BRUTAL hate crimes against minorities have become more frequent and more widespread after the Narendra Modi government got re-elected. Hindutva storm-troopers are imparting to ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘Vande Mataram’, ‘Bharat Mata’ slogans etc an aggressiveness that is shocking the nation. The most disturbing aspect of these developments is the complicity of the State machinery. Officials in the civil administration and the police force are coerced to side with the perpetrators of hate crimes.
Upright officers who refuse to surrender are silenced. Some of them are trapped in false cases like Gujarat cadre IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt and some are even eliminated like Police Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh of Bulandshahar who was murdered in choreographed mob violence. From the prime minister who exonerates an alleged terrorist on the ground that she belongs to the majority community to all those ministers and leaders of the ruling parties who have been airing choicest abuses against minorities, the signal to government officers is clear: forget your constitutional duties, behave like karyavahaks of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
It is in this background that the central executive committee of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), in its meeting held in Chennai in early July, decided to galvanize secular forces to oppose lawlessness unleashed by the Hindutva brigade. The first step was to organise a ‘National Convention against State Complicity in Hate Crimes’ bringing together eminent citizens and victims of hate crimes or family members of those killed on a platform and outline a course of action. The convention held in Mumbai on July 21, 2019, turned out to be a historic assembly imparting tremendous confidence not only to the youth movement but to all activists from diverse progressive currents committed to the cause of secularism and rule of law.
More than 600 delegates representing various organisations participated in the four hour long convention held at Sawantwadi Sansthan Maratha Samaj Hall at Dadar. In the first segment chaired by DYFI national president P A Mohammed Riyas, family members of victims spoke of their heart-wrenching experiences.
First to speak was Mohamed Nafis, brother of Hafis Junaid, who was murdered by a group of people in a train to Faridabad from Delhi. Another brother of Junaid, Mohamad Kasam, was also present on the dais. Junaid had gone to Delhi to do purchasing for Id and was badly attacked by a group after continuous abuse in the name of his religion. Mohamad Nafis raised a searing question: why did the people in the train not stop the criminals from attacking his brother? He recounted that their father had brought them up working with non-Muslims for his entire life-time. Who is it that erected the wall of hatred against minorities, asked Nafis.
Satyabhama, a 55 year old woman from Latur, spoke next. She was stripped, assaulted and paraded at village Borgaon in Chakur tehsil of Latur district on February 4, 2015. She was living in a hut in a locality on the outskirts of Borgaon. She was asked to abandon her house for the construction of a hall. When she resisted the move to evict her, a fence was put up which virtually prevented her from entering her own house. She wrote many times to the sarpanch, tehsildar, district collector and public representatives to save her house. Then she started a hunger strike in front of the tahsildar office, to which he responded and asked the sarpanch to remove the fencing in front of the door of her house. This was followed by the traumatising atrocity. She said united actions must prevent such brutalities from occurring in future to anyone.
Raju Aage from Kharda village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra narrated the painful story of his 17 year old son Nitin Aage being murdered by a group of around 25 people because he was seen talking to a girl of an upper caste in his school. Nitin’s body was hung on a tree ostensibly to warn dalits against mingling with upper caste persons. The police and the prosecution helped the accused to walk free from court.
Three brothers Vaishram Sarviyya, Jitendra Sarviyya and Bhagwanbhai Sarviyya, victims of the Una atrocity participated in the convention. Vaishram Sarviyya narrated the humiliating experience they had in Una in 2016. They were beaten up badly with iron rods and paraded in the city for removing the skin of a dead cow, which is their family’s traditional means of livelihood. The brutality had then shocked the entire nation. Vaishram explained how police officials encouraged the ‘gaurakshak’ criminals to ‘punish’ the dalit youth.
Arif Mewati, brother of Ayub Mewati spoke in the convention. Ayub was killed by Gaurakshak goons in Ahmedabad in 2017. Police and state officials were helping the criminals rather than the family of the victim.
Ashok Mochi who was drawn to VHP during the Gujarat riots of 2002 and later deserted them attended the convention and described how, as a changed man, he is working for communal harmony.
Satheesh, brother of DYFI leader Comrade Ashok who was murdered in a village in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu in June 2019 also spoke in the convention. Ashok was brutally murdered by casteist goons for resisting the hooliganism of upper castes in his village. Satheesh reiterated his resolve to be part of this struggle for justice.
Rajni Singh, Abhishek Pratap Singh and Shrey Pratap Singh, family of the police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh who was murdered in Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh could not be present in the convention due to illness. She had sent a video message to the convention, where she expressed her views against such communally provoked mob frenzy. She also demanded a stringent law against mob lynching.
The tragic state of affairs in our beloved nation was being unfolding in these narrations of irreparable losses and sadness, these chronicles of insults, torture and murder. At the end of these emotionally charged narrations famous actor Naseeruddin Shah who was among the audience, came to the dais to express compassion to the families who suffered so much and solidarity with them in their fight for justice. Recounting the public harassment he suffered recently for speaking out the truth unpalatable to Hindutva forces, he said the troubles he faced were no match to the immense pain which these families were going through.
The second session in which eminent citizens and leaders spoke was chaired by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Subhashini Ali. In her brief presidential address Subhashini drew attention to two key features of the political changes that have given rise to proliferation of hate crimes. Firstly, the present ruling bloc which considers Manusmriti as the great source of laws, is inimical to the principles of our constitution. Second, the ruling party is advancing its version of nationalism which is a destructive ideology based on hatred towards minorities. She said challenging this diabolical version with an inclusive and egalitarian nationalism is a major need of the hour. Similarly, gathering people in defense of the constitution against the assault of Manusmriti ideology is also an important aspect of our work, said Subhashini.
Justice Gopal Gowda, retired Supreme Court judge, recounted the landmark judgements of the Supreme Court which underlined secularism as the basic feature of the constitution. The machinery is evidently colluding with gaurakshaks who are perpetrating lawlessness in north Indian states. Such blatant violation raises serious questions about the political executive and the bureaucracy as far as their adherence to the constitution is concerned. Citizens must awaken to these dangers and organise a spirited defense of our constitution and fraternity of our people. He congratulated the DYFI for organising the convention and exhorted that the convention should ‘travel’ to every nook and corner of the country.
Shweta Bhatt, wife of IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt, narrated how her husband was framed in fabricated cases for exposing the complicity of the state machinery in the Gujarat massacres of 2002 including the role of the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. She appealed to the people to raise their voices against the diabolical designs of forces who are holding the reins of power.
Teesta Setalvad emphasised the need to build alliances of all oppressed sections. The poor of the nation belonging to all religious communities are subjected to increasing exploitation and attack on livelihoods. In India, we have a government that has declared war on the people. The situation in Assam is grim, with NRC being used as an instrument to disenfranchise many lakhs of genuine Indian citizens, she said. Hindutva forces which allege the constitution as “foreign” in an attempt to delegitimise it are insulting two centuries of our anti-colonial struggle and thousand years of anti-caste uprisings, she said.
Ram Puniyani also touched upon the conspiracy to delegitimise the constitution by castigating it as a bunch of ‘foreign’ values. He said, principles of humanism cannot be categorised into domestic and foreign. He spoke about the infiltration of the RSS into various State institutions.
Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of AIDWA said that ideological and economic subjugation of women is integral to the Sangh Parivar’s world view. School text books are being loaded with passages that extol the virtues of the dowry system. Women who choose to marry men of their choice are getting murdered in many parts of the country. The question of women’s freedom has become a key element in the fight against social degeneration promoted by Hindutva forces.
Pratima Joshi, veteran journalist, spoke about societal changes which communal forces are trying to bring about. She cited examples of festivals which were traditional joyous events getting converted into occasions to display aggressive religious exhibitionism. The effort is to denigrate secularism so much that no one dares to identify oneself as a secular person, she said.
Kaleem Siddiqui, social activist from Ahmedabad, said that spreading of inter-religious hatred is ruling class’ ploy to pre-empt people’s struggles for economic rights. Shailendra Kamble, vice-president of Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, said that sections of dalit communities were used by communal forces as storm troopers against minorities. Now dalits have realised the trap. We should not allow communal forces to set the agenda for discussion, he said.
Ashok Dhawale, Mahendra Singh, Jyoti Punwani, Subodh More and many other eminent citizens participated in the convention. So intense were the narrations and deliberations in the sessions that almost all those who attended participated attentively for the entire length of the four hour convention. DYFI joint secretary, Preethy Sekhar welcomed the audience and presented the resolution. Sunil Dhanwa, DYFI CEC member and Maharashtra state president proposed the vote of thanks.
The resolution adopted unanimously at the conference pointed out that the hate crimes spreading like an epidemic are not digressions of some ‘fringe elements’ but the long-term agenda of converting our country into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. It is a core idea of the Hindu Rashtra brigade that the minorities are aliens who can live here only at the mercy of the majority community. Similarly, in the Hindutva world-view, ‘Manusmriti’ which prescribes subhuman status to Shudras and perpetual subjugation of women is superior to the constitution. The resolution called upon peace loving citizens of the country to take up the following tasks immediately:
- Communicate with many more of our fellow citizens continuously and directly to overcome the alliance of corporate media and communal forces. Disseminate the truth among ordinary people, caution them against the campaign of hatred and also give them hope and confidence to resist.
- Organise ever-widening secular collectives in as many towns and villages as possible, cutting across all other divides and differences except the commitment to the idea of equality between Indians of all communities.
- Engage in legal battles on specific instances of hate crimes but also campaign for basic structural changes in laws. Work for amendments to extant criminal and civil laws which will (i) ensure that mob-lynching and hate crimes will attract severe punishment, (ii) treat government or police officials’ indifference to hate crimes and their failure to take pre-emptive actions as a serious crime in itself and (iii) entitle victims or families of victims to reparations both monetary and rehabilitative.
- Build mass movement to demand rule of law and adherence to the constitution by State machinery.
The convention ended with the determination to rally the ordinary masses in a mighty movement to safeguard the republic and defend our constitution that promises an India to which Indians of all castes and communities will belong equally.