April 09, 2023

Communal Violence in the Name of Ram Navami

THE violence and clashes that erupted in various places during Ram Navami observance on March 30 was an event foretold.  Over the years, the Hindutva forces have shaped the Ram Navami processions into an instrument for aggression and attacks on Muslims.  Last year, in 2022, the Ram Navami processions led to widespread attacks and clashes in Khargone in Madhya Pradesh, in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Jharkhand and in Shibpur area of Howrah, West Bengal. 

This year too, the Ram Navami festival occurred during the period of Ramzan and provided the backdrop for provocations in areas where Muslims were observing Ramzan and prayers in the mosques. 

On March 30 and subsequent days, violence and attacks took place in Jalgaon, Malad and Aurangabad (now named Sambhajinagar) where one person was killed.  Serious violence broke out in Sasaram and Bihar Sharif in Bihar; there were incidents in Haryana and Vadodara in Gujarat.  In West Bengal, violence broke out during the Ram Navami procession in Howrah and later clashes occurred in Rishra in Hooghly district.

Apart from the BJP-ruled states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, the violence associated with Ram Navami processions was concentrated in West Bengal and Bihar.  It is evident that the RSS supported outfits have used the Ram Navami processions in West Bengal to enter in Muslim localities and create provocations outside mosques, playing loud music, shouting incendiary slogans and brandishing swords and other weapons.  As a result, violence erupted in Howrah and Dalkhola where one person was killed and several others injured. 

It is surprising that the police and the administration did not take the necessary precautions to prevent the Ram Navami procession in Howrah diverting from its route.  In some places, policemen fled the scene and in some instances, they were seen joining the mob attacks.  The Mamata Banerjee government has to be blamed squarely for not taking firm measures to curb the gameplan of the Hindutva forces.  It is not that they were not forewarned.  Last year too, in Shibpur, Howrah, clashes had erupted.

In the earlier years, the RSS-BJP had used Ram Navami processions to create communal tensions and clashes.  The Trinamool Congress began participating or initiating such processions on Ram Navami day rather than countering their communal agenda.  In the current scenario, the TMC also seems to be banking upon cashing in on the fear psychosis that will prevail over the minorities.

Both the BJP and the TMC are complicit in the efforts to create a communal divide as they are interested in perpetuating a binary politics in the state. Especially, at a time when the CPI(M) and the Left Front have been conducting a vigorous campaign against the corrupt regime of the TMC, which has gained traction among the people.

In Bihar, the worst violence was witnessed in Bihar Sharif and Sasaram where mosques, madrasas, houses, vehicles and shops were looted and set on fire.  The most shocking incident was the arson attack on the Madrasa-e-Aziziya, one of the oldest educational institutions which was set on fire and destroyed along with 4,500 books and rare manuscripts. 

In Bihar, the Nitish Kumar government seems to have been complacent and not exercised due vigilance and preparedness to tackle the nefarious agenda of the Hindutva forces.   Ever since Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) returned to the Mahagathbandhan, the BJP had been isolated. The current violence on Ram Navami day shows that the RSS-BJP has drawn up a gameplan to create communal polarisation to consolidate its political position.  The recent lynching of a Muslim youth in Saran on the charge of carrying beef was a warning signal.  The state government and administration should have been alert to pre-empt any communal provocations. Unlike in West Bengal, the Mahagathbandhan has been firm in countering the communal ideology and forces and this must be manifested through firm administrative measures by the government.

The role of the centre has been blatantly partisan. Home Minister Amit Shah did not speak to the chief ministers of the two states but to the governors about the communal situation.  This is a signal that the centre expects governors to play a role overriding the elected state governments. Moreover, on a visit to Bihar, Amit Shah declared that if the BJP comes to power in the state, there would be no communal riots.  He also declared that they would hang rioters upside down – a message that rioters are Muslims and would be sternly dealt with.

Religious festivals like Ram Navami, Ganesh Chaturthi and the recently-minted Hanuman Jayanti are all being weaponised to target minorities and create communal violence and polarisation.  The democratic and secular forces and the non-BJP state governments, in particular, should devise a strategy to counter these aggressive communal mobilisations, both politically and administratively.  

(April 5, 2023)