Comparing Malda with Dadri is terrible for India

Competitive communalism as an excuse for selective outrage is a dangerous game.

 |  10-minute read |   10-01-2016
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Till a week back, many Indians might not have heard the names of places like Malda and Purnea but now they do. The notorious credit for this goes to the violent agitations led by certain Muslims who not only clashed with the security forces but also vandalised police stations and torched vehicles.

Accusations and counter accusations

The genesis of the turmoil which has unfolded in Malda and Purnea rests in the statements of two gentlemen, namely, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan and self styled Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari. Azam Khan likened RSS men to homosexuals following which Kamlesh Tiwari raised questions in relation to the sexual orientation of Prophet Muhammad.

Azam Khan, who aspires to become the prime minister of India and has a history of making irresponsible statements, doesn’t even possess the sanity of a fifth grader. Instead of concentrating on his ministerial responsibilities in the Uttar Pradesh cabinet, he is always in the news for the wrong reasons owing to the constant verbal diarrhoea he suffers from.

It is very much possible that Azam Khan deliberately makes such statements. Despite his repeated erroneous claims, he has been quite a successful political leader having been elected to the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh eight times. Considering the fact that he wants to become the prime minister as he recently said, he might be secretly adulating and imitating Narendra Modi who also used to give extremely provocative comments before becoming the prime minister.

Modi might have mellowed down ever since taking over the reins of 7 Race Course and is speaking of sadbhavna today but not very long ago he had compared refugee camps with baby producing factories. And that’s the tragedy of our political class. Individuals who give communally charged statements often ascend the political throne rapidly as exhibited by Narendra Modi and Azam Khan. Nevertheless, their words only reflect their bigotry. Following Azam Khan’s anti-RSS comments, one Kamlesh Tiwari claiming to be the Working President of Hindu Mahasbha came forward and returned the favour. The politics of competitive communalism had begun. Protests erupted and Kamlesh Tiwari was arrested.

Muslim outrage gone wrong

But Muslim outrage has a history of going wrong and it happened so in this case too. In July 2012, violence between Bodos and Muslims was reported from Assam. At the same time, the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar began to be reported in the international and national media. In this regard Raza Academy called for a protest at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan in August 2012 which predictably turned violent. The Azad Maidan rally was hijacked by radical elements who whipped up sentiments by flashing certain inflammatory photographs.

Unfortunately, innocent security men and media persons became the target as police and OB van were put on fire. The goons even desecrated Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial for martyrs. Something similar has unfolded in Malda and Purnea. There seems to be a history behind this which is evident from the response to Satanic Verses, Charlie Hebdo and Innocence of Muslims.

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. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini should never have issued the infamous fatwa calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie which generated an international crisis. No matter what Charlie Hebdo cartoonists draw that doesn’t provide terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam and Muslims to kill them.

What did the protests against Innocence of Muslims achieve? In fact many of such protests turned violent and led to the death of ordinary citizens. It is important to ask as to what will the protests against Kamlesh Tiwari attain? Tiwari’s comments have attracted widespread condemnation, he has been arrested and now the law should be allowed to take its own course.

If Muslim organisations have such anger against Tiwari then they should take up the legal battle against him. But violence will achieve nothing and it will not be tolerated. Insult of a religious figure doesn’t provide anyone with the right to attack the police and indulge in arson attacks.

Such kind of a violent response by a certain section of Muslims to bigoted remarks or racist actions has become a nuisance world over. Recently protesters in Iran burnt down the Saudi Arabian Embassy in response to Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shia cleric. Why don’t such protesters realize that violence cannot be an instrument to fight violence? The burning down of the embassy cannot bring Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr back but rather heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The matter has escalated further with Saudi Arabia and its allies recalling their diplomats from Tehran.

Observance of the rule of law

Muslim outrage has to be tamed. No matter what the issue is be it that of blasphemy or persecution by the state, be it the film Innocence of Muslims or ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, agitating Muslim organizations should see to it that they take up the matter at the relevant forum in accordance with the international and national law. If they can’t do so then they should learn to ignore. Such subjects cannot be settled on the street.

The people do have a right to peaceful protest but the district administration should remain vigilant. Here we need to keep two things in mind. Firstly, organisations which have a poor track record, like Raza Academy (which previously organised the Azad Maidan protest and recently issued a fatwa against AR Rahman for giving music to an Iranian film about Prophet Muhammad), must not be allowed to hold protests on sensitive matters.

Secondly, the number of protesters should throughout be kept in check. If the permission is for a few thousand protesters, then in no circumstance should the police allow 1,00,000 men to be mobilised. The situation is bound to get out of control in such a circumstance.

Political blame game in Bengal

Political leaders have already initiated the process of catering to their constituencies post the violence in Malda and Purnea. This too was predictable as Malda happens to be in West Bengal which will be going to polls this year. Innumerable examples right from Godhra to Muzaffarnagar can be cited to establish how political parties try to reap electoral benefit out of such incidents.

In the aftermath of the Azad Maidan rally, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray stated that the incident was similar to 26/11 terror attacks. He also accused the Congress government and police of being soft on the Muslim rioters. This time around the BJP has accused the Mamata Baneerjee led TMC government of being hand in glove with rioters.

Instead of giving the rationale that the Malda incident was not a communal one since it did not involve clashes between two communities, Mamata Banerjee should have instantly ordered an independent probe into the incident to figure out what exactly sparked the rioting and whether there was any pre-planning involved since there are allegations that one of the intentions behind the act could have been to burn the crime records available with the police.

A response of this kind on the part of the state government would have sent out the message that no matter which religious denomination you belong to, if you try and take the law in your own hands, you’ll not be spared. But by indulging in a needless debate regarding whether the incident was of a communal nature or not, Mamata Banerjee is playing into the hands of the BJP which will only result in polarisation.

An unequivocal condemnation of the Malda violence was all that was required on the part of the West Bengal chief minister. However, she seems to be more interested in playing down the incident and absolving her government of any accountability by calling it a “BSF versus people struggle” wherein “state was not involved”.

Hindutva hatemongering on social media

The Malda violence has provided the abusive right wing internet brigade with a new lease of life. Propaganda websites have not even wasted a second to draw parallels between Dadri and Malda. They have also questioned the supposed silence of the liberals and media vis-a-vis Malda. Competitive communalism is a dangerous game. It’s constantly played out on the web where one draws comparisons between 2002 Gujarat riots and 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

“Internet Hindus” as Sagarika Ghose calls them love to hate. If one questions Hindutva extremism then they’ll bring up the issue of Islamist terrorism and call one an Islamist terrorist. That’s the reason why one confrontational interview with Ram Madhav was enough for Al Jazeera anchor Mehdi Hasan to be labelled as an ISIS/Al Qaeda/Taliban sympathizer by the Hindutva right wing mob. As per their analogy, no one should speak up against injustice unless they have condemned a long list of Muslim atrocities against Hindus including forced conversions, temple desecration, ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus, persecution of Pakistan Hindus, etc. The list is exhaustive and one can be sure that a liberal who stands against all forms of intolerance will never be able to prove so in front of the online Hindutva army.

Selective outrage is what they’ll charge with you with. But one can in turn accuse them of the same. They are quick to cite Muslim aggression whenever it occurs but why don’t they themselves unequivocally criticise Hindu aggression? While the cause of Kashmiri Pandits is popular amongst them, are they even aware of the atrocities meted out to Punjabi Hindus during those tumultuous days in Punjab when Khalistani terrorists were on the rise?

Insurgency in Punjab saw Hindus being dragged out of a train and bus, identified, separated and shot dead. Air India Flight 182 was blown up Khalistani terrorists. Even RSS men were not spared and killed in cold blood. At that time a Christian police officer named Julio Riberio went to comfort the bereaved families of RSS pracharaks. He mentioned this fact in an opinion piece for The Indian Express titled “As a Christian, suddenly I am a stranger in my own country.” The same article for which Riberio came under attack on the web simply because he raised concerns regarding the safety of Christians, churches in the country.

Since most right wing “Internet Hindus” have not spoken for Punjabi Hindus afflicted during the days of Khalistani militancy as much as they have talked about the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus, can they too be accused of selective outrage? Just because a particular person isn’t aware about some form of injustice done somewhere in the past or present or hasn’t written about it doesn’t mean he approves of it. Yes, at times silence can be dangerous and speaks for itself but one cannot put out a remark without ascertaining the facts.

Malda was under-reported in the mainstream media initially but to try and turn Malda into another Dadri on social media wasn’t required. Creating a panic like situation through alarming posts was to be avoided as it could have led to retaliatory violence. Competitive communalism will kill the composite spirit of our nation. Responsible individuals spoke out against Dadri lynching and they will and are speaking out against Malda and Purnea.

Those who never had the courage and conscience to condemn Dadri or intentionally kept mum or worse tried to justify Dadri by invoking the rhetoric of cow slaughter must have refrained from bringing up Malda in this fashion by making #SaveWBHindus on Twitter. Selective outrage is on you, folks!


Saif Ahmad Khan Saif Ahmad Khan @saifakhan

The writer is pursuing MA Convergent Journalism from AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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