When tragedies compete, we tend to lose sight of the "smaller" ones. And at a time when Hindutva’s strike rate of hate is particularly high, there is a prioritisation of tragedies that we end up doing whether consciously or unconsciously. We ration our outrage accordingly.
While we would be mourning one tragedy, more line up competing in both vitriol and barbarity. Akhlaq to Rohith, Una to Saharanpur, Pehlu to Junaid, Gauri to Afrazul, and so on. Such is the new normal under the BJP’s reign of a “viral” bloodlust today. And as the shift is palpable from the Gujarat model of “development” to the Rajasthan model of hate, we can only expect an escalation of communal hatred onwards to 2019.
Let’s just take one day. The long shadow of the fall of Babri Masjid had reached its 25-year mark this December 6. But this year it was overshadowed by the gory video of Mohammad Afrazul's killing by a Hindutva fanatic in Rajasmand, Rajasthan.
This again overshadowed the "encounter" killing of Talim in Alwar on the same day as a bullet entered his neck while he was allegedly involved in “smuggling cattle”. The -mentioned incidents, in turn, managed to overshadow a third news that had surfaced the same day, that of the fleeing of 38 Dalit families in a remote village in Uttarakhand after upper caste villagers threatened to burn them alive.
Incidentally December 6 also marked the 62nd death anniversary of BR Ambedkar. Now, while Talim’s killing was in the name of the "holy cow", Afrazul was butchered in the name of "love jihad", the fleeing in Tehri was in the name of caste while Babri, of course, was "Ram ke naam".
Pretexts are different, they shift constantly, but we can’t fail to join the dots as they are all products of certain choices that we in this country have made (or have been complicit in making) over the decades. Decisions that have decided the fate of millions over the years.
In a way, the fate of Afrazul and his likes were sealed long back. And much of it, in fact, was conjoined with the fate of Babri Masjid itself. With every calculated step towards the final demolition of this centuries-old mosque, the Hindutva strategists tested the secular claims of the Republic. And in every such step, the “collective conscience” (read Hindu majoritarianism) proved to be stronger than the avowed secularism promised by the Constitution.
To start with, an idol of Rama was surreptitiously smuggled in and placed right under the central dome of the mosque on the night of December 22, 1949. This “divine appearance of Ram Lalla” was planned and executed by the RSS top-brass with the connivance and support of the district magistrate, the police and others. The offering of namaz was thereby stopped as the mosque remained locked until 1986 when the "secular" Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government ordered the opening of the mosque, not for namaz, but only for puja.
Emboldened by the above, from here on, there was no looking back. LK Advani went across the length and breadth of the country in his rath, spewing venom and openly challenging the judiciary and the then government. This was no longer a clandestine operation as he cried out loud and clear for two long years about the plan to demolish the masjid. As the Cobrapost sting operation revealed, a "Laxman Sena" was raised with special military-style training for a month by the Bajrang Dal for the act of demolition aided by high ranking ex-military personnel in June 1992, along with ideological training by the likes of Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia.
A sena of 1,200 RSS supplied with chisels, heavy-duty hammers, pickaxes, spades, grappling hooks, sturdy ropes (and also dynamite sticks), was raised divided into 10 smaller teams with a leader for each and a specific task. An open oath or “sankalp” was taken by all the kar sevaks on the morning of December 6, 1992 in the presence of the top brass of the BJP and RSS (and state administration) stating their resolve to demolish the masjid. And then they were unleashed on the masjid. None of these were secret, but the "secular" state machinery refused to show even a semblance of intent to act against them, but rather facilitated the demolition. Much before the social media and or the internet made its entry, these were the years when hate was allowed to become “viral” with impunity.
The act of demolition had set a bloody dominoes rolling 25 years back. So, it is not about one Shambhulal Regar, the killer today, the roots of what killed Afrazul, the performance of violence in front of a camera, the hacking and the burning all date back.
Now, the one who presided over the demolition in 1992 was PV Narsimha Rao. In the capacity of being the prime minister, he not just remained inactive in the face of what was unfolding around Ayodhya, but was also inaccessible while the demolition was underway. After all, as AG Noorani writes, “His heart was set on constructing a Ram temple ahead of the BJP and thus take the wind out of its sails.”
But this wasn’t the only cataclysm he presided over. Was it? It was under his tenure that the Congress also decisively took the neo-liberal path of market-driven growth. A decision that over the quarter of a century was to touch millions of lives as they would desperately scrape for a living. While we have been shown the glitter of "Shining India" and the glitz of smart cities, the Indian countryside over these years has been turned into a cursed land ready to vomit out its inmates. Over the layers of historical denials (like caste) were added the vagaries of market, a crushing indebtedness, forced acquisition, and a state that withdrew.
What this has churned out in turn is a vast reserve of under-employed and unemployed from the villages who are willing to go as far to eke out a living, do any work, with any bucks, on any terms. These are the desperate "hunters and gatherers of work" that the market needed to employ at sub-human costs, with near to none social security and no protection or rights.
Invisibilised behind our “plastic dreams” it is precisely this sub-human exploitation that sustains today’s model of "market growth" that has become synonymous with circulatory distress migration and rampant casualisation of labour.
And one sector that by far has emerged as the principal employer of such out-migrants as casual labour over the "growth years" has been the construction sector. Even a decade back, the out-migrants constituted 36.2 per cent of those employed in the construction industry, followed by agriculture (20.4 per cent) and manufacturing (15.9 per cent). And in 2009-2010 out of the 58.6 million casual workers in non-agriculture, 32 million were employed in the construction industry alone. But why am I talking about this suddenly? Because, if we try hard enough, may be we would find the likes of Afrazul amongst those millions who are forced to work thousands of kilometres away uprooted from their homes living in the rented floors of a slum. And these Afrazuls are Muslims as also majorly Hindus.
Mohhammed Barkt Ali, also from Malda, like Afrazul , said that they stay in Rajasthan doing construction work for two-three months at a stretch and then go home after saving some money to return again in a few months. They don’t get work in West Bengal, he said, and so they have to go to other states in search of work. Afrazul’s brother Tafazzul said that Afrazul left home when he was 14 to work as construction worker. With the savings he sent back he wanted Tafazzul to get educated and get a decent employment. But even with his BCom degree, there was no job for him. There aren’t any factories, no opportunities, he said, and so he too had to leave to work with Afrazul.
More than 2,000 men from the 1,200-odd families in Afrazul’s village, mostly Muslims, are estimated to be working as labourers outside the state. The land holdings are small, said Samiul Chaudhury, a villager, so men go out to work for most part of the year, except during the mango-growing season.
But the brutal murder of Afrazul led to panic and hundreds have left for home in the ensuing weeks in fear. “Villagers are worried after the brutal killing. Everyone is coming back… I have seen the video. They can do that to my son too. I will not let my son die. I called him, told him to leave work and come back. He has already boarded a train,” said Raju Sheikh.
His son Samiul Sheikh works as a mason in Jodhpur. The terror was accentuated as Hemendra Khatri, an office-bearer of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Rajsamand demamded a probe to ensure that the (Bengali-speaking) labourers are not illegal Bangladeshi migrants. “I have been working here for the last 14 years, and also have Aadhaar card and other government documents to prove that I am an Indian citizen. But after the murder, we have realised that there is nobody to protect our interests here,” said Mohhammed Barkt Ali.
And with that, Hindutva terror has managed to not just kill Afrazul, but has take away even the feeble foothold of the likes of Afrazul to cement a living. It has instilled fear.
This brings us to the fleeing Dalit villagers in Uttarakhand. This incident in Ghansali was triggered when a Dalit youth named Rakesh Lal refused to play the drums at a wedding ceremony for an upper caste family. When the groom’s family refused to take a no for an answer, it led to tension. The Dalit boy went “missing” thereafter and the rest of the Dalit families were forced to leave as the upper castes threatened to burn them alive.
This is what reached us through news reports on December 6 this year like countless other horrid tales of rape, arson, immolation, hacking and killing of Dalits and Muslims that we wake up to, as retribution for their “transgressions” or assertions.
But despite the historical oppression and the denial of rights, resources and respect, when brahmanical Hindutva needs to translate its political necessities into numbers, it counts on the Muslim “others” to mobilise the Dalits and the oppressed castes into its Hindutva fold.
Ambedkar had once said, “Hindu Society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes... A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes, except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot.”
Chandrashekhar Azad, the Dalit leader of Bhim Army from Saharanpur, had, in fact, echoed the same when he said: “For elections, we are Hindus. After that we are Dalits.”
For the “crime” of having solved this riddle, he remains in jail today booked under NSA as he is considered a “national security threat”. One of the intended aims of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was precisely this. To galvanise the oppressed castes under the fold of Hindutva by positing them in opposition to the “Babar ke aulad” (read Muslims).
It is not surprising thereby that the killer of Afrazul, Shambhulal Regar, who has been turned into an icon of Hindutva by saffron outfits on rampage in the streets of Rajasthan, is himself a Dalit.
The BJP national executive had adopted the Ayodhya controversy as a major campaign issue at its Palampur meeting in June 1989, and the then party president LK Advani had quite candidly observed at that time: “I am sure it will translate into votes.” Babri to Akhlaq, Junaid to Afrazul, much has been lost in this “translation”. Do we still call it a “democracy”?