20 years of Godhra riots: How hate went mainstream in India

Apoorvanand When we remember 2002, we must keep in mind that the anti-Muslim pogrom, which was genocidal in nature, was not a work of a day or weeks. Observers were left stunned by the expanse of the violence and the sheer number of people who got actively involved in it. This, apart from those who silently watched it, lent a hand here and there without soiling their hands, and those who later rationalised it. What made them participate in the violence of this nature?

It was concerted and organised machinery of hatred against Muslims and Christians that prepared the ground for this mass violence. This hate drive was also a campaign to turn ordinary Hindus into murderers and looters.

You have to watch the documentary Final Solution by Rakesh Sharma to understand the machinery and mechanism of hate against Christians and Muslims, which slowly, gradually prepared a mind ready for violence against Muslims. Or condone it if not actively participating in it. Rationalise and justify it. It is a mix of what they call ‘education’ on a regular basis, the creation of new organisations, and occasional loud propaganda. All this to convince Hindus that Muslims have to be either banished or eliminated. All this while, the Hindus are told that they have allowed themselves to remain weak, and the time has come for them to wake up.

A character in the film, who is a hate preacher, claims that the response to the Godhra train burning was swift and decisive because the Hindu samaj had already woken up; there was “jagriti” there.

That hate has not left us. Watching the Karnataka of 2021 and 2022, one can see the unfolding of the process of decentralised education, propaganda and assertion of hatred against Muslims and Christians. A woman Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) member threatening Muslims on camera that they would be chopped off if they insisted on wearing hijab. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders spewing venom against Muslims. They know that there is no cost they have to pay. And their hate campaign draws Hindus into their fold. A recent report shows how effective this hate campaign is. How young girls and boys are turned into violent anti-Muslim ‘activists’.

This hate is not confined to Karnataka. In fact, it is hate that defines the India of our times. But we must be exact. It is largely true about Hindu society. There is an increasing and disturbing tendency in the Hindus to define themselves as superior to others. This other includes Muslims and Christians. Occasionally, Sikhs too. This feeling of superiority is not innocuous. It is more about others than oneself. It has to be generated and strengthened by constantly denigrating the other. By calling them inferior. Outsider. Intruder. Imposter. Polluter. Violent.

In a video, I saw a young Hindu man telling the reporter that he is a Hindu and is allergic to Muslims. This is how Hindus are being prodded to describe themselves. Their identity is now more about their aversion to others than themselves. A new Hindu has been produced. One who is Hindu only because he hates Muslims and Christians. You will find him/her attacking the hijab-wearing Muslim women, breaking Muslim shrines, disrupting namaz, Sunday mass, lynching Muslims. Or abusing them. He/she organises online sales of Muslim women and plans for their physical elimination. It is real. This hateful Hindu is now everywhere. Donning saffron gamchhas.

If one is truthful, it is not difficult to see that hate against Muslims and Christians has grown in gargantuan proportions in the last two decades. It is not automatic. All of us have our prejudices. But to turn this prejudice into active hatred, you need an organised drive. In India and outside India too, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, with its extensive network of affiliated organisations, which include the BJP, has been doing it for the last 90 years. Portraying Muslims and Christians as alien to India and everything that is Hindu. Telling Hindus that their material and spiritual interests are contrary to those of the Muslims and Christians. It does not stop here. Hindus are told that they are the real owners of India. Others do not have an equal claim over India. Their presence is a threat to the Hindus, as with their increasing numbers, they will deprive Hindus of their land. They will also take away jobs, which should be only for the Hindus.

Hindus are superior to others and are the original and first people of India, and therefore others have to be at their mercy if they want to live in India, is what the RSS has been telling the Hindus. With this feeling of superiority, an inferiority complex is also kept alive. That Muslims are more virile, sexually more appealing to women, and there is a real threat if they are allowed to remain free, then Hindu women will go to them. This combination of superiority and inferiority produces a lethal hatred against Muslims in an average Hindu mind.

This hatred gives a sense of empowerment to the hating Hindus. They feel powerless before the State, which can inflict pain on them through steps like demonetisation, GST and by leaving them in the lurch when Covid-19 struck them. This powerlessness is compensated by giving them the power to dominate Muslims and Christians. The power of humiliating others, destroying their lives. This hate does result in physical violence. The violent masses have an assurance of impunity. It makes at the same time Muslims and Christians weak as they know that the State is one with the violent masses, and they would not be allowed to fight back. With their hands tied and back to the walls, they become an easy punching bag for this empowered hateful Hindu.

The decisive victory of the BJP, the political arm of the RSS in the 2014 elections under the leadership of Narendra Modi, who had presided over the mass violence of 2002 as the chief minister of Gujarat, anti-Muslim hatred and violence got centre staged in India. In politics and society, it became respectable as the hate-spewing man, who as the CM invented new and more insidious ways of othering the Muslims, of insulting and humiliating them, became the prime minister of India. He told the Hindus that they have to be unapologetic about their hatred and violence.

Hate became mainstream in India. It was powered by the state apparatus as it fell in the hands of the chief instigator of hate that Narendra Modi is. Then we realised that it was everywhere. The media became the engine of this hatred. We found that our police officers, our bureaucracy and even our armed forces were full of hateful people, who given a chance, demonstrated it unashamed. As said earlier, hatred is not spontaneous, and it is not automatic. It has to be produced constantly and injected into the system in an organised manner. The BJP and its affiliates, led by the prime minister, are the source of this hatred.

We have to carefully look around to understand the organisation of hatred that has captured India. It has turned ordinary Hindu youth into hateful people and made them believe in the fantasy of a Muslim and Christian-free India where Hindus rule. But this fantasy is turning into a living nightmare for the Muslims and Christians of India. This hatred is being expressed in laws, executive orders, and the political and social programmes of this government. In physical violence. By goons and by the police.

The world has the immediate memory of a land, Germany, where this hatred led to genocide. India has now reached that stage. What we do at this stage will decide how we will be remembered as a people by future generations. Germany could plead that it was taken by surprise. But we have no defence like this, no excuse. We have been amply warned, alerted. We must stop this hate in its track. In Karnataka, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, everywhere. Or we should be prepared for a revolving cycle of violence.

(Courtesy: Deccan Herald……. The writer teaches at Delhi University)