Hindutva Rallies in Maharashtra Spewing Venom Against Muslims with Impunity

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Buoyed by the success and lack of action against the provocative speeches, several rallies were organised in semi-urban areas and urban areas of Maharashtra.

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI – Several rallies organised by proponents of Hindutva discourse, especially Sakal Hindu Samaj, over a couple of months in Maharashtra have been used as spewing venom and spread hatred against Muslims and other minorities in the country.

Sakal Hindu Samaj is a conglomerate of several Hindutva outfits in Maharashtra.

Recently, a cricket ground in Nevali village in Thane was awash with saffron with about 5,000 people from nearby villages and towns gathering there to listen to a swami from Ratnagiri.

Several speakers at the rally found it convenient to launch a tirade against Muslims, questioning their patriotism, their very faith and places of worship, media reports said.

“What is the need for mosques on Shivaji’s land? Why are Hindus silent when their land is encroached?” asked Swami Bharatanand Maharaj, from Hindu Shakti Peeth in Palghar. “Through Love Jihad and Land Jihad, they are capturing us and our religious places,” he was quoted as saying by the media.

The “Love Jihad” theory is peddled by Hindu supremacist groups claiming there was a plot by Muslim men to seduce Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam. Similarly, “Land Jihad” proponents accuse Muslims of launching a campaign to encroach on public land and property owned by Hindus.

T. Raja Singh, a suspended Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Telangana, who has a history of making incendiary communal speeches, urged Hindus to spurn secularism and fight for a Hindu nation. Singh’s vitriolic continued as members of the BJP and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena looked on.

He exhorted Shinde to learn from his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Yogi Adityanath and buy 100 bulldozers to dismantle houses and structures of “traitors”, a reference to Muslims.

He also called for an economic boycott of the community, media reports said.

Since November, several similar rallies have been organised by Hindutva forces across Maharashtra wherein speakers advocated violence against Muslims or floated conspiracy theories about the community.

The hate speeches at one such rally in Mumbai on January 29 even reached the Supreme Court. At the rally, Telangana legislator Singh called on Hindus to pick up arms if an anti-conversion law was not introduced in the state. Soon after, a Kerala resident filed an application in an ongoing hearing on hate speech in the Supreme Court, alleging that the Mumbai gathering had incited “communal disharmony through hate speeches”.

In February, after the Maharashtra government’s assurance that it would not allow rallies at which hate of this sort could be expressed, the Supreme Court directed the Maharashtra police to video-record the next rally a couple of days later. The court told the police to take action if any of the declarations of the event could be classified as hate speech.

But that rally never took place.

Nevertheless, even the Supreme Court’s scrutiny did little to stem the flood of provocative speeches at the rallies, organised under the umbrella of the Sakal Hindu Samaj.

In the weeks after the court order, at least 11 major rallies were organised in Maharashtra.

Hardcore Hindutva forces like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Sanatan Sanstha and Durga Vahini, lesser-known organisations like Vishwa Shriram Sena, Hindu Rashtra Sena, Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, and Hindu Pratisthan, as well as trustees and priests of temples led the events.

The organisations say they are part of the Sakal Hindu Samaj. “This is a collective under which all Hindu organisations come together,” VHP leader Anand Pandey was quoted as saying. “It has existed for a long time,” he said.

Alarmed rights and social activists have expressed their dismay and dejection at this sustained communal mobilisation. “Such hate speeches were never made in Mumbai before,” said Lara Jesani, general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties. “That they are able to openly call for violence worries us,” he was quoted as saying.

The PUCL has written four letters to the Maharashtra police about this.

So far, the police have only registered an FIR in Latur, where Singh allegedly made communally incendiary remarks on February 19.

Media reports quoted Vivek Pansare, deputy commissioner of police in Navi Mumbai, as saying that his department had video-recorded a rally in Vashi on February 26. “We are studying the contents of the speech and slogans,” he said.

“They have made reference to jihadis but have not taken the name of a particular religion,” Pansare added. “We are taking legal opinion on whether this can be considered an offence.”

Buoyed by the success and lack of action against the provocative speeches, several rallies were organised in semi-urban areas and urban areas of Maharashtra.

Social activist Pratibha Shinde, who works with Lok Sangarsh Morcha, an organisation that fights for civil rights, said the Hindutva rallies were laced with violent remarks against Muslims.

“We ask these outfits: How many cases of Love Jihad have they recorded?” said the Jalgaon-based activist. “Have they counted? They have no answer,” reports quoted him as saying.

Mufti Haroon Nadvi, Jalgaon district president of Jamiat Ulema, alleged that inflammatory speeches and calls for violence against Muslims are openly being made.

Shinde claims that the sole motive of such rallies is to polarise Hindus and Muslims ahead of several municipal corporation elections in Maharashtra this year. Apart from Mumbai, civic body elections will be held in Nanded, Thane, Jalgaon and Ahmednagar in the next few months.

“We had warned against hate speech in our letter to Jalgaon police,” Shinde said. “But they took no action.”

Observers of Maharashtra’s politics have difference of opinion on why the rallies have picked up pace in Maharashtra.

Former journalist Kumar Ketkar said the reasons were electoral. “Polls are coming up,” he said. “They feel these rallies will benefit them, make fence-sitters switch sides and vote for the BJP,” according to media reports.

He added, “But apart from hardcore supporters, masses are not turning up for these rallies.”

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