Rama Navmi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the birthday of Hindu Lord Rama. The festival is a part of the Hindu calendar that typically occurs in the months of March or April every year. The festival is an occasion for moral reflection for many Hindus.
Traditionally, a Vashnavite’s, day is marked by reading of Ramayana and other stories of Hindu Lord Rama. Some may visit a Vashnavite temple, and as a part of puja and aarti, participate in a bhajan or kirtan. Some pray within their home, making miniature statues of the infant Rama, and placing it in a cradle. Some mark this day by fasting and purifying their body and soul, others organize charitable events and community meals on this day.
Of late, Rama Navmi has deviated from its religious character and has acquired more a militant form. This has happened with the rise of the BJP and the vast swathes of north Indian Territory is under the grip of Hindu zealots.
Now the focal point of Rama Navmi festival is the procession which is taken out with much fanfare and has acquired a militant form. In the procession unlicensed weapons are openly displayed on the road and this includes; rifles, guns, pistols and swords and daggers.
The open display of the arms has given militant character to this religious procession, as it means intimidation to the Muslims and force them come into open for confrontation and start communal riots.
This year on March 25, the occasion of Ram Navmi festival, a series of Hindu - Muslim clashes broke out in various cities of Bihar, Bengal and Rajasthan pointing to the rise of Hindu militancy in India.
The pattern in all the communal clashes was invariably the same everywhere. Hindu group took out the religious procession and forced their way into Muslim locality. They shouted anti-Muslim slogan and play some provocative song on the loud speaker taunting the Muslims.
The lyrics of one the song is as follow; “Topi Wala Bhi Sar Jhuka Ke Jai Shri Ram Bole ga…” [Even Muslims wearing cap will bow their head and say Jai Sri Ram].
Any Muslim hearing such intimidating voices would definitely get provoked and agitated. Any reaction from them is bound to create communal clashes and this is exactly that has happened again at various places in Bihar and West Bengal and Rajasthan.
Reports of communal tension came from Bihar’s district like; Samastipur, Bhagalpur, Munger, Aurangabad, Nalanda, Sheikhpura and Jaamui and in Nawada. In West Bengal communal clashes were reported from Asansol and Raniganj in Burdwan district. The same was heard from Rajasthan too.
In Rosera town of Samastipur district of Bihar, Hindu extremists were seen in a viral video hoisting saffron flags atop a mosque. In the video a Hindu zealot is seen hoisting the saffron flag on top floor of the Jama Masjid where Indian Tricolour is also seen. Soon, another hoodlum is seen climbing the tower of the mosque and hoisting the saffron flag on the mosque minaret even as the crowd cheered.
Police personnel wearing helmets are also seen in the video but instead of taking action against the miscreants, they were merely watching the event along with hundreds of Hindus. The terror struck Muslims remain indoors praying for their life.
In Bhagalpur Arijit Shashwat, son of Union Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey led a procession which ended in clashes between Hindus and Muslims in champa nagar, a thickly Muslim populated area.
In Munger the Hindu group took out the procession and clashed with Muslims near Neelam Cinema, the reason being the provocative song; “Topi Wala Bhi Sar Jhuka Ke Jai Shri Ram Bole ga…”
In West Bengal at least four persons have died in the Raniganj-Asansol belt of West Bardawan district, after a procession turned violent. In the Hindu Muslim clashes in Asansol, the imam of a mosque lost his teenage son.
In Rajasthan’s Jodhpur district, a tableau was taken out on Ram Navami glorifying Shambhu Lal Raigar, who is currently in jail for hacking a Muslim man to death and video graphing the violence along with an anti-Muslim rant.
What is seen is the incidents of communal violence in West Bengal have increased sharply over the past three years pointing towards the rise of the BJP in that state.
The violence in Bihar comes after the JDU-BJP alliance and shows internal fissures between the two parties, where BJP is trying to assert itself with its Hindu militancy agenda.
Invariably the reason for all the disquiet in most of the cases is the ‘religious’ processions that has become a hallmark of Ram Navami festival and a pretext to force communal polarisation in the communally charged north Indian states.
In all such situations, the responsibility of the violence and tension is best assigned to the local administration. The role of the local administration in controlling the mob and the escalation of the violence is dubious.
The British rule book that still prevails says that the job of the local administration is to see that the procession is strictly disciplined and remains armless. The administration has to see that the procession follows the given route, avoiding any Muslim locality in the way. In case of hearing the Muslim’s call for prayer (Azan), the Hindu procession should stop playing any music at once etc and resume the procession only when the Azan is over.
However in the current cases, the local administration is either seen looking the other side or they are supporting the Hindu zealots in their nefarious designs. They not only allowed the procession to pass through the Muslim localities but also allowed the provocative music to be played to taunt the Muslims. This is the most disturbing development in the country.
In the run up of the 2019 general elections, as the air gets politically charged, the burden of maintaining the law and order has become much heavier on the local administration. It is apparent that Hindu zealots are looking for opportunity for the incitement of violence in order to further polarise the religious communities in the country.
In this context, the increasingly assertive Hindu militancy under the cloak of Ram Navmi procession and other religious processions are drawing new challenges to the wellbeing of the country.
[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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