Bulldozers, Discriminatory Laws and Demonization of Minorities: Communal Violence 2022 ( The Milli Gazette )

The Hindu right wing weaponized Hindu festivals to foment communal rights in 2022, according to the monitoring of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) based on the reports that appeared in three English newspapers of The Hindu, Indian Express and Times of India. In the year 2022, these newspapers reported 40 incidents of communal riots in India[1]. This is 400% increase from 10 in the last year. While as far as the mob lynching incidence are concerned, there was no increase, as compared to the year 2021, which remained constant at 15 incidences reported in the three newspapers monitored. Out of the 40 incidents of communal riots, 19 took place owing to processions taken out by Hindu right wing organizations, a trend that continued from 2020 and 2021 when similar major communal riot took place in Indore, Mandsaur, Ujjain and Manawar in Dhar. Religious processions were used to masquerade in order to mount communal attacks. The communal riots targeted Muslims predominantly in the respective areas damaging, vandalizing and looting their property. Instead of controlling the riots, the response of the state was to further the objective of the rioters, viz., to inflict maximum damages on the Muslims. This was done by the state by demolishing their prime properties using state owned equipment like the bulldozers, JCBs and other heavy machineries, and falsely branding the Muslims as rioters and stone pelters, which according to fact finding reports of civil society organizations were baseless allegations. The state allowed demonization of Muslims and Christians and hate speeches against them, making them vulnerable to hate crimes, mob lynching and targets during communal riots. The narratives and hysteria created around conversions and inter-faith marriages have polarized communities along religious lines. These are the dominant emerging trends of communal violence in 2022 according to annual monitoring of CSSS. While communal riots and mob lynching are forms of physical violence, however, violence is more than physical violence, and includes structural violence and symbolic violence.

Structural violence:

According to Galtung, ‘violence is present when human beings are being influenced so that their actual somatic and mental realizations are below their potential realizations’ (Galtung, 1969). Galtung in his writings made a distinction between direct violence, structural violence and cultural violence. The understanding that emerges from Galtung’s ideas is that structural violence is similar to social injustice and the structures that promote this social injustice. It is an invisible force that is formed by the structures that prevent the satisfaction of basic needs. It usually expresses itself indirectly and has no directly visible cause. It occurs when people are influenced in such a way that they cannot realize their full potential possible.

When applied to the context of communal violence in India, structural violence can be construed as violence perpetuated by structures which prevent full realization of individuals as citizens and individuals. Individuals face discrimination and exclusion on the basis of their religious identity. Laws, policies, political institutions, unjust social conditions are included in structures. What is the significance of structural violence unfolding in India and its implications on society? The way structural violence is unfolding in India and that too at a rapid pace, it marks a transition from a civic nationalism in India to ethnic nationalism. The Constitution of India guarantees equality, liberty and fraternity to all irrespective of caste, sex, class and religion. The idea of citizenship in India is not based on religion but on the values of equality, acceptance and inclusion, which is civic nationalism. However, in the last few years, with the advent of laws, policies and overall changing nature of state institutions, there are steps taken towards establishing ethnic nationalism in India. Ethnic nationalism draws symbols selectively from one particular religion and upholds it to be superior or dominant over others. The Hindu right wing in India has been demanding the establishment of ‘Hindu State’. Hindu state is also the raison d’etre of RSS, the ideological parent of BJP, the ruling party in India. The state has been ushering laws and policies which actively promote discrimination and exclusion of marginalized groups- steps towards Hindu state.

Structural violence in India leading towards ethnic nationalism is also manifesting in the right ward shift and loss of independence of state institutions including the judiciary, the election Commission, state funded educational and research organizations, various commissions to protect the rights of women, minorities etc. The robust and independent working of these institutions ensures democracy and strong civic nationalism. The breakdown of these institutions or ineffectual actions is pushing further towards an ethnic nationalism. Ethnic nationalism is sought to be justified by a warped communal narrative. Different issues and narratives woven by the Hindu right wing have normalized violence and exclusion of the Muslims and Christians. Some of the prominent issues are as follows:

Anti-conversion Laws:

In the year 2022, continuing the trend observed in other states in 2021, four more states, namely-Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana introduced or amended existing anti-conversion laws ironically called, “freedom of religion” acts. The objectives of the anti-conversion laws ushered in by states are twofold: firstly, to stop or create obstacles in the voluntary religious conversions from Hindu religion to other religions and not vice-versa. Secondly, the laws seek to criminalize people who want to convert into other religion from Hindu religion. Additionally, the laws and the propaganda of “large scale” conversions by Hindu right wing is used to justify and legitimize the attacks of state and non-state actors of pastors, prayer meetings, churches and houses of Christians, Muslim men and their families. It is worth noting here that the need for such laws don’t emanate from the grassroots. There is no data cited by the state to support such laws. It has no evidence of forcible conversions. On three separate occasions in 2021 and 2022, questions about the “danger” of religious conversions were posed in the Parliament- regarding forcible conversions for marriage and claims about large scale conversions of adivasis in the form of starred questions, but the government maintained the same stand that it doesn’t collect data on conversions (Arora, 2022)![2]

These laws essentially made religious conversion illegal and imposed stringent punishment maximum up to 10 years and fines up to INR 3 lakhs in some cases. The laws forbid change in religion through “force or allurement” and state that marriage for the sole purpose of conversion is declared null and void. The definition of the terms “fraud”, allurement” or “force” are so vague and broad as defined under these laws that it poses a threat to bring under its ambit also voluntary conversions and provides a weapon to the state to persecute innocent citizens who are not converting forcefully but out of their own will. The inter-faith couple that wishes to marry has to give the District Magistrate (DM) a prior notice of one or two months depending on the state. Similarly, those seeking to convert have to give prior notice to the DM.

While there is hysteria created by political leaders around ‘large scale’ conversions from the ruling dispensation claiming demographic changes, the census data shows no significant change in demographics. The legislations are used to criminalize Muslims and Christians. It is also used to legitimize the attacks on these communities. For instance, as many as 302 attacks against Christians took place in the first seven months of 2022 according to the United Christian Forum, which has collected data on the basis of distress calls it received on its helpline numbers (Pal, 2022).

In another incident, a group of Christian missionaries was allegedly attacked by more than 30 men armed with sticks two days before Christmas in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district over reports of forced conversions (Indian Express, 2022). In another worrisome incident, between December 9 and December 18, there were a series of attacks in about 18 villages in Narayanpur and 15 villages in Kondagaon in Chhattisgarh displacing about 1,000 Christian Adivasis from their villages. The Christians are forced to take refuge in the open in the harsh winters. The other villagers were mounting pressure on the Christians to give up their faith and convert into Hinduism (Indian Express, 2022).

It is to be noted that the passing of the anti-conversion law in Karnataka was preceded by a Christian delegation opposing such a law meeting with the Karnataka Governor and appealing to him to not give assent to the bill. The delegation stated that the Christian community in Karnataka is against such a law. The delegation questioned the need for such an exercise when sufficient laws and court directives were in place to monitor any violation. Referring to the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Article 25 and Article 26, the delegation said that introducing such laws would infringe on the rights of citizens, especially of the minority community. Right on cue, recently, St Mary’s Church at Mysuru’s Periyapatna was vandalised two days after Christmas. The miscreants also damaged the statue of baby Jesus at the church (M S & Gautam, 2022).

In Uttarakhand in another incident, charges were slapped against Ravi Francis and his family members under the anti-conversion law when the members of the Bajrang Dal surrounded the house of Francis and alleged that forced conversion of Hindus inside the house in Dehradun in November. The Francis family however denied these allegations and explained that they were having a Sunday prayer with their guests from the Christian community and not carrying out conversions (Das, 2022).

Interfaith marriages or propaganda of ‘Love Jihad’:

The anti-conversion laws and the fabricated narrative based on allegations and conspiracy theory of Muslim men “luring” Hindu women into marriages to convert them have led to assaults on inter-faith couples by Hindu right wing organizations. Such laws and inaction by the state to protect them have made it very difficult for two adult individuals and citizens to marry a partner of their own choice. It especially undermines agency of women to step out of patriarchal institutions like families and exercise their choice to marry the person they want. Ironically, there is no data to prove the theory of ‘love jihad’ at state level or at centre.

In 2022, the public discourse was replete with the accusations of “love jihad”. The Shraddha Walkar case in Delhi in particular gave it an impetus in 2022. Shraddha Walkar and Aftab Poonawala, both hailing from Vasai, Maharashta were in a live in relationship in Delhi. Poonawala allegedly murdered Walkar and cut her body into pieces. Though the crime is condemnable and the culprit should get the appropriate punishment prescribed by law, the media and police machinery gave a communal spin to the case. Initially the police ignored the case but later it was not looked as a crime devoid of the religious identity of the accused and victim but the incident which was sharply communalized.

Because this case involved an inter-faith couple, the media and the state, used the case to amplify the narrative that Hindu women who marry or choose to live with Muslim men are not safe. The import was that Muslim men are a threat to Hindu women in particular and the society in general. While domestic violence and even murders are not uncommon in our society and not related to the religious identity of the spouses, the Hindu right wing and the state are manipulating these cases to demonize Muslim men and undermine the agency of Hindu women. For instance, according to the National Family health Survey 5, 24.4% of married women have faced physical violence between 2019 and 2021 in Maharashtra alone. But somehow these instances of violence and in extreme cases, murders are not highlighted by the media and political leaders. Does violence occur only in inter-faith marriages and not in marriages where both spouses are from same religions? In fact honor killings are not uncommon where family members of the spouses kill both the spouses. Domestic violence is a reality in Indian society sadly which too is not spoken about.

Not surprisingly, Maharashtra which doesn’t have anti-conversion law or laws barring inter-faith marriages, constituted an ‘Intercaste/ Interfaith Marriage-Family Coordination Committee (state level)’ to gather details about couples in interfaith marriages, and maternal families of such women if they were estranged after the Shraddha Walkar case. Later the state government amended its Government Resolution, saying the task of the committee will now be limited to gathering information about interfaith marriages, and not intercaste marriages. The new GR stated that the panel had been renamed ‘Interfaith Marriage-Family Coordination Committee (state level)’ and “it was under the government’s consideration to amend the committee that was set up”. Many dub this move as a first step towards introducing a law restricting inter-faith marriages in the state.

Demolitions as a form of collective punishment:

Razing down the properties of Muslims under different pretext has been a pronounced trend in 2022 drawing criticism from various quarters. The objective of the demolitions is that Muslims should not protest and exercise their democratic rights as equal citizen of the country. Demolitions are used to intimidate the Muslim community. Though the state has justified demolitions on different occasions by citing illegality of the properties, gradually a trend is emerging where demolition of houses is couched as a punishment for other alleged crime. Such arbitrarily demolitions which do not follow any proper laid down legal procedures or laws. In fact the Supreme Court in June observed that demolitions have to be in accordance with law and cannot be retaliatory. Yet the demolitions continued with alarming frequency and in almost all the cases without prior notices.

Demolitions in 2022, mostly targeting the Muslims, were undertaken by the state after communal riots which took place on the occasion of Ram Navami in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Jharkhand. Demolitions were also undertaken in Delhi after the riots that took place on Hanuman Jayanti and in Uttar Pradesh after protests against Nupur Sharma and her derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammad. Ironically, Narottam Mishra, Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh, had stated that houses from where stones were hurled will be razed down and turned into rubble (Hindustan Times, 2022). However, the local administration where the demolitions have taken place has maintained that “illegal” structures were demolished and these demolitions are not connected with the riots or protests.

This story was originally published in milligazette.com. Read the full story here

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