Violence is the weapon of choice of all self-styled defenders of faiths and ideas in India. This week’s example comes from Maharashtra, where offices of the Marathi newspaper Lokmat in Akola and Jalgaon were vandalised. The attackers, it seems, were upset by an illustration for an article in the newspaper’s Sunday edition about how the ISIS is funded.

The illustration, a stock image of a piggybank with national currency symbols dropping into it, had the words “Muhammad rasool Allah” (Mohammed is the messenger) printed on it. These words, part of the shahahdah or Islamic creed, were in the same style as on the ISIS flag.

The attack on Lokmat was preceded by small demonstrations led by local Muslim religious and political leaders calling for a boycott of the newspaper on the grounds that had published an image that they said denigrated the prophet. Malegaon’s Congress MLA Shaikh Asif Shaikh Rashid led one demonstration and also filed a formal police complaint against Lokmat and its editor. On the Internet, various Islamic organisations are claiming credit or being credited for the protests and the police complaint. Asif Shaikh Rashid dismissed questions from media watch website Newslaundry about freedom of expression saying, “We won’t tolerate misrepresentation of the Prophet.”

No one has said a word against the vandalising of Lokmat’s offices.

 An apology

Lokmat, which is owned by Congress Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Darda and his brother Rajendra, formerly the Congress MLA for Aurangabad, has not sought to defend itself. Instead, a day after the ISIS article appeared it issued a front-page apology saying that it would also establish how this “unintentional mistake” was made.

Some have criticised Lokmat for not standing up for freedom of expression.  The editor possibly took the view that freedom of expression was better defended as a published newspaper than one that was shut down.

In most societies, anyone who disagrees with something that is published in a newspaper writes to the newspaper.  In India people who don’t like things that are written or painted or sculpted or said or worn or eaten take the streets or worse, attack the writer, painter, sculptor, wearer, eater or speaker or the institutions that represent them.

Earlier this year, 13 people were convicted of brutally attacking TJ Joseph a professor of Malayalam literature in Kerala in 2010. The attackers were members of the Popular Front of India which taken umbrage to a question in a exam paper set by Joseph that included an adaptation of a piece from PT Kunju Muhammed titled “the methodology of a screenplay” – a conversation between God and (PT Kunju) Muhammed. The Popular Front claimed that this was an insult to the Prophet of Islam. Prof Joseph lost his job and the use of his right hand.

The artist MF Husain, who died abroad, having fled India in 2006 after his home was attacked by a mob of Bajrang Dal activists, had had his works mutilated and galleries exhibiting them attacked multiple times in different cities. Right-wing Hindu organisations deemed his paintings of Hindu Gods, many owned and exhibited by well-heeled Hindu art collectors, as an “insult” to their faith.

Defending Shivaji

In 2004 a group calling themselves the Shambhaji Brigade, self-appointed guardians of Shivaji’s legacy ransacked Pune’s renowned Bhandarkar Oriental Institute, destroying valuable documents, because they objected to something the historian James Laine had written in his book Shivaji: A Hindu king in Islamic India, and a researcher at the Bhandarkar Institute was acknowledged in the book.

In 1989, protests in India against Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses left 12 people dead after police fired at demonstrators in Mumbai. The book was banned here through the efforts of Syed Shahbuddin who seems to have tried to make a career of supporting conservative Muslim causes, long before the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against it and anyone associated with it.

A few years ago Dalit organisations forced the NCERT to remove a cartoon by the stellar political cartoonist Shankar because of a perceived insult to BR Ambedkar. The cartoon shows Ambedkar, who was chairman of the Constitution drafting committee seated on a snail and Jawaharlal Nehru whip in hand, urging the snail on. The context of the cartoon was the great delay in completing the draft Constitution. But historical context and the unassailable place of both men in the history of the nation were nothing against perceived hurt. While MPs argued the case against the cartoon in Parliament, Dalit activists vandalised the Pune University office of Professor Suhas Palshikar, an advisor to NCERT and assaulted him.

In 2007 the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and various Christian church organisations found themselves on the same side in a fight against Baroda fine arts student, Chandra Mohan, one of whose final-year paintings exhibited in the student’s show at MS University they all objected to. Chandra Mohan was arrested and thrown in jail for hurting religious feelings based on complaints they made to the police and the university removed his painting from the exhibition because of the threat of greater disruption.

A couple of months ago, a Muslim organisation in Mumbai had a fatwa issued against the composer AR Rahman and the Irani film director Majid Majidi for his film Muhammed: Messenger of God. This was their explanation: “We are against the title. People may use it in a bad manner if they don’t like the film, which will mean an insult to the Prophet. The actors have charged money to act in the film and they may have dubious character in real life. How can we Muslims allow such things to happen?”

Earlier this year the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan announced that he was dead and would never write again after being hounded by caste organisations that did not like his novel Mathorubhagan.  He went into hiding and was forced to leave his hometown and what he said was the source of his creativity, Nammakal, because it was unsafe for him to live there.

The recent murders of writer and rationalist Govind Pansare in Pune and of the Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi bear the stamp of Hindutva- and caste-based organisations.

A lengthy list

These are but a few examples of what happens somewhere or other in India almost every year. “Hurt sentiment” is the usual explanation, but a grossly insufficient one. These examples speak of a society that is uncomfortable with itself and insecure in its own beliefs, where self-affirmation comes from attacking rather than engaging with those who challenge the existing order or conventional ways of thinking. But the common thread in all these stories of violence is the role of party political organisations in playing on social insecurities, fomenting or sustaining the violence and the sense of grievance or “hurt sentiment”.

The prime minister, goaded into talking about the culture of communal violence in the country during the Bihar election campaign, had said that politicians promote differences to push their limited agendas. He exhorted people to ignore them, and him, if they did this.  It was a sound assessment and, in the context of an election campaign made shrill with rhetoric of religious and caste differences, it was sound advice.

But, “the people” do not commit these acts of violence or threaten violence against those whom they disagree with. From the attack on the Lokmat office to the murders of Kalburgi and Govind Pansare, every one of these instances of violence has been by activists from political organisation or organisations with political patronage, everyone of them as intolerant as the other. As politicians – government and opposition – spar in Parliament this session, perhaps they be forced to acknowledge this unmissable fact.