October  2001 
Special Report

Hindutva targets the hinterland

With the administration and the police as mute witness, in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP are actively engaged in yet another bloody build–up to their campaign for the Ram mandir in Ayodhya


It could be the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, ably assisted by their brethren of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat — the laboratory for a Hindu Rashtra. Or the Shiv Sena, often supported by members of the ruling Congress and NCP combine in rural Maharashtra.

In the last two months, there have been a series of attacks on Muslims, their homes, businesses and places of worship, in small villages or qasbahs (small towns) where they are numerically small. This has been happening in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. Attacks on Christian nuns and priests continue, too, with precious little protection to them from the law and order machinery.

Literature being distributed by the Maharashtra unit of the VHP in far flung villages and districts indicates a systematic religious mobilization of local communities around the issue of the commencement of Ram mandir construction by the VHP on March 12 (Maha Shivratri day), 2002. A series of preparatory jalabhisheks and other semi–religious functions are also being planned to mobilize cadres for the event. Meanwhile, the ban on SIMI following terrorist attacks on America and the crude demonisation of the Muslim minority ("All Muslims are not jehadis but all jehadis are Muslims"— MG Vaidya, RSS spokesman), are providing a tailor–made situation for the actions to get viewed in a completely twisted manner.

On the night of October 9, a mob from the village of Mangle in Shirale taluka of Sangli district (western Maharashtra) set on fire 10 homes, two timber marts and one saw mill belonging to Muslims. In the process, 80-year-old Zainuddin Muhammad Sattar was burnt to death.

The ‘provocation’?

The fact that members of the Muslim minority had dared to approach the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission a month earlier to complain of continuing intimidation, abuse and threats by fellow villagers.

The background?

In Mangle village, on August 8, four wrestlers were taken into police custody over the alleged desecration of a Ganesh idol. Among these were Yunus Moosa Shaikh, Santaji Khambkar, Gopi Khumbhar, Sanjay Patil and two others. Following police intervention, a peace committee consisting of Dada Patil, Prahlad Ankush, Satish Nilkanth, Vilas Mhaske, among others, was formed.

Ironically, members of this very peace committee issued a fatwa on September 7 severely curtailing religious practices of Muslims from their village: The heads of all 35 Muslim families from the village of over 1,000 homes must shave off their beards; no dress with ‘Muslim appearance’; no wearing of a cap during namaaz; no five times a day namaaz, once is enough; no azaan on loudspeakers; and finally, all Muslim members must in writing endorse the ‘hukumnama’ to drive the entire family of Yunus Shaikh (detained by the police), including the three uncles, out of the village.

The following morning, September 8, at a gram sabha meeting held within the premises of the Mahadev temple, at which 1,500 villagers were present, Muslim members were subjected to filthy abuses against them and their faith. In utter fear, they had shaved off their beards before attending the gram sabha meeting.

Tensions simmered until the victims approached the state director general of police (DGP) Subhash Malhotra, as also the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission. However, with the recent round of arson and murder the situation in the village remains far from normal.

In a bid to tide over the tensions in the village, the local administration and police had persuaded the affected Muslims to sign a statement stating that ‘the shaving of the beard had been done voluntarily.’ After a visit to the village, the State Minorities Commission team, one of it’s members Munaf Hakim had told CC: "Like in other states, especially Gujarat, there is a systematic plan to terrorise Muslims wherever they are in a small minority, attack their homes and businesses and eventually squeeze them out of their means of livelihood by taking over their enterprises. It is a dangerous trend that needs to be nipped in the bud."

On October 9, after the arson and killing, the state police imposed curfew in the village and detained 56 persons responsible for the arson until October 18. "There was anger in a section because of the idol desecration during Ganeshutsav," SP of the district, Ritesh Kumar told CC. "But things are under control now. It is not Hindu extremist elements but members of different parties involved here," he added. As we go to press, there were reports of mounting pressure on the local police to release those guilty of criminal conduct, arson and murder.

Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna has chosen to give a distorted communal picture of the whole episode, reporting that the eve-teasing of a Hindu girl by a Muslim youth led to the attack by villagers on the homes and businesses of his relatives — a narrative that figures neither in the victims’ nor the police rendering of events!

In another incident in the village of Saswad, barely 40 kilometres out of Pune, violence — reminiscent of the fires lit by the Ramshila poojan programmes of the 90s and the Lal Krishna Advani–led rathyatra between 1990–1992 — followed a jalabhishek programme in the town on October 7, organised by the VHP and Bajrang Dal. With no provocation at all, the mob gathered ostensibly for a religious programme, attacked a dargah and sheds located within a graveyard. In the pre-planned destruction that followed, Muslim-owned bakeries, shops and homes were also destroyed. Saswad has not had a history of communal tensions before this incident.

The crowd allegedly raised demeaning slogans against Muslims. Thirty persons have been arrested by the police in this connection. "It was clearly extremist elements like the Bajrang Dal and the VHP who instigated the attack," the state DGP, Malhotra told CC.

But in a predicable bid to cover tracks and spread misinformation in the rest of Maharashtra, Saamna reported that "anti–national activities at burial grounds" were the cause of the mob burning, looting and destroying of homes and shops.

It will be interesting to see if the Maharashtra police initiates any action against the SS mouthpiece that in it’s coverage made no mention of the jalabhishek programme at which provocative anti–Muslim slogans had been shouted prior to the all–out attack.

The Saamna report that has no official corroboration at all claims that "SIMI activists were meeting at this unauthorized shed within the burial grounds and therefore the locals’ "feelings were outraged" and they pulled it down and also burnt homes and shops and businesses.

Meanwhile, it may be recalled that the Maharashtra Bajrang Dal had mercilessly beaten up Father Oscar Mendonca of the St John’s Baptist Church in Thane on August 6, leading to a statewide protest from Christian schools. Arrests were made promptly by the police, but it remains to be seen whether prosecutions against the offenders, too, will be prompt.

On August 26, the local Shiv Sena in Thane went on the rampage, completely destroying a hospital after their leader Anand Dighe died within its premises. The total losses are estimated at around Rs. 9 crore and several hundred hospital staff are now jobless. While the police have been lax in their probe, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission is independently investigating the breakdown of law and order and the arson that followed.

Christian evangelists distributing pamphlets in the Borivali area in north Mumbai were illegally detained by the local police on October 6, following a ‘tip–off’ from none less than the Bajrang Dal! It took the intervention of Abraham Mathai, member of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission to get them released at 1 a.m., five hours after their detention.

In nearby Gujarat that CC has been tracking for three years now, systematic incidents continue that are illustrative of Hindutva in action. As several incidents through August, September and October reveal, the climate in that state bodes ill for the life and security of religious minorities as also their religious freedoms. The latest political developments in the state have led to a pracharak of the RSS — Narendra Modi — being sworn in as the chief minister for the first time in independent India’s history. Given the fact that he is a hardliner, the communal situation under his dispensation is expected by political observers to get considerably worse.

During Ganeshotsav celebrations in Ahmedabad in late August, Bajrang Dal activists went on the rampage, murdering a Muslim youth after members of the Muslim community refused to shell out money for the Ganesh celebrations. (Asian Age, August 26). The violence that continued for three days saw the police machinery paralysed, simply failing to in its duty to protect those being attacked. Of the three hawkers attacked with knives when they refused to pay hafta to the Bajrang Dal, two succumbed to their injuries. Demands for complaints to be registered against Bajrang Dal members also fell on deaf years, since the outfit enjoys political patronage.

In another, more recent and more chilling incident, around 550 Muslim men, women and children of a small town, Chanasma of Patan district in Gujarat, have been forced to migrate and move to Patan with only the sky as their shelter. "Dead bodies of Muslims have been dug out and the land well surfaced with saffron flags flying high over it," says an enquiry committee’s report on Chanasma’s atrocities committed in September this year.

Says the report authored by Indu Kumar Jani (editor – Naya Marg), Valjibhai Parmar (secretary, Council for Social Justice) and Raju Solanki, a journalist–activist: "Chanasma’s age-old Muslim-owned dargah land called Navgajapir has now been forcibly taken over by a saffron gang of local Bajrang Dal’s lathi-wielding men…The green sheet spread over the Navgajapir Dargah has been replaced by a white one; a Hindu temple has been constructed after removing a tomb shaped light-house after colouring it in saffron and covering it with white flag and a Bajrang Dal symbol of a trident. An iron pagoda (chabutaro) has been constructed and a saffron flag fixed over it; a slogan like ‘Bharatmataki Jai’ has been written down all around the Dargah; a new fencing of bricks without plaster can be seen having been constructed afresh to grab this land belonging to the Waqf board."

The intimidation of the minority through this assault on a shrine that is symbolic of our syncretic tradition did not stop there. According to the fact–finding report, a few Bajrang Dal volunteers had surrounded Indiranagar’s Muslim homes with naked swords in their hands, hurling violent threats at the Muslim women. "If local Dalits had not come to their rescue and sheltered them for a night, we may have yet seen a repeat of the gruesome events that took place in Surat in December 1992".

(The mass rape of Muslim women within days of the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, was a chilling illustration of what the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign was really about — not building a temple for a revered God; but manipulating the name of a God and a faith to spread intimidation and terror and actualise these through rapes and killings).

Speaking to the members of the fact–finding team, the fear–stricken Muslim families presently living in Patan reveal how the plans of the Hindutva brigade have been successful. "We are not now ready to go back to Chanasma. Our mothers, sisters and daughters would never be safe over there."

The history of tension in Chanasma, having a predominantly Patel population (80 per cent of the residents belong to this caste) goes back two years. The town had seen a wanton attack on a Muslim of Vadavali village at the Chanasma bus stand, in late 1999. The local Muslim Waqf–owned dargah land was passed over to a Lok Kalyan Trust of Hindus of Chanasma by the local municipality resolution of December 12, 1999. "One can easily imagine the condition of the minorities people when the local body itself commits an illegal and intimidatory act," says the report.

Once again, the response of the administration has been found wanting. Local Muslims petitioned the Patan district collector on August 17 against the illegal action. He has, however, sat on the file and done nothing to protect the minority community. Finally, the Muslim families have had to rush to the Gujarat High Court in a writ petition urging judicial directions to assure protection of their land and lives!

The Christian minority in the state has not been spared either. The complaints lodged by the All India Christian Council record that incidents of attacks on Christian religious persons and churches, as well as desecrating of the Bible have been reported from different parts of Gujarat in September and October.

In Dahod district of south Gujarat, on September 19, Christians were forcibly prevented from watching a film on Christ by the powerful Patels and sarpanchs of the village. When the victims went to register their complaint at the Limkheda police station the next day, the police turned on them: "Why did you not take our permission to show this film in public? You are now criminals because you did not take our permission!" The film show was in a home and the screening did not involve any loudspeakers.

Earlier, on August 25, women officials and children from the IP Mission orphanage at Jobat village in Madhya Pradesh, on their way for a picnic at Kali dam in Dahod, were attacked by the Bajrang Dal, the VHP as well as by the police, according to a complaint monitored by the AICC. When the children were washing their faces at a hand pump, Bajrang Dal and VHP activists surrounded them, took the keys of their jeeps and allegedly beat up women with sticks. The orphanage officials then went to the local police station where, secretary of the AICC, Samson Christian alleges, instead of registering a complaint, the policemen beat up the women and asked them to leave Dahod immediately. As the Dahod police refused to register a complaint, an FIR was lodged at the Jobat police station where the orphanage is based. Orissa and Rajasthan, too, have witnessed simmering incidents over the past few months. (CC proposes to closely monitor these developments in the months ahead).

The moot point is whether the country and the people, that Hindutva held as hostages not so long ago, will have to relive the trauma all over again. 

(With reports from Batuk Vohra in Ahmedabad).


[ Subscribe | Contact Us | Archives | Khoj | Aman ]
[ Letter to editor  ]
Copyrights © 2001, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.