Atali, the site of recent attacks on Muslims by their Hindu co-villagers, is a metaphor for India. Or, a mirror India should look into to “recognise” itself. To know that it is gradually turning into a majoritarian society.
The rites of passage are familiar. The majority has to be persuaded and convinced that it has to graduate from its present complacent posture to a more respectable position of power that was always its due but which it could not get because of the “appeasement of minorities”. After a long, sustained education, a ceremony, an event is organised in which the majority has to participate as one person. It has to be a violent event in which blood would be shed. Had not Bhim drunk the blood of the Kauravas?
A local cause has to be invented. It can vary from place to place but there is an unmistakable commonness in such causes and they can be applied anywhere in India. It could be the “loss of honour” of their daughters at the hands of Muslims, a place of worship wrongfully usurped, or the slaughter of a cow. The year 1947 is now invoked with sinister creativity: Hindu generosity allowed Muslims to “stay back” here. They must not forget it. The audacity of the other side when they assert their right to equality is resented.
In Atali, the insistence of Muslims to turn their makeshift, temporary prayer-site into a brick-and-mortar mosque is seen as an unwarranted attempt to claim equal and permanent status in the village. Hindus are happy to treat them as their subjects. It was repeatedly alleged that Muslims have lived there for generations thanks to the generosity of Hindus, who do not have any problem with Muslims as long as their diktats are obeyed. One such diktat is that the mosque be built only on a site identified by Hindus, for which they are even ready to give money.
Betrayed by their neighbours, minorities have only modern laws to protect them. But the majority feels that unfairly harsh punishment would be meted out to them for an act of momentary anger. The insistence of Muslims to invoke the law is seen as obstinate refusal to return to normality and further proof of their essential conflict-loving nature.
The Atali attacks also point to another feature of the organisation of violence. People from neighbouring villages also participated in them. So now, it is incumbent to reciprocate whenever the need arises in other areas — you attack my Muslims, we’ll take care of yours.
In Atali, and elsewhere too, the involvement of the well-known Hindutva organisations could not be established. In Muzaffarnagar, Trilokpuri, Bawana and now Atali, traditional kinship networks were activated and organisations like the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini preferred to stay behind the scenes. The presence and participation of women in the Atali violence is another change from traditional social behaviour.
The behaviour of the police was not consistent in Atali. Muslims complained that the police withdrew from the scene just before the violence started and returned only after the mobs had left. But they also said that the police were humane and caring, and rescued them to safety. It is also a mystery that no one was killed in the violence in Atali. But killing attracts intense international media attention. It is also difficult to water down the facts when there is loss of life. Whereas looting and the burning of houses and property can more easily be treated as accidents.
Has the majoritarian project adapted the Naxalite slogan of the 1960s, “Surround towns with villages”? What is now being done seems part of a strategy to surround Muslim populations with Hindu enclaves. As we were told in Atali by some Hindu residents, the nearest village with a significant Muslim presence was at least five Hindu-dominated villages away. The idea is to make the distance between Muslim localities longer and insurmountable. This serves a dual purpose: it localises Muslims and universalises Hindus, as well as creates small “Hindu rashtras”, which make the Constitution a redundant force.
As in other cases, in Atali too, the Muslims were left to fend for themselves. No political party came to them once they were back.The Congress, vilified for its “secularism”, took seven days to send a representative to show its sympathy. Muslims sense that a Hindu consensus has emerged in the parliamentary political arena, where they do not matter anymore. This politics, which had earlier given them some assurance, has now taken a different route.
Atali is a warning bell. Or a siren that should alert us of the impending danger facing the Indian polity and society. We have ignored earlier signals. What will be our response now?
The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University.