The recent unhindered violence at Baduria and adjoining Basirhat in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district was reportedly perpetrated by Muslim mobs, protesting against an objectionable post denigrating Islam, its Prophet and holy place by a Hindu teenager from the area. The violence not only weakens the democratic-secular narrative against rising Hindutva violence on Muslims, Christians and Dalits but also provides the RSS another opportunity to pose as the defender of “persecuted” Hindus.
This fact cannot be ignored: Whenever mobs inspired by Hindutva politics have attacked the whole Muslim community for a “crime” perpetrated by an individual Muslim or group — like the killings of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 as revenge for the burning of train coaches at Godhra — the same was widely condemned. Whenever Muslim localities and properties were attacked as revenge against some objectionable posts by some Muslims, or Muslims were targeted for allegedly carrying beef, public opinion generally decried such engineered violence.
By all accounts, the Baduria-Basirhat area has no history of violence between Hindus and Muslims, not even in the pre-Partition days. The present violence appears to be the outcome of a tussle for supremacy between a Muslim “strongman” who is patronised by the TMC and a Hindu “strongman” backed by the BJP/RSS. Both of them presented themselves as saviours of their respective communities. The saddest part of the incident was the attitude of the law and order machinery in the area. The controversial Facebook post had gone viral three days prior to the attacks on Hindus. The police and senior district officials remained mute spectators to this. It seems as if they were waiting for this kind of flare-up so that the polarisation is complete.
The mobs, which roamed freely, attacking their victims and destroying their property for a couple of days, claimed that they were doing so to save the honour of Islam. The honour of Islam seemed to be so shallow and vulnerable that a Facebook post would destroy it. Moreover, this zeal for saving the honour of Islam did not extend beyond the boundaries of an assembly constituency. Muslims beyond this limited area did not bother about it. Does it mean that only Muslims in this area are true believers? The fact is that it was not a religious issue but a ploy to settle political feuds.
This lawlessness and the criminal attacks by a section of Muslims in 24 Parganas also shows how a plethora of Islamic organisations/institutions — which are found by the dozen in every Muslim mohalla — though claiming to be the guardians of Muslims and Islam, are least bothered about the strategic ends of the community. They waste their time and energy in fighting against the rights of Muslim women and enforcing sharia. They have no appetite for building an egalitarian and secular community.
It is unfortunate that at a time when the violent attacks of Hindutva organisations on minorities are under serious scrutiny in India and abroad, sections of the minority community — by indulging in senseless violence — are providing legitimacy to Hindutva terror.
It is true that during the period of violence in West Bengal, there are many instances when Muslims saved and sheltered their Hindu neighbours. It may be true that those who perpetrated the violence came from outside. But that does not reduce the degree of culpability of local Muslims. They should have fought these criminal elements and saved their neighbours. This would have strengthened the secular fabric of our country and denied any legitimacy to the politics of polarisation. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a sad scenario when Muslim communalists seem to be competing with Hindutva communalists in undoing democratic, secular India.