Season of Poison
By Poonam I Kaushish
The power of rhetorical public abuse by our leaders’ underscores political discourse is only rabble rousing, devoid of substance, spreading hatred and widening the communal divide on religious lines to pander to their constituents. Alas the suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma’s controversial remarks against Prophet Mohammad refuses to die down. Whereby, our polity is swiftly sinking into the marshy cesspool of bloodied religious intolerance.
First of the mark was Congress’s Rahul Gandhi who said the beheading of an Udaipur tailor in broad daylight by two people for supporting Sharma was a “silly act of children” only to retract by stating he was referring to the vandalism of his Wayanad office. Followed by Samajwadi’s Akhilesh Yadav asserting, “Not only the face (Sharma’s) but the body should also apologise and punished for disturbing the harmony of the country,” earning him a notice from the National Commission of Women for instigating hatred and ill-will.
It doesn’t end there. A poster for a documentary has also drawn flak on social media for hurting religious sentiments by depicting Goddess Kali dressed in a costume smoking a cigarette with many demanding the film maker be arrested and others saying hurting Hindu sentiments is not a right given by Supreme Court.
In 2021, the web series ‘Taandav’ too raked up a row for allegedly creating a possibility of religious tension by portraying Hindu Gods in a bad light alongside film ‘Ludo’ for promoting ‘Hinduphobic’ content. Akin to famed painter Hussain showing Hindu Goddess in poor light.
Who does one fault? The onus is on both Hindus and Muslims who have perfected intemperate language to inject poison in society over the years. Just as one cannot clap with one hand, hate is a two-way street with the sole intent to grab headlines, earn brownie points and widen the communal divide.
Since October 2021 there have been over 89 instances of hate crimes and speeches in the lead up to the 2022 Assembly elections in UP, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Haryana. There were weekly protests in Haryana against namaaz taking place in public, a rash of crimes against Muslim-owned businesses with Hindutva groups shutting down meat shops during Navratras in Delhi, UP, Haryana etc. In Rajasthan’s Karauli Muslims retaliated with stone-pelting at a motorcycle rally passing through a Muslim-dominated area on Nav Samvatsar leading to arson and a chemist killed by Muslim youth in Maharashtra’s Amravati.
The problem has got aggravated as there is a lot of heat generated on social media and TV which is exaggerated for TRP ratings with some Hindu-Muslim fanatics always looking for trouble all times. Right-wing elements associated with both communities organisations are ever ready to fill the gap left by vernacular media because of their silence on communal violence. Primarily, as it is difficult to stop the spread of hate messages through social media on a daily basis.
Following the backlash on social and digital media over Supreme Court lambasting Sharma “and her loose tongue for setting the country on fire asking her to apologise to the whole country”, Justice Pardiwala stated, “the court has only to keep ‘rule of law’ in mind and verdicts cannot be a reflection of the influence of public opinion. Demanding regulation of social and digital media, he added, it is “dangerous on their part to cross the ‘lakshman rekha’ and undertake personalised, agenda-driven attacks on judges”.
Alas, instead of crying halt, Parties have reaped electoral benefit out of this divisive politics using religious communities as loyal blocks during elections. Along-with framing laws, policy and strategy aimed at assuaging religious minorities or the majority Hindu community has reared the ugly head of ‘vote bank politics’ to wean away chunks of voters from the stranglehold of rival Parties. Big deal if social prejudices are becoming deeper and social schisms widening further.
Shockingly, India ranks fourth worst in the world for religious intolerance among 198 countries with religious hostility trailing only Syria, Nigeria and Iraq according to the Pew Research Centre. More than 4,500 people have been killed in 10,000 communal violence incidents since Godhra 2002, J&K 2008, Muzaffarnagar 2013, Meerut 2014 et al, read over two incidents every day somewhere in India.
How does one control the hate mongers and blunt them? Our leaders need to understand that by playing Hindus-Muslims against each other they are only serving their vested interests. No quarter should be given to a Hindu fundamentalist or Muslim militant as both are destroyers of the State, which has no religious entity.
Remember communalism thrives on one community’s hate for the other along-with playing up the psychosis of retaliation. Thus, our moral angst cannot be selective but should be just, honourable and equal. No matter what the provocation, the rule of law cannot be made to go for a toss.
Nothing justifies violence or the call to commit violence in direct contravention of the law. If a Hindu has anger against his Muslim brethren or vice-versa they should take up the legal battle against them. Tomorrow, anyone looking to settle a personal score could accuse someone of being a beef-eating Muslim or a Ram bhakt.
In a mammoth one billion plus country there would be a billion views whereby one cannot curtail people’s political beliefs and rights. One is free not accepting another’s view as it is a matter of perception. A statement objectionable to one might be normal for another. However, no licence should be given to anyone to spread hatred or ill-feeling towards any community or against atheists who do not see themselves as Ram-Rahim-Jesus children.
In this dog whistle politics of surcharged communalism we need to realise India is a big country with enough room for all to live in peace and goodwill. The aim should be to raise the bar on public discourse, not lower it any more. Neither Lord Ram nor Allah will forgive the polity and fundamentalists for playing havoc in its name.
All fail to understand that appeasement or turning a blind eye does not create legends but only Frankensteins who devour the very people they claim to represent by pushing them on a path of fundamentalism. The time to end this senseless hatred across religions that our lives are getting drenched in has come as is distracting us from seeing or worrying about real pressing issues: rising poverty, unemployment, health and bettering lives.
We need to halt the country being pushed towards brazen communalism, ignoring national interest. We could do without leaders who distort politics and in turn destroy democracy. India’s destiny is larger than the petty minds of secular-communal forces. — INFA