Sunshine in Shekhawat

A multi-religious, multi-caste, youth group from a small town in Rajasthan dares to take the plunge. And triggers a cavalcade of protest against the latest hate campaign that Hindutva has launched against ‘anti-national’ Muslims

The slightest pretext is needed in Rajasthan by the Hindutva forces to communalise any incident of vandalism and crime. The latest issue to ignite the communal cauldron is the name of Osama–bin–Laden. While most of the countryside is oblivious of who this person is, Bin-Laden’s name on wall writings even in interior villages and mofussil towns have provoked communal tension in three places that I personally know of in the state.

While it is important for the law and order machinery to identify those responsible for these wall writings, the reaction and capital made out of it by individuals representing the BJP, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and the VHP needs to be monitored.

A few shops in that kasba are forcibly shut down by the vandals, Muslim traders terrorised, the Muslim community isolated, madrassas regarded with suspicion and a spate of cases lodged against Muslims. A recent incident in Daulatgarh (Bhilwara district) illustrates the trend. An investigation carried out by PUCL members, Bhanwar Meghwanshi, Raju Jangid, Allaudin Bedal, Ganga Singh Rathore and Abdul Hamid Bagwaan, all from Bhilwara, who visited Daulatgarh on December 29, 2001 and again on January 9, 2002 to study and also initiate a process of peace in the kasba is worth recording:

Daulatgarh was a sleepy kasba town in Asind tehsil with the local Thakurs controlling the politics of the region. In the month of August and September last year (see CC, August Sept 2001) after the demolition of the Kalindri masjid, Sawai Bhoj Temple complex in Asind in July, 2001, representatives of the BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal first carried out a trishul diksha samaroh and then a jal abhishek ceremony in September and October (CC, November 01).

Against the backdrop of what had happened at Asind, these programmes of aggressive mobilisation were enough to terrorise the seventy odd Muslim families in a village of over five hundred families. The arrival of a 28-year-old Maulana, Anwar Hussein in the village, became reason enough for the representatives of the local BJP, VHP and SS forces to launch their propaganda, claiming that they felt threatened.

The Muslim community especially called down Anwar Husein from Jodhpur, after collecting contributions from local families, so that he could educate their children in the madrassa. This fuelled rumours that the maulana was conspiring with the youth and talibanising them.

The month of Ramzan saw unease in this kasba for the first time. According to one sympathiser of the Hindutva lobby, villager Bharat Singh, "…. it was the loud calling of the azaan and other "Quran bhajans" every morning at the time of sehri that caused tension. Since half-yearly exams were taking place, the blaring mike disturbed school students.

The villagers got the police to intervene, who ordered that mikes could not be used. Two days later, on December 16, at about 9 am, a rumour spread through the village that someone had written pro-Osama-Bin-Laden slogans on the temple wall. According to one Shanti Lal, the wall writing said, "Mike bandh karane wale teri jagah jehannum mein – O B Laden"(Those responsible for stopping use of the microphone in the mosque shall burn in hell – O B Laden). As a result of this, villagers were up in arms and blamed the maulana for provoking the youth to write it.

The police who were close by, intervened and promptly erased the writing on the temple wall. The Muslim community told the PUCL fact-finding team that though by the time they reached the temple the alleged writing had been erased, they were willing to believe the account and were willing to punish those who did it.

The Muslim community then did what the Hindutva forces wanted them to do. Reacting under pressure, they promptly sent away the maulana. They did not want to be labelled "Laden samarthak" ("Supporters of Laden") which people in that area including the local police started calling them. They feared that the police would keep an extra watch on them.

On January 9, Muslims of Daulatgarh were declared "worshippers of Laden" by the over ten thousand strong assembly that had gathered at Sawai Bhoj Temple to hear Sadhvi Ritambhara. The erstwhile Daulatgarh Thakur, who complained that Talibanis had found their way even into the backwaters of Rajasthan, was chairing the meeting. Speaker after speaker at the public meeting condemned Daulatgarh Muslims for being Laden worshippers and demanded that strong action be taken against them. Sadhvi Ritambhara, known for spreading poison, led the attack. Her speech continued uninterrupted by the police for well over an hour.

Muslims of Daulatgarh live in great fear today. Even dispatching the maulana back to Jodhpur has not changed of people’s opinion towards them.

Shekhavati youth challenge communal forces

From January 1 to January 10 last month, more than 50 kasbas and villages in the Shekhavati region of Rajasthan, which covers the districts of Churu, Jhunjhunu and Sikar witnessed communal vandalism of a kind that the region had not witnessed before. The state home department list classifies three cities of Sikar district as "communally highly sensitive cities" and three others as just "sensitive."

In the past, riots have not erupted in this region. Even at the height of the Babri masjid demolition movement there was no violence here. According to local residents, tension did prevail in some towns but never got out of hand. The region, like other parts of Rajasthan, has also produced kar sevaks who were responsible for demolishing the Babri Masjid, but who could never indulge in similar criminal activities in their own areas.

On the night of January 1, a drunken criminal belonging to the Muslim community broke three idols of the Ram Darbar Mandir in Rolsabsar and threw them by the roadside. Rolsabsar village has a population of eight hundred families, half being kayam khani Muslims and the other half Hindus belonging to various castes. Fearing great tension, the very next morning the family of the accused Ghulam Nabi alias Rasgulla promptly handed him over to the panchayat who in turn handed him to the police.

According to the young sarpanch, Aijaz Ali, they also handed over two other notorious Muslim boys, who everybody knew were not directly involved, in a bid to demonstrate that Muslims did not encourage such acts. Ali told the fact-finding team that local Muslims did all they could to demonstrate their condemnation of this solitary act, saying that the culprits deserved the harshest punishment.

In Rolsabsar, local Muslims initiated such sensitive and salutary measures for peace, as did local Hindus in Sangarwa a few days later.

According to the deputy sarpanch, Puran Singh, and the temple priest, they, along with the entire Hindu community in the village, were satisfied by the prompt response of the Muslim community and the police. The idols were replaced and further action was left to the police. The matter was closed as far as they were concerned.

But while the people of Rolsabsar had settled the matter amicably, it became a useful rallying point for the BJP, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and the VHP to mobilise the entire Shekhavati region. Capitalising on the prevalent heightened passions of nationalism, with the country’s borders less than 100 kilometres away, the act of breaking the idols was described as "anti-national" by these communal groups.

Over the next ten days, more than fifty villages and kasbas of that region saw schools, colleges, bazaars, courts and even offices of professionals like lawyers and doctors, forcibly shut down by these groups. But the law and order machinery did not intervene.

Three mosques were desecrated in the region during this period. A pig was thrown into one, the gate of another was burnt and the third was also damaged. Violence followed in some kasbas.

In Churu, police lathi-charged people when prohibitory orders were violated. In Laxmangarh town, during a bandh on January 2, a mosque was desecrated and tension followed. The Muslim community protesting the mosque desecration was dubbed anti-national by the BJP leadership. Laxmangarh remained forcibly closed for the next three days by the forces exerting pressure on the local administration to arrest the "anti-national miscreants".

Interestingly, in the sleepy village of Sangarwa, where very poor Muslims reside — and who were oblivious to any of the disturbances in the region — the door of the local mosque set on fire on the night of January 6. Members of the local Hindu community, with the help of the police, promptly replaced the door and re-painted the wall to prevent escalation of tension.

The vernacular press described these bandhs and violations as "spontaneous" and as "expression of public anger."

On the January 4, the BJP sent a high-powered team, led by former education minister and senior RSS leader, Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi, along with Gulab Chand Kataria, a former state party president. They justified the retaliation of their cadres to the anti-national incidents at Rolsabsar. They condemned the Muslim community for trying to provoke religious sentiments especially when the country was on the verge of war. Hate speech and vilification was dished out in large measures.

Where were the progressive forces? Neither the CPI(M) – who had mobilised one lakh people to protest the dismantling of the Rajasthan State Electricity Board in October 2000 — and a party that has a strong presence in Sikar (the only MLA comes from the Dhond constituency in this district) – nor the Congress — which has won a majority of MLA and MLC seats from the region — stepped forward, barring stray statements that made no impact.

Incidentally, of the 14 municipalities in the Shekhawati region, Muslims chair eight and locals speculate that the BJP is really concerned with snatching away this political control.

The first strong voice of protest against the mobilisation based on division and venom typified here by the RSS and BJP leadership, came from a group of about a hundred and fifty young boys from Ratangarh, one of the important towns of Churu. Ratangarh had a protest bandh on January 2 itself.

Mobilised under the banner of Srijan, these young men belonging mainly to the poorer and vulnerable sections of society decided that they had had enough. They would challenge the politics of lies and manipulation as epitomised in the posturings of the sangh parivar.

This was not the first time that they had been mobilised. But this time the issues were dramatically different. From relief for the Orissa cyclone victims in 1999 — (under the leadership of Rajeev Upadhaya, who hails from a family that subscribes to Gandhian values) they had raised more than fifty lakh rupees which helped in buying more than three lakh clothes for the cyclone victims — to drought relief for the residents of Barmer, to a head-on battle against the politics of venom and hatred today.

Last August, the group had protested the sale of a minor girl and ensured her rehabilitation. Their success in this case got the culprits arrested and even helped them organise a public hearing on violence against adolescent girls.

Concerned over how their region was being held victim to communal poison, these young men organised a 28-kilometre march from Ratangarh to Rolsabsar to demonstrate that both towns wanted peace. Most were unemployed youth while some were involved in small entrepreneurships. They were young boys from all communities, Muslims, Bodh, Harijans (Mehtars), as well as Brahmin, Bania, Jat, Malli and Rajput. The rally, which took six hours to cover 28 kilometres was unprecedented. It provided a platform for ordinary people to voice their views on peace and harmony.

The traders of Ratangarh expressed anger that they had been forced to close the market on January 2. They showered flowers on the marchers and made speeches. The people of the villages that were located on the way also expressed their solidarity with the rally and small sabhas were held on the way.

The rally received an emotional welcome before it reached Rolsabsar, when more than a thousand people of the panchayat, including Bhanwru Khan, the local MLA, the Zilla Pramukh, Bhagwan Singh Dhaka, the pradhan, sarpanch and upsarpanch and several administrative officials of the region joined the last kilometre of the peace march. Women joined the march when the rally went around the village and it finally culminated in a sabha in the temple compound of Jamwaya Mataji ka Mandir.

In the speeches that followed, villagers remembered how young Shahid Mohammed Ikram of their village had laid down his life in Kargil and how today they were proud that the local high school was named after him.

They said that since World War II, the village had produced soldiers who laid their lives fighting for their country. In the 1965 and 1971 wars, more than 250 soldiers from all communities, including Harijans and kayam khanis (Muslims), had fought on the border and today, more than forty of their village boys were on the border facing the Pakistani forces.

Could this village be termed anti-national, the MLA asked? He said he appreciated that stringent punishment, even capital punishment, must be given to the boys who committed a heinous crime like breaking idols of Ram and Sita. He thanked the villagers of Rolsabsar for handing over the guilty Muslim youth to the police.

Other interventions made during the rally also appreciated the no-nonsense attitude displayed by the Muslim community in handing over the guilty persons but lamented that society was unable to deal with mistakes, even crimes, in a just and humane fashion.

Several young boys denounced the role of the media, which had inflamed passions but had ignored coverage of their peace march. Some said the best reply to Pakistan was for Hindus and Muslims to live peacefully together in India.

The youth from Ratangarh announced the holding of a sadbhavna mushaira as part of their next move to promote peace and harmony. The villagers of Rolsabsar arranged buses to take back the youth to Ratangarh as a gesture of gratitude.

It was only after this dynamic local initiative by village youth that the CPI (M) took out a huge peace march in Sikar and after that several other organisations were motivated to hold peace meetings in different kasbas. For the time being, at least, thanks to this local and dynamic intervention, expressions of peace are finding a platform in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, January-February 2002 Year 8  No. 75-76, Breaking Barriers 1



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