‘Fashion Mubarak’ from m Bazaar, Ranchi. Photo: Author provided

By Abhik Bhattacharya and Arshad Raza Khan / The Wire

Yuval Noah Harari, in his popular book Sapiens: A Brief history of Humankind, justifiably claims that capitalism is the modern religion that makes the consumers of the world unite. However, it is perhaps not so for the majoritarian nation-states that thrive on discrimination and invisibilisation of the ‘Other’. While the incidental collision in the dates of Ramzan and Ram Navami had already led to disruptions of namaz and attacks on masjids by Hindutva groups followed by the bulldozing of Muslim households across several states, what was unanticipated is the invisibilisation and silencing of Muslims in the marketing strategies of big corporates.

It has been a common practice for businesses to boost sales with bumper offers during different religious festivals. Many consumers even wait for Diwali, Durga Puja or Christmas/New Year sales to fill their carts. However, these offers had never been limited to any specific religion. Though different in degree and scale, Eid-ul-fitr has always secured a space in capitalist parlance. No commercial enterprise would like to lose a formidable number of Muslim consumers who drain their year’s savings during this occasion. ‘Eid Mubarak’ thus used to be showcased across the gates of shopping malls and marketing complexes.

This common image, however, is missing as one passes through the Ranchi main road just before Eid. The city that we knew for its cordial ‘sadvabna missions’ (efforts taken by citizens of different communities to heal communal tensions), the city that never had any recognisable communal outbreak since 1967, has taken a new shape. Till last year, major shopping complexes like V Mart, Citi Style, Style Bazaar, M Bazaar and Kolkata Bazaar used to put up banners saying ‘Eid Mubarak’. This year, the word ‘Eid’ is conspicuously absent.

V-Mart, in their greetings encircled in a stereotypical green background accompanied by a crescent moon, wrote, ‘Fashion ka pyaar, har tyohar (The love for fashion exists during every festival).’ City Style Mall, in its greetings, used the most instrumental representation of a Muslim family – a picture of a Muslim man in a skull cap with his overdressed wife, skull-capped son and a daughter. Though the green background, the used image and its temporal relevance makes it clear for what it stands, the message on the board says, ‘Khushiyan Mubarak’.

Style Bazaar used a bold green background (perhaps to further intensify the imaginary correlation between the Pakistani flag and Indian Muslims’ allegiance toward it) and stated, ‘Jashn-E-Offers’. Though it is not clear whether they would face a boycott from Hindu consumers for using the word ‘Jashn’, as was the case with Fabindia last Diwali, they must claim some rewards for not mentioning the ‘E’ word.

However, the claimant of the best award for silencing Eid both semiotically and phonetically in Ranchi must be ‘m Baazar’. Without even taking the risk of representing Muslims, they have simply put a photo of a woman along with the greeting, ‘Fashion Mubarak’. While in the previous case Khushiyan may have some semiotic connections with ‘Khushi ki Eid’, fashion is the last thing connected to the festival’s spirit and emotions.

These greetings show how efforts have been made to deliberately omit the word ‘Eid’ from the public display. To think that it is merely coincidental and there is no direct connection to the broader Hindutva violence is to try and assuage one’s secular-corporate self.

The semiotic blurring of Eid in the market place and invisibilisation of Muslims in public spaces are part of broader strategies to segregate the community. Since the beginning of this Ramzan, like other cities, Ranchi also witnessed several incidents of Hindutva vandalism. Most of the attacks here were centred in Muslim-dominated localities.

The message is clear – the only ways left for Muslims is to either vanish, as Saeed Naqvi imagines in his marvellous play The Muslim Vanishes, or to arrange ‘hijrat’ (mass migration led by Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Madina, to escape persecution) to another country.

Communal flare-up in Ranchi during Ramzan

The first incident of communal tension in Ranchi during Ramzan was reported from Fateh-ullah Road (near the Ranchi Main Road) on April 5. A mob of 80-90 people led by Raju Viswakarma (allegedly an RSS member) and Vikki entered Fateh-ullah road during Taraweeh Namaz and raised provocative slogans. The mob was on their regular ‘Mangalwari Julus’ but changed their route to enter a Muslim locality. The situation got tense as they allegedly shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and hurled abusive slurs. One Fardeen Khan, a local resident, filed an FIR against Raju and Vikki but nobody has been arrested yet.

The next incident happened at Karbala chowk, another prominent Muslim market and residential area in Ranchi, on April 8. Around 10:45 pm, a group of four bikes allegedly came from Vikrant chowk and started sloganeering near Albela hotel. As all of them were speeding, one of them lost control and fell off the bike. Though the rider fled on another vehicle, the frustrated residents of Karbala chowk got hold of the bike. More than 200 people surrounded the bike within 20 minutes and set it on fire.

The next day, the Lower Bazaar Police Station reportedly took suo motu cognisance and filed an FIR against 200 unknown persons for attacking the bikers and damaging the bike. A few sadvabana meetings were then arranged and the situation brought under control.

The most distasteful incident occurred on April 24, during the funeral procession of Amir-i-Tabligh-e-Jamaat Haji Ghulam Sarwar. While there was more than 50,000 people gathered for the procession, but the security provision was not sufficient. As the procession moved toward Ratu cemetery, a few people allegedly pelted stones from their roofs to disrupt it. Even after the offering of Janaza ka Namaaz in Harmu Idgaah, a Hindu-dominated locality, the same incident recurred. These provocations led to a group of Muslim youth losing their temper and attacking a few vehicles.

These humiliations and attacks were accompanied by a strategic silence from the Hemant Soren government. Though it passed an anti-mob lynching Bill early this year, till now the benefit of it has only been meted out to Rupesh Pandey’s family, an alleged victim of communal clashes in Dulmaha village, Hazaribagh district, Jharkhand. As per S. Ali, a social activist and president of the All Muslim Youth Association (AMYA), the government’s attitude highlights its ideological fragility and complicity.

The removal of the word ‘Eid’ from the greetings and offers by the big corporates must be read in this context. It is done in compliance with the majoritarian agenda of eliminating Muslims, their everyday rituals and expressions from public display. The prohibition on hijab in Karnataka and the efforts to stop namaaz in public spaces of Gurgaon mix well with the scripts of replacing the ‘E’ word.

The corporate-Hindutva nexus, as Arundhati Roy calls it in several of her speeches, thus takes on a formidable identity in Ranchi.

This article first appeared on thewire.in