India stands at a crossroads. Much depends on how citizens assert themselves. The rise of the right wing in India, apart from bringing about the much hyped Modi sarkar has also emboldened aggressive entities aiming to establish religious dominance with scant regard for law, religion or history. The success of BJP in the elections has validated the methods it used that went unchallenged. The normalization of riots in particular is a matter of concern due to peril to lives and livelihoods of citizens.
The murder of the IT professional, Shaikh Mohsin Sajid in Pune is an example. Objectionable images shared on Facebook led to a rapid mobilization of right wing activists and within a few hours of them being shared, Pune descended in chaos. While media has maintained its sterile coverage, undeniable reports from the ground indicate that Muslim properties were targeted specifically. The murder of the Shaikh Mohsin Sajid by a Hindu Rashtra Sena mob appears to be a well planned act that got celebrated with the message "pahili wicket padli" circulated by activists of Hindu Rashtra Sena. "pahili wicket padli" is Marathi for the "first wicket fell".
While BJP supporters on one hand deny any affiliation with the Hindu Rashtra Sena, the protests in Pune had been called by BJP, Shiv Sena and Hindu Rashtra Sena. BJP, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and other right wing leaders have held places of respect in official Hindu Rashtra Sena events and so far, no one has condemned the Hindu Rashtra Sena outright, while BJP's social media teams have been mobilized to deny affiliation with Hindu Rashtra Sena on one hand, while anonymous accounts bully anyone who condemns the attack on the other hand. And Shiv Sena with the petrol bombs are an NDA ally in the Parliament.
With the Assembly elections approaching in Maharashtra, and BJP's now predictable strategy of inciting communal hostility and leveraging criminals for political profit, how this situation evolves is anyone's guess. Twocircles.net reports:
It was only a week before that the Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan was informed by the IB that there were strong chances of eruption of riots in certain cities of Maharashtra owing to the upcoming assembly elections in the state due to which the state government had issued strict orders to the police department to keep vigilance on anti social activities in the state.
According to BBC Hindi, at least 193 Buses in Pune City and around 200 Buses in Kolhapur have been damaged by the angry Shiv Sainiks while protesting against Photo shopped photos of Shivaji uploaded on Facebook.
There are reports that Shiv Sainiks threw petrol bombs along with stones in nearly 11 mosques situated in Pune and nearby areas due to which people in the Mosque were injured. One imam of the mosque was manhandled brutally due to which he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital where as many students of one of the Madarsa were injured due to throwing of petrol bomb on the Madarsa by Shiv Sainiks. These students have also been admitted to city hospital. Another imam of Mosque in Kandari was beaten up badly by Shiv Sainiks, who is also undergoing treatment in the city hospital.
The areas of Pune which came under the protest of Shiv Sainiks are Landewadi, Bhosari, Nool Mohalla, Panjarpur, Fatema Nagar, Kalewadi, Dande Chauk,Pimpri Gaon, Chinchwad Gaon, Ranjewadi, Kondwa and Vagoli.
Speaking to TwoCircles.net, Maulana Aziz Siddiqui of the Madrassa Darl Uloom Ashrafiya said, “Three students have suffered leg injuries who were briefly admitted to the hospital, but most students have now gone home. But the madrassa has been severely damaged.” He added that situation in Pune is now calm but tense as no one is certain what may happen next.
The popular dargah of Hazrat Peer Shah Jalaluddin Shah Qadri which was situated in the same area was also vandalized. Nearly 500 Hindu radicals entered Noor Mohalla of Bhosari area with swords and petrol bombs in their hands and broke doors and windows of Muslim houses.
The prayer hall, ablution area, water tank and around 10 graves in Shahi Qabrastan Trust, Bhosari were vandalized. Five mosques in Hinjewadi area were also damaged. The imam of Aisha Mosque was beaten up brutally who is now recuperating in Inamdar Hospital. Masjid-e-Zainab and Madrassa-e-Shabnam Garib Nawaz were also damaged badly. Three other mosques in the adjacent areas were also desecrated by the rampaging mob.
One of the petrol pumps belonging to a Muslim businessman was totally destroyed. A mosque situated in Talode basti was also damaged. Muslim houses, shops and around 20 bakeries were targeted in Karve road area, Thergaon and Wakad.
A group belonging to various Muslim organizations made an emergency visit to the affected areas to assess the overall damages suffered by the community.
The damaged bakeries included Ismail bakery (Karve Nagar),Citizen Bakery (Sinhgarh road), Heena Bakery, Shabnam Bakery, Moti Bakery, Shad Bakery (Dattawadi), Sun Rise Bakery, Indian Bakery (Warje), Welcome Bakery, Sahara Bakery, Patel Bakery (Hadapsar), Supreme Bakery (Malewadi) and Unicon Bakery ( Phirsangi). The visiting group of Muslims estimated the loss of damaged bakeries alone to be more than one crore (ten million) rupees.
While the murder of the "techie" is being painted as outrage of Hindus disturbed by the images, the fact remains that the techie was a victim of a hate crime completely unrelated with the images. He got assaulted mostly for wearing a skull cap and growing a beard. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech or the lack of it. It is nothing to do with objectionable content and political actors making careers out of violence. It has everything to do with a deliberate, political dismissal of the fundamental right to life enshrined in the Constitution of India on the basis of identity. It is hardly an isolated sentiment. We have an MP who openly declared that critics of Modi would have to go to Pakistan without any apology or condemnation by the party in the peak of election campaigning. It is a party that runs by its own rules and has no regard for the Constitution and citizenship of India.
There is no evidence so far that a Muslim had created or circulated those images. This is not my imagination, but the police. The images were put up in a community frequented by Hindus. The images have been uploaded to Facebook from IPs outside India, while inflammatory messages circulated that further incited mobs had been sent from Mumbai. Even as the BJP claims to not be involved in the violence, the wave of fake accounts targeting those who color outside BJP lines has been engaged once more with the clear agenda to divert the issue by comparing it with any and every wrong done by Muslims or perceived to be done by Muslims using its age old formula that Hindu violence will always be legitimate because the past cannot be erased.
It would hardly be the first time the right wingers created outrages for Hindus to fuel communal anger. Be it the Kar Sevaks killed in firing to raise fervor for the Babari Masjid demolition or other dead passengers in the Godhra train tragedy claimed as Kar Sevaks to magnify the "deliberate crime". Given that the publicity of the images happened so rapidly among the Hindutva ranks while leaving others mostly untouched, the possibility that this was a strategy to create riots must also be explored and whoever is guilty regardless of religion be brought to book.
Those seeing insult in obscene images of figures respected by Hindus see nothing wrong with murderous mobs naming themselves as the warriors of the Hindu Rashtra. Apparently, insulting images are worse than murderers when it comes to insult of Hindus. The name of Shivaji is happily being tossed around. I challenge any fan of Shivaji to stand up and tell us when Shivaji assaulted unarmed civilians. Unlike the criminals viliying his name in the name of protecting it, he was not a sadak chaap murderer. I challenge any of the jokers who proudly "avenge" Hindu pride to stand before their parents and say they are following Shivaji when they kill unarmed people. Is this not an insult to Shivaji who struggled against heavy odds to fight mighty armies, yet gave clothes to a young and beautiful MUSLIM widow and saw to her safety? Apparently pointing this out makes the speaker "anti-Hindu" because the new definition of "Hindu" by zealots is "tolerant" people who murder. Anyone remember the Muslim protests in the wake of the Danish cartoon controversy - "Kill those who say Islam is intolerant"? Yes. That. Zealot fascists resemble each other across religions more than those of their own religion.
There are several serious questions that need to be asked about the riots, vandalism and murder in Pune.
How did riots spread so rapidly from images on a community to the streets, including non-standard equipment like petrol bombs? It is hardly likely that members of the community from Pune or those of them who spread the images could result in these numbers. The numbers are a result of a well oiled machinery moving to plan rapidly on receiving a trigger. This, to me indicates an organized spreading of the images so that they reached enough people who would react with anger on the streets.
Several people active on social networks deny seeing the images "spreading" at all. The first they heard of the images was the violence "triggered" by them. Subsequent attempts to see them led to the discovery that they had already been taken offline within hours. How is it that three organizations responded with calls to protest the images within hours of the images being posted and were ready in numbers on the streets well before those active on social networks noticed them - unless this was a coordinated plan?
What was the role of political organizations? How likely is it that three organizations have the exact same reaction to images posted on some obscure community, that almost a week later are still not seen by most people? Again, Twitter is not that trigger happy to block. Where are the images? When is the last time you saw the police blocking something this efficiently? Communications of role holders and local offices of the organizations o the supposed "protests" - BJP, Shiv Sena and Hindu Rashtra Sena - must be investigated for mobilization for organized crime.
The supposed "spread" of the images must be investigated to find out how they exclusively spread among the right wing community th witout being seen by active users of the one place news going viral is instantly noticed - Twitter. Most active profiles on Twitter have not seen the images at all. I fail to understand how this is possible if images spread widely. Clearly, there were specific channels by which it spread as opposed to going viral organically. These channels are unlikely to be Muslim communities, as that wouldn't result in a massive right wing Hindu build up within hours, even if they were inclined to spread them for entertainment - of which there is little evidence in the public space at least. It was organized circulation that led to the propagation of the images among those they would infuriate and regardless of the origin of the images, such propagation is malicious as well.
The organized outrage. The question arises why "protesters" not only got outraged, but got violent, damaged property and arrived to protest "armed" with hockey sticks and petrol bombs instead of placards. To me, this indicates a right wing agenda to create unrest in Maharashtra, specifically, and the organizers of the protests as well as key leaders must be investigated to ascertain the agenda. These are political statements of supremacy and domination and them being made in places not ruled by BJP and heading for elections also indicates a motive to discredit the governments.
It is up to us as a country to decide whether we are willing for our safety to be slaughtered on the altar of deliberate violence, counter violence and more to make communal and political statements to profit fascists at the cost of bystanders.
Is this the India we want?