Why violence towards India’s minorities is increasing (Qantara.de)

To what extent is Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government endangering India's founding principle as a secular state? Sonja Hegasy spoke to social anthropologist and political analyst S. M. Faizan Ahmed in Delhi

By Sonja Hegasy

Mr Ahmed, where does the Hindu tradition of Ram Navmi come from and how has it developed in recent years?

S. M. Faizan Ahmed: Ram Navmi is an age-old tradition marking the birth anniversary of Lord Ram, who is cited in the Hindu religious epic Ramayana, despite there being arguably no trace of special worship of him before the 11th century. Indeed, the earliest shobha yatra (glory procession) appears to have taken place in Hazaribaagh in 1929. The first major riot on the occasion of Ram Navami was reported in 1979 when 116 people died in Jamshedpur due to a polarising speech delivered by the third chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Balasaheb Deoras. The ‘RSS family’ – various Hindutva organisations ­united under the ideology of the RSS – was also responsible for the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, which triggered communal violence all over India.

In an attempt to consolidate Hindu votes in its favour, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), part of this RSS family, has over the years transformed Rama’s image of Maryada Purushottam (the epitome of ethical perfection) into an aggressive and assertive symbol of Hindu power. Today, Ram Navmi processions are often mindless displays of crude arms and deliberate provocations, marching through densely populated Muslim localities and chanting provocative slogans in front of mosques, sacred places, and educational establishments run by the Muslim community, naturally creating law and order problems, as well as communal clashes.

RSS and BJP closely linked

What is the RSS and how involved is it in the ruling BJP?

Faizan Ahmed: RSS is an anti-Christian, anti-Muslim and anti-communist Hindu paramilitary volunteer organisation. Both the RSS and the BJP are inseparable: they share the same ideology and vision. It is often overlooked that three out of four ministers in the current BJP government hail from the RSS.

Hindu devotees at the Dasna Devi temple in 2021 (photo: Hindustan Times/Imago Images)
All shades of the same saffron ideology: radical Hindu organisations like the RSS are fomenting violence towards India’s minorities. “RSS is an anti-Christian, anti-Muslim and anti-communist Hindu paramilitary volunteer organisation. Both the RSS and the BJP are inseparable: they share the same ideology and vision,” says Faizan Ahmed

While RSS remains the “stem of the lotus” (BJP’s symbol), the BJP, and other RSS-affiliated organisations, act as individual petals of the same. Despite bearing seemingly distinct outer colours, they are in effect all shades of the same saffron ideology.

Did Ramadan 2023 see an escalation in provocative or violent behaviour?

Faizan Ahmed: During this year’s Ramadan at least 28 places across 10 states in India were marked by provocations, vandalism, and violent clashes connected to Ram Navmi processions. The marchers deliberately entered densely populated Muslim localities, sometimes without having obtained permission for the processional route, and played provocative slogans and songs on high-decibel amplifiers, which led to stone-pelting, stabbings and sword attacks.

Does anyone criticise the Hindutva brigade from within the Hindu community? And where are the voices defending India’s founding principle as a secular state? 

Faizan Ahmed: A handful of Hindu religious priests have been known to criticise Hindutva politics, but rarely. Besides opposition leaders, India’s liberal intelligentsia has been working to expose the propaganda of the current regime. Thousands of academics in India have signed open letters against the Hindutva onslaughts, which is no longer an easy thing to do.

There was a major onslaught against critical academic institutions last year, so it is not easy to be part of such a campaign. Their criticism does not emanate from within Hinduism, however, but is rather made on secular grounds.

It was reported that the police in Delhi had forbidden both Ramadan prayers and Ram Navami events from being held in one of the public parks. Do the police play a more neutral role in Delhi than in other union states?

Faizan Ahmed: Delhi police are certainly better and more efficient than in many other states, yet the way they deal with situations of communal violence is by no means beyond reproach. Generally, the executive authority is subservient to whichever government is in power. As a result, their impartiality in political cases or during communal conflicts is often questionable…

This story was originally published in en.qantara.de.  Read the full story here

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