Ram Navmi festivities in India this year culminated in communal violence in Bihar and West Bengal. The Hindu festival marks the birth of god Rama. This year, the final year of right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule before the elections in India, Hindu believers of various states in the country witnessed the celebrations to have attained a new vigour that was not to be found even among Hindus in the previous years. In Maharashtra, villagers were amazed to find posters and hoardings portraying Rama as a warrior prince.
The establishment of Rama Rajya (the Regime of Rama) is the self proclaimed aim of the right wing umbrella political party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to which the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) belongs.
Premeditated Communal Violence Pattern
Communal violence broke out in Bihar and other states on March 25, 2018 and continued for almost a week. Violence erupted during Ram Navmi processions killing one person and injuring 65 in various districts of Bihar. A team of journalists and activists of NGO ‘United Against Hate’ who visited majorly affected districts (Rosera in Samastipur district, Aurangabad, Nawada and Nalanda) in Bihar released its fact finding report on April 10. The findings reveal that the violence was premeditated and planned and executed by BJP.
The Ram Navami processions in Bihar were like many of the Hindu festivals and other processions that have become a common sight in the country after BJP came to power. Devotees wearing saffron, brandishing swords and saffron flags paraded the roads boisterously. In this context, the committee found the violence to be premeditated and not spontaneous.Â The 8 most affected districts all have a majority of elected BJP leaders.
One of the major observations is the playing of provocative songs during the processions that had a major role in inciting violence. The enquiry found that these songs were prepared much in advance and the CDs and pen drives were circulated prior to the procession day. The lyrics of these songs show the communal, anti-Muslim sentiment that was released during the procession through the loudspeakers playing the music. To quote a few examples, songs had lyrics of this nature: ‘The one wearing the skull cap will also bow down and say Hail Lord Ram’ (Topi wala bhi sar jhuka ke Jai Shri Ram bolega), ‘Send them to Pakistan or butcher them but don’t feed milk to the snake living up your sleeve’ (Pakistan mein bhejo ya qatleaam kar dalo, aasteen ke saanpon ko na dugdh pilakar palo,) ‘Flee, people of Allah, why have you surrounded Ram’s birthplace? Build your mosque in some other place, this here is the camp of our Baby Ram’ (Dur hato Allah walon, kyun janmabhoomi ko ghera hai, masjid kahin aur banao tum, yeh Ram Lalla ka dera hai).
The report confirms a pattern that has become common during Hindu religious festivals throughout the country under the RSS-BJP rule. Instead of devotees and believers who are residents of the area, groups of right wing workers arrive prior to the celebrations and take permission to hold their processions in the place. These organizations are mostly newly formed. The processions are characterised by young volunteers on motorbikes and they choose to enter Muslim populated areas with swords and saffron flags and songs like the ones mentioned above blaring through the loudspeakers. When the Muslim populated areas object to this, the shops and other properties of Muslims are set ablaze. The Kasganj communal violence that happened in Uttar Pradesh is yet another instance where the same pattern was followed on Republic Day, 2018.
The finding that the violence was premeditated is also confirmed by the manner in which swords were distributed among Ram Navami Hindu warriors in Bihar, says the report. It is said that around 2 lakh swords were procured from outside the state prior to the ‘celebrations’. Orders were placed on an online shopping portal, which connected the buyers with supplier who delivered the consignment through a courier service in different districts of the state. The team found that a businessperson in Patna alone had bought 50,000 swords for the occasion. Manish, who runs a stationary shopÂ and is a social activist from Rosera, Samastipur has been quoted in the report as saying “In 28 years of my life, I have never seen this. We have always lived with love and unity. Every year, there is a Ram Navmi procession but nothing like this happened before. There was a mob of around 4000-5000 people, mostly young boys, who barged into the Madrasa and vandalised everything that was visible including study tables and chair. They even set ablaze the vehicles parked inside the Madarsa.”
The Communal Violence Trail in Bihar
The timeline of events clearly establish a long trail of violence instigated by the right wing.
On March 17, violence broke out in Bhagalpur following BJP and RSS workers taking out a procession led by Union Minister Ashwini Choubeyâ€™s son Arijit Shashwat to mark â€˜Vikram Samvatâ€™ â€“ a Hindu new year. Provocative slogans and songs were part of this procession that passed through a 15 km route that included at least six Muslim populated areas. The violence was reported in Medini Chowk. The police version of the incident says that the party workers and the residents both fired gunshots. Over 35 people were injured and two policepeople took gunshots in their arms. Arijit Shashwat was jailed on April 1 for instigating violence.
Even though the incident in Bhagalpur clearly established how the rallies were potential communal violence generators,Â the same was allowed to happen in Siwan, on March 24, 2018. A school under Muslim ownership was attacked and vehicles and shops torched. This was followed by incidents in Gaya and Kaimur on March 25 where provocative slogans were raised in front of a Mosque. In Aurangabad, violence broke out in the evening of March 25 when hundreds members of Ram Navami processions tried to forcibly enter into Qazi Muhalla, a Muslim populated area. Over 50 shops were set ablaze and more than 25 people were injured in the violence. Even after this massive violence, yet another procession was allowed to be taken out on March 26, 2018 in the same area. This resulted in large scale violence. The report confirms the existence of a video that shows hundreds of men forcing entry into a Muslim burial ground with loud chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and pitching a saffron flag there.
On the night of March 27, communal violence broke out in Munger. On March 28, the same happened in Nawada.
Several people have been arrested in connection with these riots and over a dozen of them are BJP workers, including two senior leaders â€“ Mohan Patwa and Dinesh Kumar Jha. Union minister Ashwini Kumar Choubeyâ€™s son Arijit Shashwat, who was jailed on April 1, instigated the violence that erupted in Nathnagar area of Bhagalpur, leaving several persons, including two police personnel, injured because of heavy stone-pelting, arson and exchange of fire. Shashwat was named in one of the two FIRs lodged in the aftermath of the violence. He surrendered before the police at the Hanuman temple in the state capital Patna.
The fact finding committee has made the following three demands in the report
- The accountability of the Public officials and elected representatives, who participated, instigated and encouraged the riots be fixed and should be given exemplary punishment.
- Compensation for the victims must be ensured at the soonest.
- A judicial enquiry to look into the plan and programme of the organized violence must be done.
The trend of using Hindu festivals to incite communal violence has seen a rise during the BJP rule and has intensified in 2017. Many see this is as a deliberate polarisation technique that RSS uses to retain power in the 2019 elections.