Shri Ram Navami festival is of great importance for the people of the Hindu religion, and celebrating the festival of Shri Ram Navami on the 9th day of Chaitra month indicates the entrance of divine power on the earth. The procession or Shobha Yatra of Shri Ram Navami is enthusiastically organised across India. The Shoba Yatra of Shri Ram Navami is part of Sanatan Sanskriti, Religion and Patriotism is often a theme of the Shobha Yatra.
A few states in India witnessed unprecedented violence during Shri Ram Navami Shobha Yatra on March 30 2023. The Hindu population was targeted by Muslim fanatics and violent extremists, and not even women and children were spared.
Many Hindu men, women and children were forced to flee. The Hindu population were systematically targeted in West Bengal and Bihar; the ill-treatment meted out to them included death, physical abuse, arson, armed robbery etc. Many Hindus have disappeared incommunicado in Bihar.
The minority Muslim population have often been seen and used as dispensable ‘cannon fodder’ by the instigator of such violence. Minority and violence have often been used for polarisation. It reminds me of the erstwhile Government’s intention to introduce the Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill 2013. The intention to introduce the aforementioned Bill was based on political considerations dictated by vote bank politics rather than genuine concern for preventing communal violence. The erstwhile Congress Government’s attempt to legislate on an issue of “law and order” and “public order,” both of which are items in the List II (State List) of the Seventh Schedule, was an attempt to defeat the federal structure and the separation of powers. There was an attempt to encroach upon the issues of the State Government.
The Intention and Idea of the erstwhile Government further polarised Indian society along religious and linguistic lines. There was an attempt to give ordinary incidents of violence a communal colour, to increase communal violence and fragment Indian society. The aforementioned Bill had a provision for declaring an area as “communally disturbed” under certain conditions. The communally disturbed area is based on religious Identity, and the targeted group is a religious or linguistic minority. The violence and persecution experienced by minority and dominant groups do not differ substantially, as evidenced by the violence in the States of West Bengal and Bihar. Today’s opposition is still working with a communal mindset to polarise and divide Indian society and use the Minority as their vote bank.
The opposition political parties have often accused the Ruling BJP of causing such violence considering some states are poll-bound. The violence occurred in Hazaribagh, Chaibasa and Ranchi in Jharkhand, Sambhajinagar and Jalgaon in Maharashtra, Bhadrak in Odisha, Howrah area in Bengal, some areas in Vadodara in Gujarat, Sasaram and Bihar Sharif in Bihar.
These States are not poll-bound. It was incumbent on the State Government to take preventive measures to avoid such violent clashes during the Shri Ramanavami Shobha Yatra. Some of the States, such as Maharashtra and Gujarat, were able to prevent and did not allow violence to escalate. However, the non-BJP-ruled states failed miserably.
The Media reporting of violence was lopsided and biased. The Media reporting, unverified news, fake news, misinformation, and disinformation further escalated the violence in States like Bihar and West Bengal. The media reported that most Hindus targeted the Minority Muslims in “disturbed areas”. Some Anti-National and mischievous elements hiding behind the cloaks of the Journalists and activists on Twitter and Facebook circulated fake news with videos and photos that resulted in sporadic incidents in some parts of the country.
They acted as an abettor and instigator of such violence. It was incumbent on the stakeholders, such as Independent Journalists and so-called Defender of Human Rights, to assist the State Police whilst restricting the spread of misinformation and disinformation; on the contrary, they visited States like Bengal and Bihar on a field mission and actively participated in spreading misinformation and disinformation, that was far away from the actual ground report, hiding behind the Freedom of Speech and Expression.
There is credible information and reports about the prevailing situation in some states like Bihar and West Bengal. For instance, a 15-year-old boy was shot dead by Muslim Mob during the Ram Navami in Sasaram in Bihar. In Hyderabad, a clash occurred between two groups in the Charminar area. A few people from the Muslim Community attacked a few from the Hindu Community for sloganeering on Shree Ram Navami.
In Bengal, the Ram Navami processions were marred by stone pelting from the rooftops, which the State Police could have averted. In Bengal, CM Mamata Banerjee attempted to whitewash the violence perpetrated by Muslims by invoking their faith. Hindus should not venture into the Muslim or “disturbed areas” to carry out Ram Navami processions or Shobha Yatra. There are About 37 arrested for the Ram Navami clashes in Howrah. Despite TMC Claiming that “Outsiders” were brought, all the arrested are “Locals”. All arrested are Hindus, and Hindu family members are harassed and ill-treated by the State Police.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that men and women are being targeted due to their imputed political opinion and religious beliefs. The resurgence of Hindu voters in the State and its united opposition to the party in power looks to be one of the reasons why that block is being identified and targeted in the State like West Bengal. The State authorities that, include the State Police and Administration, are fully involved in this, in both abetting these crimes and then failing in their Constitutional duty to stop them and protect their people. This failure on the part of the State has brought about great suffering and injury to the target person or groups on religious, political, or other grounds.
These acts are also considered discriminatory and amount to the persecution of people. Discriminatory intent has many inhuman forms and may not be accompanied by any specific intent. It can show itself in forms such as denial or infringement of a Fundamental Right in the Constitution of India. The perpetrator of these crimes need not have such intent, and persecution can be seen in many other forms of inhuman and discriminatory intent other than intent to destroy.
A “systematic” attack refers to a pattern or methodical plan, but this plan doesn’t need to be formally adopted as a policy of the State. This perpetrator can act privately, provided that his act(s) find overt or covert support of the State or its instrumentalities.
But if the State officials commit this offence acting privately, there must be some explicit or implicit approval or endorsement of the State authorities, or at least this offence must fit clearly within such a policy. This is precisely what has happened in the context of Bengal and Bihar.
The situation in West Bengal and Bihar is grim. Violence is widespread and continuing; there is no assistance from the State Police or other agencies. Hindus face life threats and threats of violence targeted for their political and religious views.
The Ministry of Home Affairs advised all states in preparation for Hanuman Jayanti. The State Governments were encouraged to ensure the maintenance of law and order, peaceful observance of the festival, and monitoring of any factors that could disturb the communal harmony in society. The situation was so severe and grave that the CRPF Personnel was deployed in West Bengal ahead of the Hanuman Jayanti celebrations after the State witnessed widespread and sporadic violence on Ram Navami.
Some foreign powers, foreign States and non-state actors continue to take up activities that amount to interference in the internal polity of the country with ulterior designs. These foreign actors have a deep-rooted nexus with existing civil society organisations in India that, including lawyers, NGOs, Independent Media, Journalists, and opposition leaders, destabilise the popular democracy. The Independent Media, a few Independent Journalists, Intellectuals such as lawyers, and members of civil society are acting as “activists” and “anti-establishment” They have used Freedom of Speech and Expression, misinformation, and disinformation as a tool to thwart and throttle the peaceful democracy in India. There is an attempt to spread communal disharmony in India and disintegrate India. It directly attacks India’s sovereignty and Integrity by promoting hate among the community and society. India has already witnessed conspiracy to promote Anti India Propaganda by various International organisations.
Freedom of Speech and Expression is not absolute, and advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law. There is a Report of 176 pages by the Citizens and Lawyers Initiative titled “Routes of Wrath” Weaponising Religious Processions, Communal Violence during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti (April 2022), which is being circulated to International Non-Government Organisations, Inter-Governmental Organisations such as the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Based on such reports, the OIC secretariat issued a statement alleging the targeting of the Muslim community in several states in India during the Ram Navami. The Ministry of External Affairs strongly condemned the statement made by the OIC for its “Communal Mindset” and “Anti- India” agenda.
The persons associated with the Report have been completely whitewashed. The violence instigated and perpetrated by the Muslim Minority in India resulted from hate speech, misinformation, and disinformation. The Report relied only on the fact-finding mission of Independent Journalists who are “activists” and “anti-establishment”. It used the Freedom of Speech and Expression to thwart and throttle the peaceful democracy in India.
In their entire Report, they claimed that Muslim Minorities were the only victims and Hindus the dominant group as the aggressor of such clashes. For Instance, the stone pelting and ensuing mayhem during the Shree Ram Navami Shobha Yatra in 2022 in Khambhat in Gujarat was preplanned by the religious clerics. The Maulvis arranged for people from Bharuch and Ahmedabad to come to Khambhat and participate in violence. The Islamists justified their side by saying provocative music was played and slogans were raised. In fact, the Khambhat police clearly stated that the conspiracy was hatched to instil fear in the Hindus so that Hindus cannot participate in the Shobha Yatra in future.
Similarly, in the Lohardaga (Jharkhand) Violence of 2022, the fact-finding Report is far from the ground reality; when Hindus during the Ram Navami procession passed through an area with a mosque, the Minority Muslims pelted stones and attacked the procession where dozens injured. Many vehicles were set ablaze and vandalised by the Muslims.
On the Jahangirpuri Violence of April 2022, the Delhi Police Commissioner clearly stated that the Hindus made no attempts to hoist any flag at the Jahangirpuri Mosque during the Hanuman Jayanti, which led to the violent clash.
On Khargone violence of April 2022, several Muslim minority persons equipped with stones pelted stones at the Shobha Yatra.
There are many such incidents in the past and present, where Independent Journalists, activists and others narrated stories largely based on misinformation and disinformation and are likely to incite discrimination, hostility, and violence. The malicious intention of a few Independent journalists, activists, and civil society, such as the Citizens and Lawyers Initiative, Article 14 etc., is to spread hatred, divide the people into religious lines and create dissatisfaction towards the Government of India. The extent of the misinformation and disinformation was far-reaching. It spread to a large public in the entire Nation through electronic media that resulted in sporadic violence in different States. Law and order is the State subject, and the states like Bengal and Bihar have failed to curb such violence. As a result, violent clashes happen every year.
“Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance condoned by state governmental policies violate human rights, and are incompatible with democracy, the rule of law and transparent and accountable governance.”
In a world where radicalisation, hate and extremism divide people, inclusiveness and cultural diversity in democracy can unite the world and its citizens. Every country can progress with inclusiveness and cultural diversity.
India has constantly strived to build an ‘alliance of civilisations, not set up a clash. India has always condemned anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the International forums such as United Nations.
(The writer is Former Expert On Mission to UNHCR & Advocate Supreme Court of India)