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Fifth column

May 26, 2018

Welcoming Ramazan


May 26, 2018

This Ramazan came with a chilling welcome. Tweeting his greetings, a long-time Hindutva journalist and intellectual, Tarun Vijay, felicitated “only those who shun violence and wear [the] Tiranga [the Indian national flag]”, reinforcing the extremist propaganda that Muslims are traitors.

Vijay is a former parliamentarian of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and director of its think tank, Syama Prasad Mukherjee Research Foundation, named after the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh – a Hindu right-wing group that later converted into the BJP. He also said, “Our world and your Ramazan must connect essentially with [the] glory of our nation. Otherwise…”

While suggesting that the observance of Ramazan carried some latent threat to the ‘glory’ of India, again reinforcing Muslims and their beliefs as aliens, he also issued his own ambivalent threat. What else did he mean by inserting an unqualified word, ‘otherwise’, in the end? Vijay was unabashed, as he replied harshly: “Otherwise will keep sending them to their land of ‘traitor’s choice’ as [we] are doing every day. More?”, and attached a recent news article about three alleged militants being gunned down in an encounter with the Indian border forces along the Line of Control.

Vijay’s menacing barb invited criticism as well as ridicule. Journalist Anupum Bordoloi tweeted: “Bigotry has no limits in #NewIndia. Even #Ramazan wishes come with a condition and a threat…” Another person responded: “Your Ramazan greetings accepted with a heavy heart as it is with Tiranga barb while you people drape murderers in Tiranga and bring Tiranga rally to support rabid hateful child rapists… heart is confused about what kind of people you all are who accept murders and rapes as normal?” Another Twitter user replied: “Otherwise I, Tarun Vijay, will come and do a Naagin dance on your doorstep.”

When I asked Lucknow-based editor of the progressive monthly magazine the Socialist Factor, Frank Hazur, how he viewed these threats. He described Vijay as “regressive” in line with his Hindutva “ideological gurus, [Madhav Sadashiv] Golwalkar and [Keshav Baliram] Hedgewar” who never valued the Indian flag. He also suggested Vijay to “first unfurl [the] Tiranga on the RSS headquarters in Nagpur”.

Tarun Vijay is a stimulating person with a sharp wit and affable demeanour. We met almost a decade ago in London during a conference on South Asia. At the time, Hindutva forces were desperate to find some space in Kashmir to enhance their electoral gains across India and to push for their reputation as a serious political party. Vijay was keen to sell me the ideas of Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the Jana Sangh founder who had campaigned against Kashmiris way back in the 1950s. Regardless of my blunt arguments and abhorrence for Mukherjee, he patiently listened and came across as a civilised person whose manners and mannerisms were couched in reasonable decency.

He even felt sorry for the state-enacted brutality and, as per his claims, wanted to work with ‘like-minded Kashmiris’ to find a way out for the sake of everyone’s future. Interestingly, he never mentioned Islam, terrorism, or Pakistan during his conversation. It is ironic that in the new India, shaped by Prime Minister Modi, the unravelling of the Hindutva has dealt a severe blow to propriety. Since his spiteful ‘tweetry’, I tried to reach out to him but in vain.

Ramazan in Kashmir started on a positive note with the Indian government announcing a halt in army crackdowns. According to a report in ‘The Hindu’, the decision was made on the basis of several intelligence reports and analysis that the killings were not yielding the desired results and the emotional upsurge at funerals of militants killed in encounters was aiding recruitment. The suspension in the military clampdown was touted as a ‘ceasefire’, tacitly suggesting as if less than 200 nominally trained and armed militants who are spread across the Kashmir region were any match for the half-million-strong military forces.

Regardless, the move offered a welcome break from the relentless and vicious violence that is mostly provoked by the illogical military response to a struggle that is primarily based on political demands. Earlier, the Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had publicly accepted that the use of unbridled military power on the ground was not working and that his forces were unable to foment any solution. This was a diametric departure from his previous position of threatening protesters that they would be treated as terrorists. This aggression led to a massive loss of civilian and militant deaths, fuelling more resentment and resistance.

The so-called ceasefire announcement did not yield much public response. The Joint Resistance Leadership, an informal forum being run by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik since July 2016, rejected the offer as merely cosmetic. Sadly, the pessimism of the Kashmiris did not need to wait long to get validated. Barely four days into Ramazan, the Central Reserve Police Force – a paramilitary force – attacked a peaceful public demonstration in Aarampora, Sopore with lethal shells and rubber bullets. As a result, nine-year-old Rizwan Kabu received grievous head injuries. This was followed by a ‘forced iftar’ by the army that caused a massive public reaction and ended up with the army firing upon a group of agitating women.

According to newspaper reports, a posse of army men came to the DK Pora village in Shopian district to organise an Iftar gathering. However, people not only refused to attend but also threw whatever eatables the army had brought with them. This was followed by a protest demonstration against the army with pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan sloganeering. The army resorted to live firing causing injuries to two girls, one of whom has been shifted to a specialised hospital. The Indian army spokesman, Colonel Rajesh Kalias, told me that the villagers had agreed to participate in the iftar and that it was only a few outsiders who came with the purpose to create trouble.

While he did not respond to my query as to how the girls got injured or the army’s involvement in the firing, it is obvious that the incident has for the time being effectively buried the ‘ceasefire’ and any positive hopes attached to it.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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