A historical past of riots in India exhibits how the Hindu proper used spiritual processions to foment dysfunction

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Governments can be certain that spiritual processions do not finish in violence. For that although, the lives of harmless residents, particularly minorities, ought to matter to them

In the mid-80s, a spate of communal riots sparked off by spiritual processions led to a public debate on whether or not such processions must be banned. An total technology of Indians has grown up since, and we’re nonetheless seeing processions taken out within the identify of faith ending in communal violence.

Madhya Pradesh noticed violence within the last week of December, when processions have been taken out by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to gather funds for the Ayodhya temple.

The sample of violence in Madhya Pradesh follows a method perfected by the Sangh Parivar for the reason that late 60s, when the primary post-Independence riots befell. The method: organise a procession as a present of power; mark out a route that passes by means of a Muslim mohalla; linger in entrance of the mosque, play loud music particularly if it’s namaz time, throw gulaal on the mosque, and shout incendiary slogans. Do this until Muslims are provoked into throwing stones on the processionists, then go on the rampage towards them, figuring out the police will assist you.

The massive riots of the 70s and 80s virtually all had this set off, generally leading to each communities competing to placed on a much bigger present of power. Certain events got here to be related to riots: the Ganeshotsav procession in Hyderabad; Muharram in Lucknow (Shia-Sunni riots); Shivaji Jayanti in Maharashtra, Jagannath Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad. If these events handed off peacefully, editorials can be written.

In the 80s, such processions have been patented as “yatras’’ by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The 1981 Meenakshipuram conversions of 150 Dalit families to Islam made the VHP take out “ekatmata yajna yatras’’ in 1983, aimed toward uniting Hindus throughout caste over the dual symbols of Ganga Jal and Bharat Mata using a tiger. In 1985 got here l’affaire Shah Bano and the Ayodhya marketing campaign. VHP yatras grew to become routine: Ram-Janakirathyatras; shilapujan yatras,and the most important of all of them, LK Advani’s Rath Yatra. These yatras sparked off riot after riot.

On 6 December, 1992, the primary stone thrown within the 92-93 Mumbai riots got here from a victory procession celebrating the demolition of the Babri Masjid, that handed by a mosque in a slim lane in Dharavi. The rally was led by native Sena leaders however Congress members participated too. The slogans shouted have been so abusive that they may not be learn out in open courtroom throughout the hearings of the BN Srikrishna Commission set as much as examine the riots.

It was once more slogans and speeches at a procession that resulted within the first-ever conviction of a senior Sena chief for hate speech. The procession to put in an idol in a templewas led quickly after the December part of the 92-93 riots by two-term MP Madhukar Sarpotdar, who was convicted together with Shiv Sainiks Jaywant Parab and Ashok Shinde, below Sec 153 A (selling communal enmity).

The specious argument now being made by BJP supporters that in MP, the VHP was simply taking out spiritual processions and Muslims had no enterprise objecting to this, is an outdated one.

The identical was stated by at least the Mumbai Police Commissioner to the Srikrishna Commission. Advani’s Rath Yatra was not the reason for riots, stated Shrikant Bapat, Mumbai’s police chief throughout the 92-93 riots.It was the opposition to it by Muslims by means of unconstitutional signifies that generated communal rigidity, he stated.

Does the aggressive show of religiosity in such processions that insist on passing by means of Muslim areas, have something to do with devotion? As Justice Srikrishna put it in his report: “Though ostensibly religious, the (VHP’s) Ram Paduka processions (taken out in Mumbai after July 1992) had less of religion and more of politics.’’

Previously, processionists would shout “Jai Shivaji Jai Bhawani’’ and “Har Har Mahadev’’. The Ayodhya movement replaced these with “Jai Sri Ram’’. The lynchings of Muslims that marked the January 1993 part of the Mumbai riots, and which have turn out to be an indicator of the final six years, have additionally been accompanied by slogans of “Jai Sri Ram’’. Can it still be called a religious slogan?

So why is it that with all this experience of the last six decades, we are still seeing lives and properties endangered by religious processions?

A ban on religious processions has often been suggested. Muharram processions in Lucknow were banned for 10 years after 1977, and in Srinagar, a similar ban has not been lifted since 1970. After a Shiv Jayanti procession in 1970 sparked off the Bhiwandi-Jalgaon-Mahad riots, all religious processions were banned in Bhiwandi. In 1984, however, the Vasantdada Patil government gave in to the Shiv Sena-BJP and lifted the ban for ShivajiJayanti. But though the police made sure the procession passed off without incident (stipulating the route and the slogans), a fortnight later, the township burst into flames which spread to Thane and Mumbai.

However, the very next year, the same procession passed off peacefully. The Sena-BJP were too busy preparing for municipal elections that were being held after a gap of 14 years. The Janata Party leaders who took over the Shiv Jayanti committee ensured the participation of prominent Muslims on it, and told the police to act against anyone who deviated from the stipulated route and slogans. The same strategy: cooperation between both communities and the police have allowed Muharram and Ganpati processions to be held simultaneously without any violence in Mumbai.

But when the intent of the procession is to display a community’s domination or defiance, is a ban the only way out? Such a ban can be successfully challenged in court, as happened in West Bengal in 2017, when the chief minister banned Durga Puja immersion processions on Muharram. Is a ban practical, given the religious fervor that still prevails among most Indians, and the fact that for many, such processions have more to do with tradition and culture?

There are easier means. Justice Srikrishna suggested that organisers be made to pay for the police deployment required for such processions, and to deposit Rs 5,000 (a huge amount 23 years back when his report was written), which would be forfeited if violence takes place.

If governments decided to hold the police officers in charge of the bandobast responsible for any violence that breaks out, and punish them, the latter would think twice before permitting a procession to take a controversial route, or permitting it at all in a tense situation. As things stand, the police make no arrests even when a procession is taken out in defiance of their orders, though they escort it. In Indore, then BJP MLA Kailash Vijayvargiya even persuaded a sub-inspector escorting a Ram yatra in 1990, to join it and sing a bhajan, after removing his cap and belt! No action was taken against the cop – a BJP government was in power.

But it was a Congress government that refused to ban maha aartis in January 1993, during the second phase of the Mumbai riots, despite the police telling chief minister Sudhakar Naik that these could trigger anti-Muslim violence – which they did. But Naik maintained that these were religious activities and could not be banned.

Governments can ensure that religious processions do not end in violence. For that though, the lives of innocent citizens, especially minorities, should matter to them.

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