The new vigilantism

Recent attacks on Muslims expose a disturbing trend about state power and new groups

May 09, 2022 11:59 am | Updated 02:38 pm IST

“The violent network against Muslims and Christians has now become so large and so complicated that it is impossible to say whether the hate campaigns and acts of violence are planned and directed by a single authority.”

“The violent network against Muslims and Christians has now become so large and so complicated that it is impossible to say whether the hate campaigns and acts of violence are planned and directed by a single authority.” | Photo Credit: AP

Based on a complaint lodged by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) man in Kokrajhar, Assam, against Jignesh Mevani, a member of the Gujarat assembly, the Assam police acted with extraordinary speed. It rushed to Palampur in north Gujarat, and arrested and brought him to Assam. After he was given bail, the police rearrested him — this time on a complaint lodged by a policewoman, who accused him of assaulting her and outraging her modesty while he was being brought to Kokrajhar from Guwahati airport.

Officials of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation refused to stop the demolition drive in Jahangirpuri even after the Supreme Court had stayed the drive. The demolition itself came amid the demand of the Delhi BJP chief after violence in the area that ‘illegal’ houses and properties of the rioters be identified and demolished.

In Mangaluru, Bajpe police inspector P.G. Sandesh and three other personnel have been suspended after he detained miscreants who had attacked a Muslim fruit seller and investigated their role. 

Mapping the network

This is only a small sample to show that the Hindutva network now has a new ally: the police and administration. To understand the violent network of Hindutva forces, we need to keep this novelty in mind. Earlier, it was expected that the police and the administration would counter any attempt to disturb law and order. The open display of bias against the minorities by the police and administration is creating an impossible situation for these communities. How do they deal with this de facto legalised violence? 

The violent network against Muslims and Christians has now become so large and so complicated that it is impossible to say whether the hate campaigns and acts of violence are planned and directed by a single authority. One can say safely that not all of the perpetrators are formally affiliated to any of the Hindutva organisations we know about. But they are definitely part of a violent network, and most of them undertake these activities voluntarily.

We know that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) remains the ideological fountainhead for muscular Hindutva. It keeps rationalising it and presenting arguments to defend it. But we never hear that the RSS is directly involved in the actual acts of violence. This is largely because it is difficult to say who is a member of the RSS unless the person involved volunteers this information. The RSS does not maintain a formal register of its members. This informality is of great help to it as the organisation can never be accused of being party to any act of violence. We saw its people leading, organising the campaign against the Babri Masjid, but legally it could not be implicated for the demolition. Since it works largely informally, through word of mouth, it is impossible to get any evidence which has some value in a court of law. 

But in the last two decades we have seen this network expanding. For instance, the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), which was headed by Yogi Adityanath, is not formally part of the RSS. But its founder is heading the government of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Is there a tacit understanding here which frees the BJP from any liability while assuring groups like the HYV of impunity?

Similarly, organisations such as the Sri Ram Sene or Abhinav Bharat are independent and quite autonomous. They are not like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal or the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which are part of the RSS and are actively involved in vigilante activities. But they appear to enjoy protection under the regimes of the BJP.

Floating memberships

In the last decade, we have also seen the mushrooming of violent groups across India which work in the name of cow protection. There are other groups which lead yatras, or processions. They claim to work in the name of religion, but these occasions are increasingly used to abuse and insult Muslims. Various groups emerge suddenly in the name of protecting Hinduism, such as the groups in Gurugram, Haryana which kept disrupting the Friday namaz. Such groups get formed in villages and small towns. They commit violence against Muslims and Christians, put videos on social media platforms, gain notoriety, which earns them following. They thus become leaders in their own right.

These groups usually have a floating membership. They work as vigilantes. The economics of such groups has not been studied properly. How are they funded and how do they sustain themselves? From where do their arms come? Do they mobilise funds locally?

Across India, we also see the rise of individuals like Yati Narsinghanand, one of the organisers of the ‘Dharam Sansad’ in Haridwar where calls for violence against Muslims were issued. Individuals like him keep reinforcing the hate propaganda against Muslims by organising congregations in the name of creating awareness among Hindus. These incidents of hate speech and violence are not centrally commanded. But the people behind them seem to believe that their social and political fortunes will rise.

The ecosystem

The RSS remains in the background. The RSS is like an ecological system which sustains organisations and individuals like the ones mentioned above. They germinate and flourish in this ecosystem. Their actions are rationalised by the RSS in its own way.

Demands are made by well-meaning people that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also the RSS condemn the violence. The perpetrators of violence know fully well the ideological anti-Muslim and anti-Christian foundation of Hindutva politics. Mr. Modi is viewed with admiration and awe for his ability to make this politics respectable. So, even if he ever makes a statement which disapproves violence, which he has not categorically done so far, they will be confident in their belief that he does not mean it — that he is compelled to do so by the demands of his office. 

The ease of business that this regime has enabled for enterprise in anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence is encouraging new elements to enter this market. It is both fun and profitable for them.

The writer teaches in Delhi University

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