Divisive Politics

Dehumanising Muslims

N C Asthana

Recently, a Muslim boy was assaulted in Dasna, Ghaziabad for the ‘heinous crime’ of having taken water from a temple. In another incident, a young Muslim man was assaulted in Khajuri Khas, Delhi for some unknown reason.

It could perhaps be argued that in a country where, according to the National Crime Records Bureau’s ‘Crime in India-2019’, nearly 52 lakh crimes take place in a year, why one should be concerned about two crimes.

The reason is the sheer moral depravity involved. In both incidents, the victims were completely at the mercy of the assailants, without being able to offer even a semblance of resistance.

In the video of the assault on the boy, the assailant, Shringi Yadav, twists his right arm backwards and pushes him to the ground. Then he kicks him repeatedly in the groin, which the boy is seen shielding instinctively with his left hand.

It is well established in forensic medicine that blows to the vagus nerve found in the testicles can result in death by a mechanism known as vasovagal shock.

Death by vasovagal shock has been duly recognised in law also in cases like Ziauddin son of late Mohd. Sher Khan vs State (NCT of Delhi) (2010), Ravinder Singh @ Partap vs State of Punjab (2014) and Prem Singh @ Fauzi vs State (2014).

This makes it a clear case of attempt to commit culpable homicide (section 308 IPC). However, the police have reportedly not included this section, either in their pretended ignorance of law or in their obvious collusion with the religio-political groups supporting the assailant.

In the case of the assault in Khajuri, the victim pleaded for mercy, holding the assailant’s feet, only to be thrashed more. He was forced to shout ‘Pakistan murdabad’ and ‘Asaduddin Owaisi murdabad’ also. The main accused, Ajay Goswami, is out on bail after having been accused of involvement in the February 2020 Delhi riots. In the video that went viral on social media, the accused is seen picking up the victim like a rag doll and slamming him to the hard ground in a move reminiscent of pro-wrestling.

Now, what is the relevance of ‘Pakistan murdabad’, etc. in the course of some brutal thrashing? Even if there was some allegation of theft, forcing him to shout ‘Pakistan murdabad’ etc leaves no doubt that the beating was because of his Muslim identity. The assailant clearly intended to humiliate him by linking him with Pakistan and making him ‘repent’ that association by saying ‘murdabad’.

One may recall how several security forces personnel had, during the February 2020 Delhi riots, beaten up and forced a number of badly injured Muslims lying on the road to sing the national anthem. Once again, the idea was to question their patriotism. One of the men, Faizan, subsequently died of his injuries.

While brutality has always been an integral part of the Indian societal conflicts, humiliation was not so rampant earlier.

The tragedy is that while the dehumanising of the victims was very much evident in these incidents, there was a groundswell of support for the accused over social media and the mahant of the temple even gave interviews defending the assault.

That the number of such crimes is small in comparison to the total volume of crimes is not important. What is worrying is the ever-growing social acceptance of the dangerous ecosystem created by them, the insensitivity of the majority and the complete lack of outrage over such inhuman acts—almost in the nature of a silent approval.

Earlier, it was believed that divisive politics was stoking communal hatred with an eye on the polarisation of votes. However, political leaders appear to have succeeded in polarising society to such an extent that, given the absence of any credible opposition, their electoral victories are almost guaranteed for years to come.

Then, why are they going with ever-increasing gusto for such crimes?

The only plausible explanation is that such incidents are a part of a sinister design to debase Muslims, humiliate them, injure their dignity and self-respect so much that they accept their existence as ‘vanquished people’, if not sub-humans (the Untermensch of the Nazis)—surviving at the mercy of the majority in a land they are ‘historically’ not entitled to stand on.

In their dreams, the Muslim bashers would like India to be completely rid of its ‘Muslim pests’. However, given the unique structure of this country and its constitution, ‘getting rid’ of some 19-20 crore people would not be possible, and they know it.

The next best option is to grind them to dust, make life so miserable for them, and subjugate them so abjectly that even if they are not disenfranchised, they are totally disempowered.

There are different methods of relegating a community to this status. These include social exclusion; economic marginalisation; over-representation in jails as undertrials; disproportionate booking under terror-related charges; denying them the right to marry outside their community; denial of rented accommodation, etc. The net effect is to ‘constrain their life choices at political space, social negotiation, and economic bargaining’. The ‘gradations of inequality’ are not critical in the Indian context; however, the certainty with which they work to make Muslims realise their ‘unequal and inferior status’ is critical.

The groundswell of support for the most vicious kind of communal hatred mentioned above is built up assiduously using a variety of arguments and techniques.

WhatsApp messages, for example, are flooded with the narrative of ‘majority in danger’—never mind that they do not bother to explain how a religion, which could not be shaken by tempests of 5,000 years, is threatened now. It is not just the people’s religious identity, religion itself has been ‘weaponised’ to bludgeon others into submission.

Their most potent weapon, however, is the exhortation for a ‘historical revenge’. That is where the grossly distorted version of history fed through social media comes in extremely handy.

The demonisation of the Muslim community derives its ‘justification’ from the distorted, imaginary tales of what their ancestors had supposedly done in the medieval age.

Besides the gory stories floating on the Internet and WhatsApp that portray Muslims throughout medieval India and during the partition riots as compulsive sex fiends, the Muslim bashers also fall back on the works of known ideologues like Koenraad Elst, V.D. Savarkar and K.S. Lal et al to lend credence to their portrayal of the ‘Muslim rapist’. In fact, a claim by a right-wing propaganda portal Postcard News that linked Muslims to 96% of rapes in India was debunked by India Today in 2018.

Hatred fuels and, in turn, is fuelled by an obsessive desire for perverse, sexualised violence. In a well-researched but spine-chilling article, Tanika Sarkar had narrated how in the Gujarat riots (2002), the woman’s body was a site of almost inexhaustible violence, with infinitely plural and innovative forms of torture. The ordeal of Bilkis Bano is a judicially proven example.

Rape or the desire for rape has historically been a universal method of asserting dominance and the ‘ultimate humiliation of the enemy’.

As articulated first by Susan Brownmiller in her work Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975), rape is often about power and dominance. That is how we have a historical record of rapes by victorious armies; by the liege lords and local chieftains on their subjects; and those committed during caste or communal riots. Who can forget the deeply disturbing portrayal of the rape of Phoolan Devi in the film Bandit Queen, right from childhood to when she is paraded naked and raped by almost an entire village of upper caste Thakurs who were asserting their dominance?

Negativistic attitudes about Muslims are riven with the desire to dehumanise them. For example, when it comes to the matter of patriotism, it is said that they are like tenants who can never love the house they live in—or like the insects, which eat a fruit from inside out. This simile has been chosen deliberately by them because it implies that should it become necessary, the tenant could be evicted or dispossessed by force too.

This convoluted logic is designed to deprive Muslims of the right to complain of any atrocity. The tagline is that they must be eternally grateful that ‘people like them’ have been so magnanimously allowed to live and flourish in this country; anywhere else, they would have been living in some concentration camp. Hence, any complaint, any protest against injustice, is liable to be viewed as an act of treason.

The permanent undercurrent of all such narratives is to instill the fear of a medieval-style ‘takeover’ by the Muslims unless they are ‘crushed’, socially, economically and politically.

To accomplish this, the baiters have figured out that the magic formula is to employ a double whammy—the combined might of the majority and the state. Majoritarian and influential groups collude with the police to persecute whoever disagrees with them. The majority’s ‘misuse’ of a subservient state or police to do their dirty work is the most potent tool in their hands. That is how a woman had mustered the audacity to post a Facebook live video exhorting Delhi police in a very crude manner to beat up the Shaheen Bagh protesters brutally with heavy lathis.

Violence—whether in the name of cow vigilantism and eating of beef, defiling of temples, interfaith marriages, azaan, hurting of religious sentiments, or doubts on their patriotism—is merely the symptom; the disease lies in the desire to crush the Muslims completely.

The German philosopher Hegel had written, “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk”. He meant to say that wisdom takes flight only at the end of the day, after its main events have taken place. In today’s India, given the deadly combination of a majoritarian regime and a hate-filled, brainwashed majority, dusk is falling faster than one could imagine.

[N C Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF. Courtesy: The Wire]

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Vol. 54, No. 11, Sep 12 - 18, 2021