Fear and loathing in Bihar: How the BJP's quest for power is transforming peaceful towns into communal tinderboxes

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Fear and loathing in Bihar: How the BJP's quest for power is transforming peaceful towns into communal tinderboxes

Post by Rashmun on Thu Jul 06, 2017 1:07 pm

Over the past four years, religious tension has steadily increased in Chhapra, Bihar. For evidence, see how this once peaceful town in Saran district now celebrates Ram Navmi or Maha Shivaratri: the high point of the festivities is large processions of young men wearing saffron headbands brandishing swords and shouting “Jai Shri Ram” to a soundtrack of techno music.

Most chants, though, are not remotely religious, said Jeelani Mobin, the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s head of Chhapra Zilla Parishad. “Doodh maango, kheer dengay. Kashmir maango cheer dengay,” goes one slogan. “Ask for milk and we’ll give you kheer. Ask for Kashmir and we will cut you down.”

In such a charged atmosphere, even petty disputes take on communal overtones. “Recently, a Muslim boy killed a monkey that had been biting passersby,” Mobin offered an example. “A village headman began saying ‘Hanuman has been killed’ and a mob quickly took shape.”

In Wajidpur, a small village about half an hour from Chhapra, Mohammad Shamsher, 22, was stabbed by a group of Hindu boys on the day of Holi, March 13. Shamsher died on the way to hospital. Two days later, his family told Scroll.in they still did not know why he had been murdered. But what had transpired just after the stabbing was telling.

Over the last four or five years, the Bajrang Dal, the muscle of the Hindutva network known as the Sangh Parivar, has established itself firmly in this part of Bihar. If there is any incident involving Muslims, its members quickly reach the spot. This is what happened on March 13. Shamsher was stabbed at half past six in the evening. At around eight, a Bajrang Dal posse assembled in the lane leading to the 25-odd Muslim houses and the mosque.

“They were on bikes,” said Mohammad Manu, a Muslim villager. “They were carrying swords and shouting, ‘Maro! Aag laga do! Masjid tod do! Miyan ko kato, Babar ki aulaad!’”

“Kill them! Set fire to their houses! Demolish the mosque! Kill the Muslims, the children of Babar,” they shouted.

This is a recurring scene in Wajidpur, said Shamsher’s uncle Mohammad Sayeed. In the last four years, the Bajrang Dal has shown up whenever there was a dispute between the village’s Muslims and Hindus.

It is much the same in Chhapra. According to Mobin, two or three incidents are communalised almost every month. Most of the time, however, the local administration ensures that the tension does not boil over. Even when it has, as in last August when the video of a Muslim boy desecrating Hindu idols went viral, the damage was limited to arson and rioting. That time, the boy’s house was attacked and at least 67 shops belonging to Muslims were torched. But there were no deaths.

“The way things are going, everything would have been burnt by now if this administration was not so active,” said Mobin.

After the Wajidpur stabbing too, the police had ensured that the Bajrang Dal followers did not go beyond sloganeering.

Still, this pattern of intimidation has driven the Muslims of Chhapra town and surrounding villages into a state of constant dread. Older Hindus in Wajidpur seemed worried as well. As a Rajput man visiting some Muslims in the village put it, “If we do not fix all this quickly, there will be a riot.”

“Until just two-three years ago, people would cite Saran as an example of communal harmony,” Mobin rued. “There was peace here.”

Fog of fear
Chhapra and Wajidpur are not the only places in Bihar losing their peace. “Even in Gopalganj, Bettiah, Motihari, Champaran or Narkatiaganj, whenever there is an incident, Bajrang Dal volunteers reach in large numbers within an hour,” Mobin said.

Nearly 300 km east of Chhapra, in Bhagalpur town, even incidents of road rage are communalised now, said Uday, an activist with Paridhi, a non-governmental organisation that works for communal harmony.

Arshad Ajmal, director of Patna-based Al-Khair Charitable Trust, which works for communal harmony too, noted that new Hindu festivals such as that of Santoshi Maa are being celebrated with gusto across Bihar. The celebrations are often marked by large processions, complete with weapons and sloganeering. “Different towns in a district take out the procession on different days,” Ajmal said. “It takes about a month or more to cover the whole district.” Naturally, tension builds up....

Now, the big question is: why exactly is communal tension rising in Bihar? The explanation lies largely in the BJP’s quest for power. To break the dominance of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) – which has ruled the state since 2005, in alliance with the BJP until 2013 and now with the Rashtriya Janata Dal – the national party is trying to replace the horizontal stratification of the electorate (per caste) with a vertical one (per religion). The groundwork is done by a clutch of outfits close to the Sangh Parivar which whip up communal passions to mobilise a new cadre and realign voter loyalties.

It is a complex process of social engineering...


https://scroll.in/article/838619/fear-and-loathing-in-chhapra-how-a-peaceful-bihar-town-became-a-communal-tinderbox


Rashmun

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