By Emanuele Giordana
The shadow of a clash between religious communities has returned to India ever since the Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been ruling the country. And, in the past few days, it seems to have reached its worst expression: after having offended the Muslim community with insults to the Prophet by a party spokeswoman, bad responses are now given to the following mass and diplomatic protests. This, in turn, has moved the government to extreme episodes of State violence. Not only did Modi respond with repression in the streets (causing several casualties) and in the barracks; he also ordered the demolition of the houses of Muslim militants. Images that resemble the practices used by Israel in the occupied territories of Palestine: the worst form of mortification that can be imposed on a community.
The most serious episode occurred on Sunday, when the authorities of Prayagraj (Uttar Pradesh, also known as Allahabad) demolished the house of the family of Afreen Fatima, a Muslim activist. Photos and videos of the two-storey building in rubble have gone round the world. At least two other Muslim homes were reportedly demolished over the weekend. “A revenge against my family,” said the young woman.
It all started on 27 May with inflammatory statements about the Prophet Muhammad and the age of his third wife, Aisha, by Nupur Sharma – the party spokesman for BJP – which Muslims branded as fanatical and insulting to the entire religious community. Then the former Delhi head of the BJP’s communication, Naveen Kumar Jindal, stepped up the dose by insisting on the prophet’s sexual preferences. When popular reaction, combined with the indignation expressed by some fifteen Muslim countries over the diplomatic route, began to grow, the party suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal on 5 June, saying that their comments – quickly withdrawn – did not reflect the views of the BJP. And the police in the capital opened a file on the case for ‘inciting hatred’. But for Muslims it was not enough and they would have liked to see them in prison, a demand shouted in the demonstrations that continued, before the weekend, after last Friday’s ritual prayer.
In an increasingly tense climate, the protest quickly turned violent – especially in Prayagraj – especially because the repression had been so harsh: two dead in Ranchi in the eastern state of Jharkhand, dozens injured and hundreds of arrests in several other cities in a country where the Muslim community counts more than 200 million people out of a population of 1.4 billion. As for the home of Afreen Fatima, the police claim that the house was an illegal construction, but also that her father, Javed, was allegedly the planner of the violence. And the BJP authorities do not seem to want to take any further steps backwards: ‘Remember that every Friday is followed by a Saturday,’ tweeted Mrityunjay Kumar, media advisor to the State Chief Minister Adityanath, a BJP Hindu monk, over the weekend – with a photo of a bulldozer. The demolition of houses or shops of Muslims unfortunately has recent precedents in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and Adityanath is in fact also known as ‘Bulldozer Baba’. A very tense climate then, and one that, after years of ultra-identitarian rule, is bearing poisoned fruit inside and outside the country.
On the cover premier Narendra Modi from the premier’s official website