Scary spurt of religious intolerance in poll-bound Rajasthan

Published : Dec 23, 2017 08:09 am | By: Anjali Chhabra

The increase in violence in the recent times has not only tarnished Rajasthan’s image and but also branded the state as a communally violent state figuring in the rogue list of eight states which account for 85% of communal incidents in the country.

The uproar against the release of Deepika Padukone starrer “Padmavati” and the

recent cases of mob lynchings and “love jihad” violence in Rajasthan are being

seen as a growing trend of religious intolerance in the election-bound state.  The dominance of Hindus seems to be assuming dangerous proportions to instil fear among people of other religions. The increase in violence in the recent times  has not only tarnished Rajasthan’s image and but also branded the state as a communally violent state figuring in the rogue list of eight states which account for 85% of communal incidents in the country.

While the attacks by cow vigilantes and love jihad attack on a Muslim man were allegedly parts of a series of reactionary and religious intolerance. Multiplied by irresponsible social media, the row over the Bollywood film reflected a resurgent Hindu or Rajput pride that threatens the secular fabric of the state which witnessed almost no major Hindu-Muslim violence during partition. Social scientists accuse those in the state government machinery – read ministers and elected representatives of local bodies - of tacitly supporting the aggressors, who in most cases happen to Hindus, and backing overtly assertive Hindus on issues related to community pride and Rani Padmini’s prestige.

The twin build-up of anti-Muslim violence and assertion of Rajput pride is being seen by observers as a carefully chalked out strategy to optimise electoral gains for the ruling BJP. In the latest twist in the row over Rani Padmini and violent protests against the release of Bollywood film on the life of the Rajput queen, the Rajasthan government is set to install a nine-feet-high statue of the queen in Udaipur. The attempt is being seen as a bid to woo voters ahead of Assembly polls next December.

According to Udaipur mayor Chandra Singh, the statue will depict the queen performing Jauhar, a Rajput practice of self-immolation by women to avoid dishonour at the hands of enemies. Rani Padmini’s statue will be put up along with other heroes and freedom fighters – from the Rajput community, Other Backward Class and tribal communities - who hail from the Mewar region that plays a decisive role in Assembly elections.“The statues will be ready in three months,” said Singh.

Communal Blot

Rajasthan, where not a single major incident of communal violence took place at the time of partition, has transitioned over the decades from a quiet and peaceful state to the one having several flashpoints of communal polarization that began in the late 80s with Ram Temple movement that left behind a trail of hatred, distrust and fear and setting off a chain of communal incidents in last three decades. Experts say the ugly face of present day communal violence – with Muslims being at the receiving end in almost all cases - is different from the past as it is vicious, venomous and one-sided.

“Earlier, the other side was also at fault sometimes but now there is only one aggressor and the other one is a victim,” said Kavita Shrivastava, state president of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) who has done several case studies of communal incidents in Rajasthan while referring to killing of dairy farmers Pehlu Khan and Ummar Khan allegedly by cow vigilantes in Alwar and most recently migrant labourer Afrazul Sheikh’s killing in a suspected case of “love Jihad” by *Shambhulal* Regar in Rajsamand district. In an afterthought, Regar claimed that the December 6 axing of Afrazul by him was a mistake as the victim was not his intended target. “He [Regar] wanted to kill one Ajju *Sheikh* because he was in contact with a girl whom Regar considered his sister,” said police.

Social scientist and former professor in Rajasthan University, Dr. Rajiv Gupta said the trend of increasing violence against Muslims reflects decay of progressive intellectualism in the society. “We are becoming reactionary and religious intolerant. The social divide is widening. The sustained campaign of polarising on communal lines is paying off for the present dispensation,” he said.

A senior police officer who has served in sensitive areas at the time of communal frenzy in the 90s agreed. “Usually, two sides are involved in what we call communal clashes but what is being seen now is that attacks are happening only by one side on flimsy ground,” said the officer who did not wish to be named. According to him, during Ram temple movement and post Babri mosque demolition in 1992 people got influenced by events at national events but now they are giving in to false propaganda of love jihad while there is no data to support this trend.

Dalit social activist Bhanwar Meghwanshi who was at one point of time active member of RSS warns about ignoring murder of Pehlu Khan and Afrazul as mere hate crimes. “It is a planned terrorism by the majority community. It is part of a much larger conspiracy to instil fear among the minorities to make them submissive and nonchalant,” he explained. What is worrying some is that unlike in the past when at least those in the government would condemn such incident even if they had tacit understanding with the perpetrators, they now openly support from those responsible to maintain law and order, he alleged citing statements by home minister Gulab Chand Kataria.

When Pehlu Khan was killed, Kataria said that both sides were at fault. In case of Afrazul’s brutal murder, he remarked that it shows how much anguish and anger Regar had inside. The home minister along with his cabinet colleague Kiran Maheshwari and Rajsamand MP Hariom singh Rathore was member of a Whatsapp group that hailed the murder of Afrazul. The group was created by Prem Mali who claims to be BJP worker. Another social group called for donations to support family of murder accused Regar.

Experts blame social decay and people with vested interests behind the sustained campaign to target Muslims. Earlier whenever there was a communal incident, elderly people from both the communities used to sit together to cool down tempers but that is now missing. “Sensing the mood of political masters who are benefitting from the communal divide, the police is now reluctant to take such initiative, which is unfortunate,” said a former IPS officer said.

And, problem is compounded by the social media, which according to Kavita Shrivastava, is being used to incite people without check through fake videos, literature and propaganda. Unfortunately, as usual with election is less than a year away communaltension is likely to flare up. “It always happens around elections,” she said.

Women at Risk

In the row over Rani Padmini’s pride, the Rajput community has failed to convince observers that it is really worried about women in the state. In fact, the land of Rani Padmini has a very poor record of ill-treating its own women, especially those between 18-44 years.  In 2015, Rajasthan was on the third position in the country in number of total rape cases reported. Both, in the age bracket of 18-29 and 30-44, Rajasthan reported the highest number of rape cases 2,018 and 789,

respectively. The women and girls are under threat not just from strangers but relatives at home. The number of incest rape (98) in Rajasthan was the highest among all states. Everyone remembers Nirbhaya, a Delhi girl who was gangraped and murdered in 2012, but a similar case in the state three months went unnoticed. A 15-year-old girl in Sikar was so brutally raped that she underwent 20 operations in Jaipur and AIIMS, Delhi. Yet, there was not a whimper of protest from men and women who have taken to the streets for the honour of a queen whose existence is based on a 16thcentury poet’s work of fiction.

The Rajput Karni Sena which is holding statewide protests to fight for the honour of Queen Padmavati, whose alleged indecent depiction in Padmavati film has angered the Rajput community, says it is sensitive towards the wrongs being done to women and girls. State president of Rajput Karni Sena, Ajit Singh Mamdoli, said, “Yes, we are concerned about these issues as well.” According to him, the organisation is involved in various activities for the upliftment of girls and women but lamented that the media pays attention only when an agitation of this nature is launched. “We respect all women and stood up and demanded justice for Nirbhaya,” he added.
In Rajasthan, atrocities against girls begin with foeticide. Recently, an Army man in Sikar killed his newborn daughter because he already had a daughter. There were 13 foeticide and 18 infanticide cases in 2015 in the state, according to official figures. Many girls who survive infanticide are abandoned by parents. “Seventy-seven newborn babies, including 47 girls, who were abandoned just after their birth were rescued between March 2016 and October 2017,” said Devendra Agarwal, state advisor to the government of Rajasthan for Aashray Paalna Sthal Yojana.



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