The last few years have seen yatras being organized by ‘Hindutva’ groups on various religious occasions. Yatras are part and parcel of religious activities of Hindu devotees from times immemorial. Some of the famous yatras such as Amarnath yatra, Vaishnodevi yatra, Puri rath yatra, Sabarimala yatra etc. attract large number of devotees. They form part of the larger religious faith and are integral to life based on religious beliefs. However, in the last few years due to the involvement of communal forces associated with Hindutva, the religious processions on occasions of Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti have turned into communal events and led to violence. The most recent one is related to Brajmandal Balabhishek yatra in Nuh in Haryana which led to riots. It also spread to Gurgaon and Delhi.
The report by Citizens and Lawyers initiative titled ‘Routes of Wrath: Weaponizing religious processions – Communal violence during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti’ captures instances of violence in the states of Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal, Karnataka, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. There were certain patterns which are seen in these yatras except for the last four states. The saffron clad men carry swords, trishuls, firearms and pass through deliberately mapped paths that has mosques in Muslim dominated neighborhoods. Provocative slogans are raised on the coming of Hindu Rashtra and conditions under which Muslims would be allowed to live in the nation to the extent that violence against Muslims is also justified. High decibel amplifiers and mega speakers are used where hate-filled anti-Muslim music is run. At places, religious festivities are used to attack and destroy Muslim shops, handicrafts, business, livelihoods and even homes. The media portrayal has been to suggest that violence was instigated by Muslim communities that threw stones at the processions without provocation. The state response has been to carry out demolition drives in the immediate after math of violence.
Nuh violence has followed this larger pattern. It chose a route which did not have Hindu majority but were Muslim majority. The gathering was mobilized through a provocative video by cow vigilantes Monu Manesar and Bittu Bajrangi on social media. In the procession, there was carrying of swords, thrishul and arms. Provocative slogans were raised. The yatris attacked a mosque and also killed an Imam. The media portrayal has been to suggest that there has been stone pelting from the other end. State has carried out demolition drives following the incident. About 150 shanties were razed to the ground in the name of rioting and encroachment. Reacting to the demolition drive, the High court stated that the demolitions are going without serving any notice and following the rule of law. This is like targeting one particular community and this is an exercise at ethnic cleansing. The court directed that this need to be stopped.
The broader template and formula has been established now. Organize yatra on one or the other religious occasion. In the yatra led by Hindutva groups such as VHP or Bajrang dal, carry swords, guns, sticks, arms and pass through Muslim dominant locations. During the yatra raise provocative slogans to the extent that there is response from the other side. When there is a response from the other end such as stone pelting, declare them rioters. Send bulldozers to minority locations on pretext that they are involved in communal acts and rioting, or their constructions are illegal and carry out demolition drives. The ones who instigated and represented the majority not to be acted upon. Act only one sided. Propagate the manufactured thesis that the minority has become a threat to the majority and that ‘Hindu khatrein main hain’. Build an environment of minority hate and corner them and act according to the sanghi dictum ‘Show them their place’. Polarize, divide and consolidate the majority vote to win.
The meaning of religious yatras is undergoing a change under the Hindutva forces. Instead of meeting the inner call of devotion and faith usually followed by religious practitioners, under the Hindutva forces the yatras are being made more communally oriented in its nature. The agenda is to display hate, supremacy and to corner the other through a state and law and order machinery which are on the side of hate.
Such yatras of hate may only increase in the coming one year as there is movement towards the 2024 general elections. In this environment, there is a need for counter mobilisation where people cutting across all religious faiths carry out their own communal harmony yatras and convey that they love to live in harmony and not hate each other. Yatras of love and harmony should be the way ahead.
T Navin is an independent writer