The demolitions, the report says, “mark a set of important developments in the ongoing dismantling of rule of law and religious freedom in India. One conspicuous feature has been the largely passive role of the court. Most worrisome are the long-term implications of the illegality being ascribed to Muslim settlements.”

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