In Rajasthan, Whether BJP Or Congress, Polarisation Is Growing




Mumbai, Jaipur: Rajasthan accounts for 5.7% of the Indian population, and 25 of the 282 cases (8.9%) recorded in Hate Crime Watch, a database of religious identity-based hate crime across India from 2009 to 2019, maintained by FactChecker. It is the largest state by area, and has recorded the second highest number of hate crimes in the country since 2009.


As part of our ongoing effort to verify details of hate violence and find out what has happened since, FactChecker travelled across eight districts in Rajasthan and one border district in Haryana in February 2019, covering 3,600 km in 12 days. (The previous, six-part series reported from Uttar Pradesh can be read here.)


Traveling through Rajasthan, we listened to the main actors on the ground–the victims and alleged perpetrators, the purported witnesses, local leaders, local police, and members of various religious communities. This was essential to understand not just what had happened and why, but also what has happened since–whether justice has been served, and whether individuals and communities have moved on, mended relations, or remain fraught.


We investigated 14 cases reported from different regions of the state between 2013 and 2018, each ostensibly driven by religious bias-related motivations. Of these, 13 had been recorded in the database earlier, and we have added an incident from Pratapgarh (September 2017) after our investigation. Our reporting revealed three broad categories of hate crime: lynchings of Muslim men suspected of being cow smugglers, concentrated in Alwar district; attacks on Christians propelled by fears of alleged religious conversion; and communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims, usually during a festive occasion, procession or rally, which resulted in arrests and cases against perpetrators from both communities.


This story, the first in a four-part series, summarises our key findings. Subsequent parts will explore these issues in more detail, including the state of Rajasthan’s tribal population and Christian conversion activities; cattle smuggling and the effect of cow vigilantism on the economy and on people’s lives; how seeking justice can add to the trauma of a hate crime.


Rajasthan has shown a steady uptick in communal violence (from 30 incidents in 2007 to 91 in 2017), according to home ministry data. Academics attribute this to a growing mistrust between Hindus and Muslims and the increasing grip of the Hindu right-wing on the state going as far back as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwart LK Advani’s 1990 rath yatra and the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992, which impacted much of north India and arguably changed the course of Indian politics.


“Hindu organisations and the Hindu mindset have been strengthening in Rajasthan since the 1990s,” said Rajiv Gupta, former president of the Rajasthan Sociological Association and former head of the sociology department at Rajasthan University, Jaipur. “The status of minorities in Rajasthan is close to second citizenship, they are not in the mainstream.”


Rajasthan witnesses more communal violence in state-election years compared to the preceding year, as per data submitted by the central home ministry in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) (available here, here, here and here). In 2008, 39 incidents were reported, up from 30 in 2007; in 2013 there were 52 incidents reported, compared to 37 in 2012. (Data for 2018 are not yet available).


The year following a state election year, which is a general election year in Rajasthan, also sees an uptick in violence (52 incidents in 2009, up from 39 in 2008; and 72 in 2014, up from 52 in 2013).


“Hindu right-wing parties feel if hatred is increased then votes get polarised, so such incidents increase,” said Iqbal Siddiqui, secretary of the state’s Jamaat-i-Islami, an Islamist political organisation. “The Congress also believes that if people feel insecure they will come to us.”


The police acknowledged to FactChecker that the possibility of polarisation is generally higher in election years.


Since 1993, the state has voted the incumbent party out during every state election, so that the Congress and the BJP have alternated in coming to power, the most recent 2018 election having seen the Congress replace the BJP.


Violence has taken place under both regimes. ”Whether it is the Congress or the BJP, there is no major difference,” said Rashid Hussain, a state executive member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, an all-India civil rights body. “The Congress does not actively polarise but from their silence, their soft Hindutva is apparent.”


Muslims comprise 9% of Rajasthan’s population, according to the last census (2011), and have a higher-than-average presence in the districts of Alwar (14.9%) and Bharatpur (14.57%), which border the state of Haryana.


Until the late 1980s, Rajasthan was relatively peaceful, the exception dating back to the Partition when Alwar and Bharatpur witnessed the killings of 30,000 Meo Muslims, a Muslim Rajput community scattered across Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.


“Muslims in Rajasthan have been culturally integrated and proud of their Muslim and Rajput identity,” said Irfan Engineer, director of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, a Mumbai-based think-tank. “They have a syncretic tradition.”


In the first half of the 20th century, Meo Muslims were the target of campaigns by Hindu groups trying to bring them into the Hindu fold, as well as of Muslim groups who felt they were not Muslim enough.


Activists believe there has been a concerted attempt to polarise the Mewat region of Haryana abutting Rajasthan. “Since Gujarat 2002 [riots], Mewat has been on the agenda of the Hindu right,” said Virendra Vidrohi, head of Matsya Mewat Shiksha Evam Vikas Sangthan, a non-profit. He contested the 2014 elections as an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate. “[Right-wing leader and former Vishwa Hindu Parishad president] Pravin Togadia even came and distributed trishuls [tridents, weapons and symbols in Hinduism] in the area,” he said.  


Today’s cases of communal violence in Rajasthan are inseparable from the politics of the state border and the Mewat region, and a clear legacy of those polarising attempts, Vidrohi said. Cow protection and allegations of cow smuggling have led to flashpoints in those areas. Hindu groups claim smuggling is a serious problem and that the mostly-Muslim smugglers are armed and dangerous. They say cows are illegally transported across the border to illegal slaughterhouses in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Cow slaughter is banned in Rajasthan.


In the tribal pockets of southern Rajasthan, Christian missionary activity has led to charges of forcible conversion from Hindu groups.


Other parts of the state have seen violence of a more generic kind, where mutual distrust between communities comes to the fore during festivals or at rallies. In one instance in Tonk city at the geographical centre of the state, violence began outside the Shahi Jama Masjid in March 2018 when a Navratra rally led by local Hindu leaders was passing by. Someone threw a stone from the procession, and rioting followed.


Jama Masjid

Stone-pelting at Jama Masjid during a Navratra rally in central Rajasthan’s Tonk city triggered communal violence in March 2018.


In Pratapgarh city in eastern Rajasthan, a dispute erupted in September 2017 over volume levels when Muharram and Navaratri happened to fall on the same day. In Asind town in Bhilwara district in the southeastern part of the state, Hindu groups refused to let an Eid procession proceed from the mosque in January 2013 because the authorities had rerouted a Hindu march a few weeks earlier.


“Festivals and processions are events where there is a mobilisation already and religious sentiments are charged up,” said Sanjay Lodha, head of the political science department at Mohanlal Sukhadia University in Udaipur. “The responsibility of the police is greater in such situations.”


In potentially inflammable situations, the state administration shuts down the internet. Rajasthan accounted for the second highest number of internet shutdowns in 2018 in the country (29), behind only Kashmir (41), according to the Software Freedom Law Centre’s internet shutdowns tracker quoted by digital news website Medianama. Between 2012 and 2018, Rajasthan accounted for 22.5% of all shutdowns, behind only Kashmir’s 41.4%.


Sharat Kaviraj, a deputy inspector general of police (state crime records bureau) in Rajasthan who also looks at cybercrime, said these shutdowns were largely prompted by communal or caste-related violence, and in a negligible minority of cases, related to fears of mass cheating in examinations. Uttar Pradesh, which has had many more communal incidents, has seen fewer internet shutdowns. In some cases, Rajasthan residents have supported internet shutdowns as sound measures, regardless of the inconvenience caused, they told IndiaSpend.


“It is a precautionary measure since it’s easy to mass-message and collect people through WhatsApp,” a senior official said, requesting anonymity. “With SMS on the other hand, you have to send them one at a time and it costs more. Plus, it isn’t easy to send photos.” (In July 2018, following lynchings driven by misinformation, WhatsApp rolled out a new rule in India limiting forwards to five per message. In January 2019, that became applicable globally.)


The police, however, acknowledged the problems with this approach. “We understand that shutting the internet is inconvenient for everyone,” said Kaviraj, “Earlier the strategy for countering fake narratives was not well prepared in Rajasthan, now we have considerably improved our online presence.” He said in the past few months the state police have set up active social media accounts across districts and have undertaken public awareness programmes.


Nevertheless, critics say the frequent shutdowns reflect poorly on the administration. “People take the law into their own hands on two conditions,” Nikhil Pahwa, editor of Medianama and co-founder of the advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation, said. “If they feel law enforcement will not provide them justice or when people act as a mob collectively and think the law and order system won’t be able to punish them.”


Overall, the picture that emerges is of a state that has been gradually but steadily polarised, and of communities increasingly suspicious of each other as well as the authorities. Each blames the other. “Any time there is a religious function, they [Muslims] make a fuss about our rallies, they prevent our programmes,” said Karan Singh, a student in Bagpura village in Rajsamand district in southern Rajasthan. A Muslim resident of the same village had the same thing to say about Hindus. “For our functions, it is difficult to get permission, for them [Hindus] it is easy,” said Rabiya Banu, a young Muslim teacher from Bagpura in Rajsamand district. “Why do they want to take out their rallies through Muslim neighbourhoods? Only to show their strength.”


This is the first of a four-part investigation into 14 hate crimes reported from Rajasthan. The previous, six-part series reported from Uttar Pradesh can be read here.


Next: In Backdrop Of Rajasthan’s Anti-Christian Attacks, Competitive Hindu, Christian Proselytisation


(Dore is an independent writer based in Mumbai.)


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