The Delhi Police on Tuesday arrested six people in connection with the hateful slogans that were chanted in Jantar Mantar on August 8, threatening to massacre Muslims.
The arrests are being seen as an exemplary act by the Delhi Police. Many people were pleasantly surprised and lauded the police for doing the right thing. It only shows how we have lowered the bar as far as our expectations of police intervention are concerned.
It would not be wrong to say that the police took some time to overcome their hesitation to name and act against the accused people – who are from within the ideological spectrum of the ruling party. The police were in a way fighting their own instincts.
After all, the Delhi Police are still resisting the order of a Delhi court to file an FIR in the case of an attack on a Muslim man who was shot in his eyes during last year’s violence in North East Delhi. The same police force has still not been able to identify, let alone book the people who went on a rampage at the city’s Jawaharlal Nehru University last year, attacking and injuring many students and teachers. The faces of the attackers are known. They are still around but the police do not think it necessary to go after them.
It refused to file an FIR against a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party who, in the presence of a senior police officer, openly threatened violence against the people, mostly Muslims who were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act even after the Delhi High Court asked it to do so. This is the police force doesn’t think that the disappearance of student Najeeb Ahmad from Jawaharlal Nehru University is a matter serious enough to require a special task force to be set up to look for him. More than four years have gone by but the police has no qualms keeping the matter in suspension.
Delhi Police has also refused to take cognisance of the violently provocative speeches made last year by BJP leaders, some of them MPs and Central ministers, which led to bloodshed in the North East Delhi. The violence that followed caused the deaths of 53 people, mostly Muslim, the destruction of 14 mosques and hundreds of homes and business establishments, again, mostly Muslim owned.
Muslim victims openly complained about the Delhi Police’s blatantly partisan, anti-Muslim approach.
The record of the Delhi Police has left residents disappointed. Yet they have not given up on the institution. I am speaking especially about Muslims – even young, educated Muslims. That is why many of these young Muslims keep putting each act, big or small, of hate speech or hate crime on the record and insist on reporting them to the police. They have remained eternally alert and refuse to ignore any instance of anti-Muslim hate speech.
Recently, there was the obscene virtual auction of Muslim women. The targeted Muslim women, instead of being cowed down, reported this crime to the police and demanded action. Though nothing has come out of it, they have persisted.
Similarly, when public meetings took place in the National Capital region and in Haryana calling for the elimination of Muslims, young Muslims, some of them journalists, started reporting on the gatherings. They also kept alerting the police and political parties about the proceedings. They made this hatred visible to all, even those who did not want to face it.
This time, even before the gathering at Jantar Mantar on August 8, there were already meetings taking place in Delhi’s Dwaraka area, ostensibly to oppose the construction of the new Haj House there. Before the anti-Muslim mobilisation in Dwarka, there was a campaign against Muslim fruit sellers in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar. These young journalists, Muslims we must underline, kept track of that and reported it.
It is vital to understand that without the relentless effort of these young Muslim women and men, the news of these anti-Muslim campaigns would have remained out of public sight. Some well-meaning people, staunchly secular, advised these young Muslims not to overreact. They wondered if too much importance was being given to fringe Hindutva elements. They asked the young reporters not to mainstream these marginal people. They are seeking publicity through these acts and you are falling in their trap, was their argument.
They suggested that the hate mongering was phoney – that the real objective of the exercise was getting into public eye and not to commit violence against Muslims. That was only a convenient means to the aim of fame. Why oblige them?
There were some people, among them believers in the politics of social justice, who take any anti-Dalit or anti-OBC utterance with the seriousness it deserves, who wanted Muslims to understand that this hate mongering was actually an attempt to divert attention from the real issues of unemployment and the government’s messy handling of the Covid-19 pandemic now that elections are round the corner in Uttar Pradesh and other states. Muslims should not let it become a matter of public discussion, was the advice.
We need to understand that if these well-wishers of Muslims had their way, the Jantar Mantar hate-mongerers would not have been arrested. But young Muslims refused to take these insults and threats lying down. They insisted that these were criminal acts. These acts are in themselves violent, they harm Muslims, violate their sense of dignity, diminish them, make them vulnerable to further humiliations and have the potential to create situations in which Muslims would be attacked physically and butchered as the slogans demanded.
Hadn’t a minister last year exhorted his supporters to shoot the traitors (read Muslims)? What happened after that? Fifty three people died. Physical violence is always preceded by violent hate campaigns.
Young Muslims know that hate mongering cannot be taken lightly. Physical violence needs to be pre-empted. That is what they were doing by reporting the Jantar Mantar demonstration to the police and to the public at large.
They believe that the majority of Hindus would be revolted by this obscene demonstration of anti-Muslim hate. That is why Hindus need to be told what is being done in their name. Young Muslims said that they have the right to life under the Constitution – but this was meaningless if their dignity was violated. They felt that they had a duty to the Republic of India to keep reminding the state and its people of their Constitutional responsibilities.
It was the dogged pursuit of justice by young Muslims that ensured that the hate did not go unnoticed. But there are other aspects of this incident that we must not ignore.
These six arrested men were part of a crowd of hundreds of people who had been brought to the Jantar Mantar, in the heart of Delhi, for an anti-Muslim rally. It was a pre announced rally. A build-up had taken place in various parts of Delhi and even outside, physically and in the real space of social media.
Only two days before the rally, a demonstration had taken place in Dwarka. The police knew what was happening and what turn all this might take. Why was no action taken then? Why didn’t the police think it urgent to stop the situation from escalating?
Why did the police fail to take the violence against the Muslim fruit sellers seriously? What was no action taken against Yati Narsinghanand, the controversial priest from Dasna in Uttar Pradesh, who made offensive statements about Islam in April? These are questions the police need to address.
Let us turn to the hate mongers. They come in a variety of types. For example, advocate Ashwini Upadhayay hastily distanced himself from the slogans and disowned the people who were involved. This wasn’t very surprising. It recalled Lal Krishna Advani’s tears after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. When faced with the legal consequences, he chickened out and distanced himself from the act. But when he felt secure, Advani declared that he was proud of what happened on December 6, 1992.
Ironically, the image of these leaders does not get dented even if they distance themselves from the act of their followers. There is an understanding between the leader and the masses. The masses appreciate the constraints their leaders have to operate under. The leaders do not have to pay either way. They are eventually let off by the law and applauded by their followers for their cunning.
Ashwini Upadhyaya, even when distancing himself from the slogans, justified them. He said that there is a reason such slogans were coined. Even while disowning these slogans, he kept making anti-Muslim statements. He said that there were only one Aurangzeb, one Babar earlier. Now they are everywhere and something urgently needs to done about that.
Topography of hate
The topography of anti-Muslim hate and its diversity needs to be understood. The constituency of hate does not mind its supreme leaders maintaining a strategic silence and also strategically distancing themsevles from open hate or violence. There are others to do the dirty work. The leaders have impunity.
The courts have been convinced that Hindutva leaders only vent frustration and anger but do not mean violence. So, there is no cost involved.
All this is about Hindus. Muslims do wish that Hindus will see reason. But they do not see a reason to refrain from asserting their constitutional rights simply because this could lead to further polarisation. They cannot wait till the hearts of all Hindus are cleansed of anti-Muslim hatred. Hindus will take their time. But Muslims and Christians have to live and live fully they have to claim their rights provided by the Constitution of India. These rights still exist.
Muslims have not been formally disenfranchised. They are tax payers. The law and order apparatus is answerable and accountable to them too. They cannot allow the hatred and violence against themselves go unaddressed. So, they perform their role as a truthful inhabitant of this country, which still has secularism as its bedrock principle.
We should hope that our police and judiciary understand that anti–minority hatred and violence is a radical evil for the Republic of India as it strikes at its very root. What happened at Jantar Mantar on August 8 was a result of the callous indifference of our state apparatus. And as on many other occasions, it also involved its complicity in this crime.
As I try to conclude the piece, I learn that Ashwini Upadhyay has been granted bail as the court could not find any evidence of his direct involvement in the slogan chanting. But our young Muslim friends do not feel defeated. They know what they are up against. The arrest itself was a great pushback.
They know something the courts and the police have to realise: slogans are not the only issue. It is the serial hate and violence. It is not about an event, it is about a process that has genocidal ambitions. Muslims are raising the alert. We need to fine-tune our ears.
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.