Perhaps one of the key reasons for which 2018 will probably be looked back at by the generations to come, would be how this nation, its leaders, lawmakers, law enforcement agencies and the judicial setup treated its religious minorities. 2018 has been one of the horrific years in recent, post-Godhra public memory, that saw not just a major spike in the acts of violence, but also in the multitude of methods used, all at the same time. This included organised vigilante mobs on the one hand, and administrative and legislative moves like the NRC and Citizenship Amendments Bill on the other. A GroundXero recap of the year that saw the ugly dance of majoritarian hate.
- January 26: Major violence on Muslims in Kasganj of Uttar Pradesh, based on fake allegations of insulting the national flag. Groups of men armed with guns, clubs and sticks attacked muslims peacefully celebrating Republic Day. One 22-year old was shot dead. Mainstream media cried for blood. A 24-year-old reporter, whose “death” in the clashes was widely used on social media to fuel the clashes, emerged a few days later to declare that he is alive and well. The District Magistrate who had put up a FB post calling out right-wing Hindu groups for the attacks, was forced to take it down.
- March: Communal attacks on Muslim communities in several parts of Bihar and West Bengal during Ram Navami “celebrations”. Clashes erupted across several districts like Bhagalpur, Samastipur and Aurangabad. Union Minister of State Ashwini Kumar Choubey’s son Arijit Shashwat is accused of rioting and inciting violence in Bhagalpur, where clashes erupted during a procession taken out by BJP, Bajrang Dal and RSS. In West Bengal, situation turned ugly after the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its political rival the BJP organised competing processions to celebrate Ram Navami. Three people were killed and more than a dozen others injured, in intermittent violence involving Ram Navami processions at various places in West Bengal, including Raniganj-Asansol.
- July: One year after Pehlu Khan, Alwar bloodied again. Rakbar Khan lynched on suspicions of smuggling cattle. Police took three hours to take victim to health centre 4 km away, even stopped for tea. The cows in question were taken to a shelter, before Rakbar was taken to the hospital. “The gaurakshaks sent him (Rakbar) peacefully to the police station, even the police did nothing. I think he knew he was guilty so he himself consumed poison,” said Banwari Lal Singhal, BJP lawmaker representing Alwar city.
- Earlier, in January 2018 in a bizarre move, the Alwar police filed a chargesheet against the Pehlu Khan lynching case’ surviving victims Azmat, Rafique and the driver as well as his father on charges of smuggling under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal Act. The police maintained that since the victims failed in providing necessary documents, they were deemed as guilty of smuggling cows!
- October: Khaira Bazar village in Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich district. Durga Puja revellers taking the goddess’ idol for immersion through a locality predominantly occupied by a minority community, instigated communal clashes.
- On October 4, A young person was thrashed by activists of a saffron outfit in Varanasi on Thursday for allegedly propagating Christianity. The mob beat up Vinod Maurya, alleging that after himself converting to Christianity, Maurya was influencing his friends to convert.
The attacks were endless….
The Quint has been maintaining an archive of mob lynchings in this country since 2015: https://www.thequint.com/quintlab/lynching-in-india/
Factchecker website HateCrimeWatch records 92 incidents of hate crimes in the country in 2018. Out of these 14 have been linked to cow protection, 17 to interfaith relationships, 8 to religious conversions, and 21 to communal clashes. In its report titled “Cow Vigilantism: Crime, Community and Livelihood- January 2016 to March 2018”, the rights organisation PUDR documented 137 incidents of cow vigilantism. In 75% of the incidents the victims were Muslims and in another 12% Dalits were targeted (out of 106 cases where the identities could be confirmed). “The highest number of attacks against Muslims, have taken place in the strongholds of the BJP – UP, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, MP. UP, where the largest number of incidents have occurred, seems to be an anomaly as 24 of the 32 incidents in the state occurred before the BJP formed the government. UP illustrates that the roots of cow-politics date far back with the RSS having been active in the state since 1966, and reproducing itself through organisations such as the Hindu YuvaVahini founded in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, who is now CM. Of the 13 attacks against Dalits, eight have been in Gujarat, the BJP’s laboratory for Hindutva,” says the report.
Legislative and policy attacks
- Citizenship Amendment Bill: The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was enacted to provide Indian citizenship to religious minorities for protecting them from violence and blasphemy laws in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but only if they are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. The Muslim minority communities facing oppression in the region have been completely ignored. The Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the Ahmaddiya Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh have been facing persecution for years. The Citizen Amendment Bill has over the years become a weapon for polarization, causing sharp political strife in the border states, particularly Assam, where massive protests erupted against the Bill. The Assamese people are fearing this would encourage Bangladeshi Hindus to migrate to Assam. Legal experts say that when the Bill is read together with a Home Ministry 2015 notification on The Passport Amendment Rules and the Foreigners (Amendment) Order 2015, the cutoff date for citizenship becomes as recent as December 31, 2014.
The Bill passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019, is yet to be tabled at the Rajya Sabha. Several of BJP’s North-Eastern allies have distanced themselves from the Modi Government on the question of the Bill. The Asom Gono Porishod withdrew itself from the BJP-led State Government on 7th January. “Hindus in the state will become a minority within five years if the Citizenship Bill is not passed,” BJP leaders said. Together with the NRC, which takes away the citizenship of everyone who have migrated to Assam post a cut-off date, the Citizenship Amendment Bill ensures that the Hindus among this set of people will be given back their Citizenship. It is apprehended that together these two instruments are going to selectively take away the citizenship of the Assamese Muslims.
- Before this, in 2017, the Parliament had passed the so-called ‘Enemy Property Bill’ authorizing the Government to seize property transferred from ‘foreign enemies’ in the border states, post international conflicts, to Indian citizens (descendants of these ‘foreign enemies’ in many cases), applying retrospectively to transfers that have occurred before or after 1968, evicting the current occupants. There has been a sudden surge in identification of enemy properties in states with high proportion of Muslims like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, posing threats of eviction for the current dwellers.
- Cow protection legislations were actively amended in BJP ruled states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, etc., with punishments becoming more severe, and increased prohibitions around which animals can be slaughtered, traded etc. A November 2017 amendment of the Madhya Pradesh law introduced a new criminal offence – that of abandoning a non-productive cow.
- Sec 7 of the Maharashtra and 16 and 17 of the Haryana Acts as amended by BJP in 2015 empowers not just the police but ‘any person authorised by the police’ to enter, search, stop, seize vehicles used for or intended to be used for export of cows, and also seize the cattle – thus ‘legalising’ vigilantism. “The impact is visible in the very high incidence of forced stoppages, seizure of cattle and vehicles, detention by gaurakshaks, and the explicit co-ordination between the police in incidents of ‘tip-offs’,” says the PUDR report.
Electoral attacks and Disenfranchisement
- July: The final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) list for Assam was announced on July 30. The list included the names of 2.89 crores of 3.29 crore applicants. A total of 40,70,707 people, mostly Bengali Muslims, did not make it to the list, creating communal and ethnic strife across the state. Tens of thousands were thrown into detention camps, many committed suicides.
- In MP, though Muslims form almost 6.57% of the state’s population, there has been only one Muslim representative in the state assembly of 230 members in the last 15 years, according to data compiled by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s minority cells. According to senior journalist and political expert LS Herdenia, their representation in the assembly should have been between 15 to 20. Even in the latest Assembly polls, there were ony 4 Muslim candidates in the state, 3 from Congress and 1 from the BJP. The BJP candidate was moreover pitted against one of the 3 Muslim Congress candidates.
- Not just State Assemblies, but even in the Parliament. According to a latest twocircles.net report, given that Muslims comprise 14.2 percent of the total population,. there should be 77 Muslims Members in the Lok Sabha. But since the first Lok Sabha of 1952 till date, the average number of Muslims in Lok Sabha has been less than 25. Post 1985, the number has taken a sharp downturn to below 10.
- Muslim voters have also been allegedly removed from electoral rolls. In a study leading upto the Karnataka elections in 2018, researchers Abusaleh Shariff, who was member secretary of the Rajinder Sachar Committee, and Khalid Saifullah, found that “A large number of Karnataka’s adults are not on its voters list. This number is particularly high for Muslims – 20% or 13 lakh Muslim adults in Karnataka will not vote in the May 12 elections only because they are not on the electoral rolls. In comparison, 12.3% or 53.2 lakh non-Muslims, defined in our study as “All-Others”, will not be able to vote for the same reason. This finding should be seen in the context that Muslims constitute just 13% of Karnataka’s population.”
- The PUDR report has drawn a co-relation between BJP’s coming to power and the spread of cow vigilantism. “Of the 22 states where incidents of vigilantism have taken place, the BJP has been in power in 14, at various points between 2016 and 2018. At least 93 of these incidents have when the BJP has formed the government either independently or in coalition,” says the report.
Attacks by the Police
- On 9th May 2018, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) ordered an investigation into 17 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings by the Uttar Pradesh Police. UP’s Yogi Government has been accused by multiple agencies of using extra-judicial encounters for political and business interests. According to information released by the UP Police last year, 1144 police encounters took place between March 20, 2017, and January 31, 2018 – that’s almost 4 per day. 34 ‘criminals’ were reported as killed in these encounters and 2,744 arrested. In its order the NHRC noted “50 cases of encounter killings in Uttar Pradesh since March 2017”.
- In a grim note, the NHRC stated that the “situation leads to complete impunity for the police in the State sponsored killings, in as much as, no protection, compensation or procedural remedies for the victims are available to the families who are having no defence to protect themselves from the ghastly acts alleged to have performed by the State machinery.”
- The NHRC also in November last year issued the state government a notice after taking cognizance of reports of an alleged fake encounter in Muzaffarnagar. A 20-year-old Irshad Ahmad was shot dead by the police. While various human rights activists referring to this incident were infuriated, the police said that the boy had fired at them.
- A disproportionate number of these encounters took place in Muslim-majority areas of the state. In the May 2018 report “Countering the Silence” prepared by a rights group called ‘Citizens Against Hate,’ based on fact-findings into extra-judicial killings in UP and Haryana, the authors write: “We ourselves spoke with families of 17 victims of extrajudicial encounters, in 16 encounter incidents, all from west UP districts, with the highest concentration of ‘encounters’ in Uttar Pradesh. These are Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Meerut districts, with a high concentration of Muslims”. These districts have already seen organised polarization on religious lines, over the past years, including the 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, and neighbouring districts. Based on a headcount of known incidents of encounters in UP in the past year, close to half of those killed were Muslims (whereas Muslims make up only 19 per cent of the total population of UP).
- Another area of targeted extra-judicial killings of Muslims by the local police for years now has been the Mewat region – including Nuh district and parts of Rewari district of Haryana, and adjoining areas of Alwar district in Rajasthan. Mewat is inhabited mostly by Meo Muslims. The fact-finding report from Citizens Against Hate, lists out 13 deaths in 12 incidents (dating from 2010), in the greater Mewat region, all of them Muslim men. “Other victims [in the two states] too came mostly from ‘lower castes’ backgrounds. All belonged to poorest sections typically, landless farmers, engaged in manual labour and as farm hands, or working as informal sector workers, as hawkers,” said the report.
- Even among the undertrial prisoners across the country’s prisons, the proportion of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis is disproportionately high – 55% according to the NCRB data last released in 2015. Together these communities account for less than 39% of the population, according to the 2011 Census.
Attacks on livelihood (Muslim shops burnt during riots, cow trade)
- Largest number of vigilante attacks – at least 53 as per PUDR – have been during transport and movement of cattle. “Of the 20 deaths we have documented, 15 incidents in which 21 people were killed are those related to transport and trade in On the basis of the cases where identities are known, 90% of attacks were against Muslims,” they reported.
- Gaurakshaks have beaten up the drivers, set fire to vehicles marked out as “smuggling” cattle, and then the victims have been slapped with cases. Trade in beef, and consumption of beef, has been targeted in the case of both Dalits (four incidents) and Muslims, according to the PUDR. “There have been several reports of stoppage of trucks by vigilantes on the routes between Karnataka and Goa as beef was being brought into the state, which pushed up the prices of beef thus effecting smaller eateries and the minority communities who consume beef,” states their report.
- The closure of illegal slaughter houses in UP has hit the Qureshi community who work as butchers and sell meat. They cater to a local demand for buffalo meat. The licensing laws, strangely, “have no repercussions for beef exporters who own mechanised abattoirs and provide 50% of India’s exports,” notes PUDR.
- In May 2017, New Rules of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act were brought. They imposed a national ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets. According to these Rules, cattle could be bought and sold only for farming through cattle markets, and a clearance certificate was required from a designated authority. “The new Rules, if implemented, would make it practically impossible for farmers to dispose-off unproductive cattle through sale for slaughter and earn some money,” says the PUDR.
- A PIL was filed by the Beef Exporters Association against the central notification, since they source their cattle from such markets. Significantly the ban on illegal slaughter houses has not been withdrawn or modified, keeping up the attack on livelihoods of poor Muslims, Dalits and those in subordinate jobs in the cattle trade, such as drivers.
Control on the body of Muslim women
- December: The revised bill to make instant Triple Talaq a punishable offence passed in the Lok Sabha. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the bill should not be seen through the “prism of politics” but of humanity. Last year, Supreme Court had called instant Triple Talaq “unconstitutional”. The Bill not only declares triple talaq null and void, but also criminalizes the utterance of the phrase as a non-bailable offence. According to data from the Census of India (2011), divorce rate amongst Muslims is just 0.56%. Compared to this, if divorce and separation are clubbed together, the Hindu rate would be 0.76%. Contrary to popular perception that most Muslim women get unilateral divorces through phone, email and via text messages, a Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (the petitioner in the case that led to the banning of triple talaq) case study shows only one divorce out of the 117 was delivered in the absence of wife. As per the BMMA’s own findings, only 0.2% got divorced over the phone, 0.6% received it through email and out of 525 divorces, only one was delivered via SMS, that is only 0.19%.
- Of course, arguably the most stark example of institutional, militaristic control over the bodies of Muslim women, is Kashmir. We direct the reader to this report on #2018: Kashmir, for more details. Here we only mention Asifa. The brutal rape and murder of a 8-year old child, Asifa, inside a Hindu temple in Jammu at the beginning of the year shook the entire world. The violence did not just stop with the murder, but continued into Hindu right wing groups celebrating the incident, and launching a movement to protect the perpetrators. Threats were issued to Rohingya refugees of the same fate as Asifa’s.
- Again at the turn of the year, another Bakerwal girl was reportedly gang-raped in a Jammu village. Her own family was the only Muslim family in the village. She is 13 years old. Many rights activists have pointed out that gang-rape seems to have become a weapon to remove Muslim families from Jammu.
- On November 18, 3 women allegedly belonging to Bajrang Dal, barged inside the mosque at Taj Mahal and offered ‘puja’ and did ‘aarti’ inside the premises. The next day Rashtriya Bajrang Dal activists threatened to do a similar thing.
- On December 27, the Noida Authority imposed a ban on namaaz in a park in Sector 58.
- On December 23, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra a group of 15-20 Person attacked the local church during the prayer. They were armed with Rods, Swords, Glass bottles. Stones were also pelted on the Church.
- On November 21, Eid Milad-un-Nabi procession was disrupted and attacked allegedly by VHP activists in Kanpur.
- In September, Within 15 days in U.P. Jaunpur there are 12 attacks on the Christian community. Saffron flag was hoisted on the church by a saffron mob.
The list could go on…
The brighter news on the contrary, have been far fewer.
- In March 2018, all 11 of the accused in the murder of Alimuddin Ansari were convicted by a fast track court in Jharkhand. The trial was completed within nine months of the incident, following intense struggle by the victim’s family and parts of the civil society.
- Junaid’s father had pleaded for an independent probe into his son’s murder, which had been earlier rejected by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. In March 2018, the Supreme Court took note of the plea and intervened in the case.
(Cover Image: Family of Alimuddin Ansari; Source: https://www.thequint.com/news/india/jharkhand-lynching-alimuddin-ansari-son-passes-away )