New Report Finds ‘Distinct’, ‘Eerie’ Patterns in Hanuman Jayanti, Ram Navami Rallies in April 2022 (The Wire)

By Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

New Delhi: A detailed report by the Citizens and Lawyers Initiative into the sharp spike in events leading to communal violence during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti in April 2022, which involved targeting Muslim places of worship or residences, pointedly on the occasion of festivals, has found “commonalities” in how religious events have been used to perpetrate violence against the minority community.

Titled, “Routes of Wrath: Weaponising Religious Processions”, the 174-page report, has dealt with various aspects of the systemic violence including “nature of instigation”, “tactics of mobilising the majority” and “the administrative response as collective punishment”.

The report, for which the foreword has been written by former Supreme Court judge Rohinton F. Nariman and the prologue and introduction by senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, notes that despite the well-known lessons from earlier riots, “religious processions in state after state have been granted licences or permissions to pass through the most congested and sensitive areas.”

The report was released on March 25, Saturday.

As Singh writes in the introduction to the report, “In April 2022, India witnessed communal violence breaking out in as many as nine states, along with incidents of provocation and low-grade violence in three others. In all of them, the catalyst for the violence was the same: religious processions celebrating the Hindu festivals of Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti, followed by targetted attacks on Muslim-owned properties, businesses and places of worship.”

The cover of the ‘Routes of Wrath’ report.

Stating that at least 100 people were injured in these incidents across the concerned states – which included Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Goa and West Bengal, the report has dedicated a chapter to each to the states. It also pointed out that there was one accidental death in Gujarat and one incident-related death each in Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. The report also says that some states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar “saw similar attempts at instigation but with low-grade violence”.

Singh writes that “the state-sponsored violence has also caused a crisis of displacement of Muslim families in riot-hit areas, either rendered homeless by the demolitions or having been forced to flee from their homes in fear of further state harassment.”

He writes that “Ram Navami processions, in particular, have been taken over by militant Hindutva organisations over the years, as the figure of Ram is central to the political imagination of the Sangh.”

But “despite the increasingly violent nature of such processions in recent years – Ram Navami processions led to scattered incidents of communal violence in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019”, they are portrayed “by the Hindu Right and mainstream media as innocuous displays of religiosity, and blame is typically assigned to those who would challenge such displays.”

Going into the “commonalities” between the events and how violence has been provoked, the Insight section of the report notes: “There are distinct and eerie patterns amongst the Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions in April 2022 across all the states covered in this report. They all comprised of 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 section finds that “many of these processions were accompanied by large flatbed trucks with concert-sized, high-decibel amplifiers and mega-speakers, on which DJs blasted hate-filled anti-Muslim music.”

Pre-Independence India also witnessed similar violence

The report also gives a detailed account of communal violence in both pre- and post-Independence India which took place on account of similar provocations caused by religious processions.

In the “prologue”, a deep dive consisting of summaries and findings of various commissions set up in previous cases of communal conflagartion and clashes, Chander Uday Singh mentions how “Indian history is rife with instances of religious processions that led to communal strife, riots, inexcusable violence, arson, destruction of property and the tragic deaths of innocent residents of the riot-hit areas.”

He said “no cause of interfaith riots has been as recurrent and widespread as the religious procession” and added to good measure that “if one factor were to be singled out as the most important catalyst for communal riots flowing from religious processions, and equally for the prevention of such riots, it would have to be the route chosen by procession organisers.”

“This,” Singh wrote, “appears to have been recognised as early as 1860, when Thomas Macaulay’s Indian Penal Code was enacted. Section 153 prescribed a punishment of six months imprisonment for wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot, and one year if the provocation resulted in rioting.”

Processions along communally sensitive routes led to various riots in Independent India

Singh finds that “post-Independence, we have faced numerous communal riots in diverse parts of India, under different political regimes, and the vast majority of these have been caused by the deliberate choice of communally-sensitive routes by processionists, and the pusillanimity of the police in dealing with such demands, or even their collusion and connivance in licencing such routes.”

The report then goes on to mention examples of such riots to make the point. In the case of the riots of Sholapur in southwest Maharashtra, the report of the “Commission of Inquiry on Communal Disturbance at Sholapur – September 17, 1967” revealed that “communal outbreaks had occurred on the occasions of ‘Rath Processions’ in 1925 and 1927, in connection with ‘Ganapati Immersion Processions’ in 1927 and 1966, and 18 cases of stabbing were spurred by the shouting of objectionable slogans during a procession by the Arya Samaj Satyagraha in 1939.”

Similarly, the “Commission of Inquiry to Inquire into the Communal Disturbances at Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad in May 1970” noted that the riots in Bhiwandi were the “direct consequence of a massive Shiv Jayanti Procession comprising about 10,000 processionists armed with lathis, which insisted on a route which passed the Nizampura Jumma Mosque.”

These communal disturbances had resulted in loss of 78 lives, of which 59 were Muslims. Likewise, the violence in Jalgaon claimed 43 lives, of which 42 were Muslims; while no lives were lost in Mahad.

Provocations included ‘stopping in front of mosques, shouting provocative and anti-Muslim slogans’

The one-man inquiry by sitting Bombay high court judge D.P. Madon had “found that 1963 was an important year in the communal history of Bhiwandi, for that was when the Hindus started taking out processions which did not stop playing music while passing by a mosque. He found that 1964 was the year when the Shiv Jayanti Procession began its practice of stopping in front of mosques, shouting provocative and anti-Muslim slogans, and throwing excessive ‘gulal’.”

Justice Madon found that “the immediate or proximate cause of the Bhiwandi disturbances was the deliberate misbehaviour of the processionists in the Shiv Jayanti procession, which was taken out in Bhiwandi on May 7, 1970, in order to provoke the Muslims….”…

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