Twenty years after the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, an entire generation of Hindu nationalists are now more convinced than ever that eliminating Muslims will improve their lives.
It was the first week of the fasting month of Ramadan. Indian Muslims in the town of Karauli, Rajasthan were minding their own business when hundreds of Hindu worshippers on motorcycles draped in saffron scarves arrived in their neighbourhood.
They turned up the volume on their loudspeakers and played a couplet.
“The day the Hindus wake up, the consequence will be,
“that the skull-cap wearer will bow down and say victory to Lord Ram.
“The day my blood boils, I wish to show you your place,
“then I will not speak, only my sword will.”
As Muslims watched in fear and panic, the rally grew boisterous and threatening.
When this happens and a provocative rally is conducted by the RSS, the paramilitary Hindu supremacist organisation who are leading the charge into making India into a Hindu Rashtra, or Hindu state, there is literally no one Muslims can turn to.
The procession had arrived to humiliate and assert Hindu supremacy. They will only leave when satisfied.
What happened next is still not clear. It is understood that some young Muslim men in the neighbourhood decided to take matters into their own hands. They picked up stones and flung them at motorcyclists. A scuffle ensued. In the mayhem, houses and shops were set alight. The neighbourhood began to burn.
The police, as ever, watching calmly among the crowd, eventually closed in. They arrested Muslim residents and a select few of the visiting provocateurs. Before long, videos began to circulate suggesting that Muslims attacked peaceful Hindus as they celebrated the birth of their deity, Ram.
They were naturally blamed for the ‘violence’. On cue, international media described the incidents as ‘clashes’ between Hindus and Muslims. Meanwhile, Hindu neighbours are instructed to boycott Muslim shops.
As penance for daring to stand up to the hate, the state government shut down the Internet and imposed a curfew in the area. The government sent in 600 police officers to ‘patrol’ the area.
Message of hate
Over the past 10 days, scenes like the one described above have played out across several states in India.
Under the guise of celebrating the birth of the deity Ram, known as Ram Navami, thousands of Hindu nationalists and supremacists, some carrying sticks and swords, have been visiting Muslim neighbourhoods spouting messages of hate and daring Muslims to stand up for themselves.
If the stand-off results in any type of scuffle, the state has acted with stupendous brutality. In the district of Khargone in Madya Pradhesh, India’s second-largest, at least 16 houses and 29 shops were demolished, a majority of which were Muslim-owned, following a similar act of provocation on 10 April.
Indian authorities argued that the demolished structures were illegal. But, as Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party (AIMIM), inferred at a press conference, even if the houses were illegal, there was still a due process to be followed. This, Owaisi said, was an act of collective punishment.
Muslims have lived on the periphery of political and economic life for decades in India. But since Narendra Modi took over in 2014, Muslims have become a scapegoat for all of India’s ills.
In 2020, an obvious attempt to dehumanise the community saw Muslims accused of spreading the coronavirus, or taking part in a “corona Jihad” as it was called.
But even by the horrific standards of the past eight years, the past six months have been arguably unprecedented.
Call for violence
Whereas calls by a group of monks for Hindus to arm themselves in the coming genocide against Muslims prompted pockets of liberal ‘outrage’ as recently as December 2021, today calls for the mass murder of the minority have become as routine, and regular, as the bigotry of a Bollywood film.
The recent escalation in attacks follows a series of episodes in the southern state of Karnataka, where right wing Hindus have called for a boycott of Muslim fruit traders, taxi drivers, and Halal stores, while Muslim women have been banned from wearing headscarves at several colleges in the same state.
The state government is now also considering banning mosques from broadcasting the Azan from loudspeakers.
Over the past week alone, calls for violence and resultant acts of arson against Muslims were reported in at least seven states, including Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.
In Goa, a mob carrying saffron flags tried to enter a mosque just as worshippers were opening their fast.
To be clear, none of these incidents have elicited outrage or condemnation from the national government, illustrating once more that calls for violence against Muslims were neither separate nor antithetical to the goals of the state.
They are part of a project by the Hindu right to “Hinduise” the social and economic landscape toward building a state for the Hindu majority.
Twenty years may have passed since the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, but today an entire generation of young Hindu nationalists now believe that eliminating Muslims will improve their lives.
In previous rallies in Kauralai in Rajasthan, Hindu nationalists reportedly played songs for hours outside Muslim homes.
One of these songs included the following lyrics:
“We are hardcore Hindus, we will create a new history
“We will enter the homes of enemies, and will cut their heads […]
“In every home the saffron flag will be seen, the rule of Ram will return.
“There is only one slogan, one name, victory to Lord Ram, victory to Lord Ram.”
One 22-year-old Hindu man told a journalist that “when we listen to the song, we feel strengthened, we get the feeling that we want to kill every single Muslim around”.
A larger project of ethnic cleansing is underway in India. As per the logic of the Hindutva – the ideology that underpins the Hindu nationalist movement – Muslims will have to convert or perish.
Indian Muslims are now staring firmly at the abyss. And they know they when it comes to causes, they are close to the bottom of the heap.
Religion Observer believes in a diversity of opinions. This piece reflects the views of the author and does not necessarily represent those of the OR.