At one corner of Shiv Vihar, the area which resembles a horror movie of devastation, stands the house of the head of the area BJP minority cell president, Ashraf. It must have once been an imposing building. Today it is black with the flames of arson, its windows smashed, the house empty. I could not meet him but I was told that like many residents in the area, he too had fled as the mobs descended to wreak destruction. Political affiliation was not enough to save his property. Nor was it enough to get police help. He apparently called the police several times but was told "you maybe a BJP leader, but now save yourself." The hatred burning in the blood of the arsonists was expressed in an aggressive religious identity, which did not recognize the niceties of symbolic minority cells and their leaders. Two masjids in the area were specifically targeted; in fact, while many mosques suffered damage, temples in mixed population areas were safe. This was an identity which mocked the very Gods in whose name the violence was committed.
The seeds of hate sown so blatantly by top leaders of the BJP during the election campaign in Delhi have borne their poisonous fruit. The northeast of Delhi was engulfed by the worst Hindu-Muslim violence since the aftermath of partition. The aim of destroying the movement against the CAA-NRC-NPR, targeting and demonizing the protest sites, was clear enough during the election campaign. But the way in which a series of physical attacks were carried out in the areas where the protests were being held, following the incitement by the BJP's Kapil Mishra, makes it clear that there was nothing spontaneous about the violence. In a way, it is revenge on the people of Delhi for the election results. More dangerously, the strategy is to change a political scenario of electoral defeat into the victory of a hate and communalism-driven ideology. There is no doubt that in the span of a week, this agenda of communal polarization pushed by the Sangh Parivar is on the offensive and is dominant.
In the first phase of the violence unleashed by the Hindutva forces in the name of freeing the so-called blockade of public roads by the anti-CAA protesters, there was retaliatory violence and clashes between the two communities. In this phase, even as the mobs unleashed by the hate speeches went on the rampage in minority-dominated neighborhoods, in some specific areas, Hindu-owned properties including schools, shops and homes were also attacked and burnt. In the list of deaths, there are several Hindus. A rickshaw-puller, the young son of a social worker, a student who was a topper in his academic career and waiting for the results of a public service exam, a young employee in the Intelligence Bureau and a police constable are some of the victims. Among the injured too there are Hindus.
Who is responsible?
In every area we visited, every affected family from the majority community and their neighbors spoke almost the same words: "We have always lived in harmony...how could this have happened?"
Sunita, the widow of a rickshaw-puller who spent three days desperately looking for her husband, said: "He had never faced any problems. He used to ferry Hindus and Muslims in his rickshaw. He was a hard worker. He never felt any differently about those who hired him." Grieving, she holds her three little girls close. She is eight months pregnant. She has no means of income.
For the forces of darkness, of division, of destruction, the loss of Hindu lives is collateral damage. Having been responsible for inciting violence, they once again seek to further the communal divide by exploiting the tragedy of the affected families. Processions are being taken out in the other districts of Delhi with incendiary slogans taking the names of some of the Hindus killed, asking for revenge. Clearly, the BJP-RSS sets no limits in its reckless assault on constitutional values, on democracy, on human decency.
Instead of controlling the violence, the police became active participants in many areas. It became a one-sided all-out attack on minority communities. This was symbolised by the viral video in which uniformed men are seeing beating five men, all of them injured, telling them to sing the national anthem and to say "Bharat Mata ki Jai". One of the men, Faizan, died of his injuries days later. His mother Kismatoon was widowed when he was just three. She worked from home for a garment factory, bringing up her children. At her age, Faizan was her only support. She narrates how Faizan was taken to the police station and locked up in an injured state. He was released only when his condition became critical. "If the police had allowed him treatment, he would have been alive today," she wept.
The communalisation of significant sections of the Delhi police, apparent in their utterly partisan role last week, is perhaps the most stark reminder that communalism goes far beyond electoral victories and defeats. The impunity enjoyed by the police is shown by the fact that even where there is unmistakeable video evidence against the atrocities by the police as well as their open participation in stone-throwing against minorities, no action has been taken.
Earlier, the police had refused to file FIRs against BJP leaders who had made hate speeches. In the case I had filed asking for a court direction to the police to file FIRs against Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Mishra, the police in their response had said shouting slogans such as "Goli maaro ... ko" is not a cognizable offence, nor is it an offence to describe a community as "rapists". If this is not incitement to violence, what is?
In such a situation, the judiciary has a special responsibility to ensure that the rule of law is enforced. Petitions with a similar plea to file FIRs were made before the Supreme Court as well as Delhi High Court. In a late night order, High Court Justice S Muralidhar, who had taken serious note of the Delhi police refusal to file an FIR, was transferred to another court. The subsequent indulgence shown by the courts to the Delhi Police in the same case led to widespread criticism. It also encouraged similar slogans in other parts of India, the latest example is from Bengal where BJP supporters going to join Amit Shah's public meeting shouted the same slogans on the streets of Kolkata.
For three days the Prime Minister of India remained silent. The Home Minister was absent. Is this failure or is it patronage?
On the positive side, Delhi has also seen significant mobilization somewhat reminiscent of the efforts after the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, of Left parties, movements, social movements, NGOs, professionals like doctors, lawyers and most particularly, hundreds of young volunteers who are in the field every day, bringing relief, solidarity and working for peace in the violence-affected areas.
Delhi wants peace.
Just as it did during the elections, so also in these times of tension, polarization, rumour mongering, it is the people of Delhi who will protect their city from the coronavirus of hate.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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