Herald View: Read Those Xs Right

Is the 'Muslims, leave!' campaign in Uttarakhand more of our new normal, or something more sinister brewing?

A Muslim man is brutally thrashed by a Hindu mob during the 2020 Delhi communal riots (Photo: Getty Images)
A Muslim man is brutally thrashed by a Hindu mob during the 2020 Delhi communal riots (Photo: Getty Images)

Herald View

Does the campaign to target Muslims in Uttarakhand over the past few weeks strike you as a departure from the new normal of our time? The communal rhetoric? Same old. Cries of ‘love jihad’? We’ve heard it often enough.

Yes, we’ve added some dull yet dangerous variations on the theme: ‘land jihad’ and ‘fertiliser jihad’, for example, have entered the vocabulary. In the early days of targeting Muslims, which has now become an everyday feature of our lives—some of us have forgotten when they were last less fearful, less curled up, anticipating worse—we were told it’s the so-called ‘lunatic fringe’ that was up to no good; the high and mighty of the Hindutva universe and elected representatives of the BJP would by and large keep their hands—and mouths— clean.

That changed nine years ago, when even senior ministers of the ruling BJP started referring to Muslims as termite that must be exterminated. Closer to elections, especially when there’s anti-incumbency in the air (take Uttarakhand itself, for example, in 2022) and the ‘development’ or ‘welfare’ card seems unreliable in the election campaign, the communal rhetoric will be amped up—suddenly you’ll hear ‘love jihad’ again or the red flag of the Uniform Civil Code will be waved.

When the stakes are higher, and a general election is round the corner, a Muzaffarnagar (2013) or Pulwama (2019) will provide all the grist to whip up communally charged sentiment.

The point of departure, perhaps, in this ongoing and undisguised hate narrative is the call to Muslims to leave the state—or else. Is it perhaps a controlled experiment to test the traction of a mutant virulent idea? Why controlled? Because Muslims comprise under 2 per cent of the population in Purola, the epicentre of the new experiment, and only about 14 per cent of Uttarakhand, and even that slim minority is concentrated in the three districts of Haridwar, Dehradun and Udham Singh Nagar.

Uttarakhand is not going to election anytime soon, not till 2027, in fact. That distracting detail has puzzled some analysts. Why now, they are asking, given also that it is happening in the run-up to prime minister Modi’s visit to the United States and the United Nations, and given that both the UN and the US state department have, in the past, taken note of the persecution of minorities, the hounding of Muslims and the shrinking of citizen freedoms in India.

So, yes, it could be embarrassing when the Indian Prime Minister is busy preening over the G20 presidency and there is much preview coverage of the state dinner at the White House and International Yoga Day optics at the United Nations.

It could be embarrassing, if international media picked up on the significance of what’s playing out in Purola, or saw it as an escalation of an ongoing trend of targeting Muslims. But don’t count on it because our own mainstream media will do everything possible to drown it out, and go breathless over Modi’s theatrics on his first state visit to the US scheduled 21–24 June.

Genocide Watch, the founder and coordinator of the ‘Alliance against Genocide’, has warned that India is dangerously close to a genocide of Muslims. Its India Country Report (April 2023) considers ‘the BJP government’s attacks on Muslims and Dalits to be Stage 6: Polarisation, Stage 7: Preparation and Stage 8: Persecution. Modi’s statements at Aligarh Muslim University perversely claimed that his new anti-Muslim laws are intended to “uplift the Muslim community”, [which] demonstrate[s] Stage 10: Denial.’

An even more unsettling feature of the trend is that facts do not seem to matter because imagined insults and fake histories are enough—even better—to fan hate narratives.

Was there really an abduction that set off this new communal spiral? A cooked-up ‘abduction’ of a Hindu teenage girl is the apparent trigger of this mob hysteria. The girl is safe at home. She was neither molested nor apparently pressured in any way. She didn’t even know the Muslim arrested in the case but was ‘caught in their presence’.

How does a hopelessly outnumbered community of Muslims—300 in a population of 5,000, in the small town of Purola—pose an existential threat to Hindus? Did the state administration or police intervene when Muslim homes and shops were marked with black crosses and threatening posters slapped on their doors?

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami did enter the fray to declare that ‘outsiders’ may live in the state only after verification, that they must produce proof of identity and travel documents on demand. Who are these ‘outsiders’ and which legal provision entitles Dhami to issue the threat? Dharma sansads in the state have openly called for a genocide of Muslims, but they haven’t invited even mild censure from the administration, forget punishment.

What kind of worse hell this road leads to is anyone’s guess.

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