By Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com
In the wake of startling revelations about the involvement of Hindutva groups in numerous acts of terror across India in recent years, last week a number of human rights organizations jointly held a one-day public meeting in New Delhi under the banner ‘Tracing Sangh Terror Links And Stories Of Innocent Muslim Boys’ to highlight an issue that has hitherto received scant media attention. Several social and political activists gave their testimonies, as did Muslim men and their relatives who have been unfairly targeted by the police for acts of terror in which they had no involvement at all.
In her opening remarks, Mansi Sharma of the well-known human rights group ANHAD recounted chilling details of bomb blasts in various parts of the country that are now known to have been engineered by Hindutva groups. She accused the agencies of the state for going slow on the investigation of such cases, of suppressing vital information about them and of wrongly targeting, arresting and torturing perfectly innocent Muslims for such acts. Many of them still languish in jail without any evidence having been brought against them.
In his remarks, noted human rights activist and former IAS officer Harsh Mander critiqued the ‘global war on terror’ for its underlying assumption that terrorism was linked only to some Muslims, and for prompting governments across the world to introduce laws that clearly violate human rights in the name of combating terrorism. He criticized Indian state agencies for consistently associating the bomb blasts that have taken place in the country in recent years with Muslims alone. Sometimes, within fifteen minutes of a blast, the agencies claim that it was the handiwork of some Muslim terrorist outfit or the other, he remarked, noting that these claims were made as if they were solidly proven facts, rather than speculation. If the agencies that make such claims immediately after such attacks and without proper investigation indeed knew that certain Muslim groups were behind them, why, he asked, did they take no prior action to prevent them? On the other hand, if they did not have any such prior information, then how did they conclude that they were the handiwork of Muslim outfits, sometimes within just fifteen minutes of their taking place? This clearly indicated, Mandar said, that such charges reflected a deeply communal mind-set that automatically associated Muslims with terrorism, even in cases, such as the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad, where the victims were all Muslims, and where Muslims were randomly picked up and thrown into jail and falsely accused. In the wake of recent revelations that Hindutva groups have been behind numerous acts of terror across India, he stressed, this mind-set must change.
Mander indicated the extent to which anti-Muslim prejudice has spread across India, partly because of the tendency, including on the part of agencies of the state, to associate Muslims with all acts of terror while being benignly blind to the involvement of Hindutva forces in terrorism. ‘Every Muslim youth above the age of eighteen has to bear the burden of proving that he is not a terrorist,’ he lamented, adding that it was possible that just about any Muslim could be picked up by the police and falsely accused of being a terrorist. Scores of such cases of extra-judicial arrests have been reported from across the country, he noted. Perfectly innocent Muslim boys have been illegally arrested, tortured and forced to make false confessions of being involved in one act of terror or the other, including blasts which Hindutva groups have been responsible for, he said. In several cases, Mander went on, such boys did not receive justice from the courts, which remained indifferent to the very obvious torture that they had been subjected to. Large numbers of such innocent Muslim youth continue to languish in jail for years, their lives being completely wasted. Their applications for bail have been turned down by the courts. Meanwhile, their families are subject to social boycott, shunned even by their fellow Muslims for fear of being accused of links with alleged terrorists. In several cases, the jailed men were the sole or main bread-earners of their families, and so their families have been reduced to utter penury. In the few cases where such youth have been released after much effort, many of them have lost their jobs and no one is willing to employ them, even though they have been proven to be innocent.
Veteran journalist Seema Mustafa noted that in both Congress- as well as BJP-ruled states, scores of innocent Muslim youth falsely implicated in acts of terror, subjected to horrendous torture and illegally imprisoned. In this matter, she said, there was little difference between the two parties. She expressed her dismay that, barring a few papers and TV channels, this continuing witch-hunt of innocent Muslims in the name of fighting terror has received no media attention at all. Instead, the media focuses only on maulvis and their politicking, as in the case of the ongoing controversy over the rector of the Deoband madrasa, completely ignoring the plight of the oppressed—Muslims, Dalits and others. Rather than raising their voice against injustice, the dominant media, which is now almost fully corporatized, is engaged in what she termed a ‘conspiracy of silence’, acting as a tool to protect the ruling establishment. That, she said, was not the proper role of journalists, for the government has its own ‘propaganda machine’.
Insisting that Hindutva terror was hardly the novel development that some sections of the media are making it out to be, Satya Sivaraman, a Delhi-based social activist, pointed out that as early as 1948, Hindutva terror took the life of Gandhi. ‘There are some things that are so big that they appear invisible, and Hindutva terrorism is one of them,’ he pointed out. Terrorism, he explained, was not just about planting bombs. There was also the phenomenon of ideological terrorism, which the Hindutva camp, that stands for Brahminism and ‘upper’ caste Hindu supremacy, has very sedulously cultivated in all sections of society. The recent Ayodhya judgment, he said, was a clear indication of how deep the ideology of Hindutva has penetrated. He noted that Hindutva spokesmen are on record as declaring their intention of subverting the Indian Constitution, which they regard as the very antithesis of Hindutva. As recent revelations have shown, some Hindutva forces even hoped for a coup to establish what they call a ‘Hindu state’. Such a state, he argued, would spell doom not just for Muslims, but also for other marginalized communities, such as Dalits and Adivasis.
Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD accused Hindutva forces of being responsible for the burning of a coach of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra in 2002, which then led to the massacre of Muslims across Gujarat. Besides, she also spoke of the involvement of Hindutva forces in numerous bomb blasts across India. She lamented that although ANHAD had been consistently highlighting the phenomenon of Hindutva terror in its numerous meetings for many years now, the media had, by and large, completely ignored this and continues to refuse to recognize what she called the ‘Sanghi terror network’. These Hindutva acts of terror, she went on, were clearly aimed at seeking to wrongly blame Muslims for them, and fomenting anti-Muslim hysteria and promoting the demonization of Muslims. ‘The situation has become so bad that every Muslim mother fears her son might not return home in the evening,’ she said, indicating the possibility of a well-planned conspiracy to make Muslims what she termed ‘permanently second-class citizens in this country.’ She claimed that the RSS and its supporters had infiltrated deep into the agencies of the state, and that this posed a major challenge for the struggle for justice.
Senior leader of the CPI (M), Sitaram Yechury critiqued the tendency to associate terrorism only with some Muslims, and pointed out that Hindutva terrorism, too, was a reality. It was certainly not a new phenomenon, he said, for it went back to the early twentieth century, to people like Hindu Mahasabhite Savarkar (who coined the term “Hindutva”) who advocated what he called the ‘militarisation of Hindudom.’ Likewise, another Hindu Mahasabha leader, BS Moonje, set up the Central Hindu Military Educational Society for the same purpose. All forms of terrorism needed to be attacked, Yechury argued, and if the agencies of the state did not stop targeting one particular community in the name of combating terror, they would, in effect, be promoting terrorism themselves.
Ram Vilas Paswan, President of the Lok Janshakti Party, echoed the views of the other speakers and labeled the RSS as ‘the greatest enemy of the unity of the country’ and called them ‘fake nationalists’. He claimed that the RSS was ‘even more dangerous’ than fringe Islamist outfits like the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), and questioned why, when the Government had banned the SIMI, it had not given the RSS and its various outfits the same treatment. He insisted that if the religious minorities were continued to be denied justice, it would prove extremely dangerous for the country. He urged the need for combating what he called the ‘anti-Muslim mentality’ that has now become so pervasive.
Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh pressed the need for an ideological struggle against terrorism and communalism, both Hindu and Muslim. Banning organizations were not the solution if they were able to resurface under new names, he said. Whenever the BJP is weak, it at once raises communal issues, he explained. Hindutva forces talk of building a temple only on a spot that is disputed, and of unfurling the tricolor flag where there is a dispute, as in the Hubli Eidgah, but in their own homes they unfurl the saffron flag, he alleged. He spoke of the continued targeting of innocent Muslim youth in the name of combatting terrorism, and indicated that this was a very dangerous trend. Many of them had dozens of fake cases slapped on them, filed in different states simply to harass them. In some cases, lawyers fighting their cases have been badly beaten up, he noted.
Singh spoke of some Hindutva terrorists who, he said, were employed in the Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools run by the RSS. He also provided evidence of the involvement of Hindutva groups in numerous bomb blasts, including in his own state of Madhya Pradesh. Many of those involved in plotting blasts had fled to Gujarat for safety, he said.
Noted human rights activist Subhash Gatade, who has uncovered several cases of Hindutva terror, spoke of how the government apparatus and the media continue to be soft on the phenomenon. Another intrepid activist, Suresh Khairnar, who has been consistently highlighting clear evidence of Hindutva terror for many years, lambasted the media for ignoring the issue. Numerous papers, he said, had falsely accused Muslims of being involved in specific incidents of terror, but when evidence was later unearthed clearly proving them to be the handiwork of Hindutva forces, these papers, even when approached by aggrieved Muslims and secular human rights activists, refused to issue an apology. Anti-Muslim poison, he said, was being actively spread through the media, but yet the state has taken no action against it. ‘All sections of the administration have become thoroughly communalised’, he continued, expressing his skepticism that the Congress would sincerely take up the issue of Hindutva terrorism, for the party’s secular credentials, he said, were ‘doubtful’.
The well-known legal activist Prashant Bhushan pointed out that in almost all cases of terror acts, innocent people, mostly Muslims, have been arrested by the police. Even in cases such as the Mecca Masjid (Hyderabad), Malegaon, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express blasts, which are now said to have been the handiwork of Hindutva forces, large numbers of innocent Muslims, accused by the police of being involved, continue to languish in prison. The media continues to remain indifferent to their plight. The police, for its part, he said, was ‘extremely communalized’, and deeply anti-Muslim, which explained why many policemen had no qualms at all about falsely implicating innocent Muslims in terror cases. Communalisation, Bhushan claimed, had even affected the courts. He argued for the need for the state to recruit only such people as police officers and judges who were not communal, and who had not been members of any communal organization.
Journalist Amit Sengupta of Hard News spoke of how, in the ‘neo-liberal’ dispensation under which we live today, in a country where, according to him, 78% of its people live on under 20 rupees a day, Hindutva terrorists were being feted as valiant heroes by their ardent supporters, while a man like Binayak Sen, who has peacefully served impoverished people by providing them medical aid, has been branded as a Naxalite and served with a sentence of life imprisonment. ‘What is the message that the government is giving the people?’, he asked in anguish, pointing out while agencies of the state go about killing social activists championing the cause of the poor in the name of combating Naxalism and imprison and kill innocent Muslims with impunity in the guise of combating terrorism, a mass murderer remains the Chief Minister of a state and Hindutva terrorists remain largely untouched.
Ashish Khetan, a journalist researching cases of terrorism, argued that ‘jihadist’ and ‘saffron’ terror were deeply intertwined, that they fed on each other, and that they could not be understood apart from each other. He claimed that a section of the RSS had taken to terrorism in recent years, being involved in bomb blasts in various parts of India. He also noted that a very small number of Muslims have also been involved in terror activities. Based on his travels and investigations, he said, these Muslims felt impelled to resort to such acts for broadly four reasons: the destruction of the Babri Masjid; the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat; the anti-Muslim bias of the police; and the complete failure of the criminal justice system.
Noted social activist Farah Naqvi spoke of how efforts on the part of Muslims to mobilize for their rights, including simply for civil amenities in their localities, were often loudly denounced as a menacing threat, and that those who sought to raise Muslim concerns, even on developmental issues, could easily face the risk of being thrown into jail. Hence, they were often forced to remain silent, which simply meant that they were forced to suffer their poverty and the denial of the facilities that they were entitled to from the as citizens of India. Muslim deprivation across India, she said, had much to do with this predicament. Muslims in large parts of India, Naqvi said, continued to live under the ever-present fear of being arrested by the police. She argued that it was unreasonable to expect Muslims to develop if they continue to face insecurity and be denied justice and security.
All in all, then, a very grim picture that can no longer be denied by anyone concerned about the way this country is heading.
A regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com, Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.