Vinod Mubayi

We have seen this movie before. What has been happening in various towns of UP and MP over the last two months is a re-run of Nazi Germany of the 1930s. There is a pattern here in the intimidation and violence wreaked mainly on religious minorities and also low caste Dalits that is hard to ignore.

Private Lynch Mobs

The first step in the terrorization of minorities was the license given to private mobs of hoodlums belonging to the majority, soon after Modi came to power in 2014, to assault and lynch hapless, easily identifiable, minorities who were wearing the wrong clothes or had the wrong name. Or were in the “wrong” profession like dairy farming, as any Muslim in proximity to “gau mata (Mother Cow) is fair game for a bloodthirsty lumpen screaming Jai Shri Ram (Victory to the Hindu god Rama). The Muslims of India in the eyes of the Hindutva crowd replicate the Jews of Nazi-era Germany. In some areas, like the tribal belt of central India, minority Christians are also brutalized. There are then the Dalits who also stoke the fervor of the Hindutva men to violence just like the gypsies of central Europe provided a punching bag for the blue-eyed Aryan boys to practice their brutality. The writings of the RSS founders like Guru Golwalkar with their fervent praise for the Nazi policy of “race purity” make it fairly straightforward to understand why and how these methods are being employed to create a Hindu Rashtra fascist state on the lines of the “Thousand Year Reich” of the Nazi Party.

The State Steps In

The next step has been for the authorities at various levels, state and local, particularly in BJP ruled states to take over this task of teaching the minorities a lesson. Although such violence on the part of the state against the poor and marginalized has a longer history in India, under such euphemisms as “slum clearance” or “urban renewal”, the explicit targeting of the Muslim minority is a “gift” of BJP rule. When conflict between the lumpen Hindu mobs and Muslim residents of mainly Muslim neighborhoods breaks out, the police arrest some Muslim men and the municipal or other local authorities send in bulldozers to demolish the modest shops or homes or even pushcarts of the Muslim community, thus destroying not only where they live but also their livelihood. Now these demolitions have escalated to the homes of middle or even upper-class Muslims who can be accused of having been involved in some act of protest against the ruling dispensation like the recent demolition of the home of a prominent Muslim politician, Welfare Party of India leader Javed Mohammad, in Allahabad, (Prayagraj),. He was described as being the “mastermind” of protests that erupted when some BJP leaders made blatantly hateful remarks against the prophet of Islam. Even though this act was totally illegal on numerous grounds, the Supreme Court has chosen to kick the can down the road and given the UP-state government additional time to explain its actions. This has now become the Court’s practice of evasion and omission when confronted with some outrageous and illegal act by state authorities.

These vicious acts are justified on bureaucratic grounds: the demolished structures lacked proper building permits or were constructed illegally or obstruct traffic, etc., etc. The fact that these actions are completely illegal and contravene existing laws has been generally ignored both by the courts as well as the mainstream media. As the communal divide has worsened under BJP rule, politicians such as UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, nicknamed Bulldozer Baba, who order these violent actions have become heroes to the Hindu right-wing that glorifies these actions much like how the Nazi Gauleiters ordering the destruction of Jewish homes and businesses were celebrated in Nazi Germany. The well-known academic Prof. Apoorvanand recently commented “in India a public has emerged which thinks that it is its duty to act as the loudspeaker of the government and help it discipline the disgruntled. For the first time, we started hearing chants like “Modi ji tum lattha bajaao, ham tumhaare saath hain.” (Modi, wield the truncheon, we will support you). A section of the population wants the government to do violence against other sections of the society. And is ready to participate in it.” If one changes the name Modi to Hitler or some other Nazi leader it would be an apt description of the polarization of society in 1930s Germany.

It is also revealing that despite the considerable amount of violence and destruction of public property carried out by the so-called agniveers, the thousands protesting against the new agnipath system of military recruitment announced by the Modi regime, no action has been taken by the UP administration to demolish their homes or properties because the protestors are mainly Hindu youth. It is difficult to imagine a more blatant demonstration of the division of society into groups that have rights which the police and authorities have to treat with a certain degree of caution and groups that have little or no rights which the police and civic authorities can assault and repress at will.

Where are the courts and judiciary?

What is of serious concern is the inaction of the courts who have failed to prevent these brutalities or bring to account and penalize those ordering these blatantly illegal acts. A letter written to the Chief Justice of India’s Supreme Court on 20 June by a large group of senior retired civil servants illustrates the serious consequences of these illegal bulldozer demolitions: “The demolition drive and the abuse of municipal and civic laws for political ends is just one element of a larger policy for converting the administrative and police apparatus into an instrument of brutal majoritarian repression. There are explicit directions to invoke the National Security Act 1980 and the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act 1986, to brutally quell any protest. The policy has the sanction of the highest levels of the Government and while local level officials and police personnel are certainly answerable for arbitrary use of power, the real culpability lies at the highest levels of the political executive. It is this corruption of the edifice of constitutional governance which requires the Supreme Court to step in and stem the rot.”

After the demolition of Javed Mohammad’s house in Prayagraj, a similar statement was issued by 12 retired Supreme Court and High Court judges and some senior advocates who made an urgent appeal to the Supreme Court to take suo motu (on its own) cognizance of “recent incidents of violence and repression by state authorities on citizens in Uttar Pradesh.” Their letter stated “Instead of giving protestors an opportunity of being heard and engaging in peaceful protests, the UP state administration appears to have sanctioned taking violent action against such individuals” They go on to say “Videos of young men in police custody being beaten with lathis, houses of protestors being demolished without notice or any cause of action, and protestors from the minority Muslim community being chased and beaten by the police, are circulating on social media, shaking the conscience of the nation.” The letter accuses Yogi Adityanath of having emboldened the police to brutally and unlawfully torture protestors and points out that the brutal clampdown by the UP government is not only an “unacceptable subversion of the rule of law and a violation of the rights of citizens,” it also “makes a mockery of the Constitution and fundamental rights guaranteed by the State.” The letter concluded by emphasizing the ulterior motive underlying these acts: “The coordinated manner in which the police and development authorities have acted lead to the clear conclusion that demolitions are a form of collective extra judicial punishment, attributable to a state policy which is illegal.”

While this appeal is addressed to the present Supreme Court by a number of retired former judges of the same institution, the chances of a substantive positive response to its demands do not appear to be bright. Ever since Modi assumed power, his regime has made a practice of subverting and bringing all the independent institutions of the Indian state under the control of the government, in particular, the Prime Minister’s Office. This includes the higher branches of the judiciary and it takes an exceptionally independent and courageous judge to issue rulings that put the government in the dock and then he/she are likely to face a sudden transfer as happened to Justice Muralidharan of the Delhi High Court a few years ago when he put the Delhi Police on the mat. Only a broad, dedicated social and political movement of those who believe in the constitutional promise of a secular democracy can hope to make a dent in this grim situation.

Late News

As we go to publication, several items of chilling news have been received from India, two of which involve the judiciary. The first one concerns the arrest of the human rights activist Teesta Setalvad and two former police officials, R.B. Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhat (who is already in prison in an unrelated case) after the Zakia Jafri petition on the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 was rejected by a three judge Supreme Court panel. In a bizarre unsigned opinion, this panel virtually acted as a branch of the police as it called for the petitioners to be brought to book for their temerity in persisting with legal appeals that threatened to tarnish the names and reputations of high Gujarat government officials at that time, i.e., (now) Prime Minister Modi and his cohorts. The second involves the even stranger arrest of Mohammad Zubair of the fact-checking site Alt-News. His alleged crime is posting a tweet four years ago that reproduced a still photo from a 1983 movie that someone (unclear who) complained to the Delhi police hurt Hindu religious sentiments. It is difficult to imagine a more outlandish allegation but the fact that a lower-level judge allowed the police custody of Zubair for four days shows that that the judicial system appears to be becoming a branch of the police department. The last item refers to the brutal killing of a Hindu tailor, Kanhaiya Lal, in Udaipur, Rajasthan by two men who appear to be Muslim fundamentalists. They claimed to be acting to avenge blasphemy by Kanhaiya who had supported a statement criticizing the prophet of Islam.

We carry several statements and articles on these news items in the rest of this Bulletin.

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