Brace yourself, the elections are coming

The nature of the news media is such that stories which become commonplace are demoted. They are not given the prominence that they would otherwise have got when they were atypical. “News” should be new stuff, not a repeat of the old. Of course that does not mean that the impact of the event not being reported reduces. If it is an episode that produces divisions and engenders hatred and a sense of injustice, then those who are aware of it and who are participants and observers and onlookers will not be able to escape the fallout and the ramifications even if the rest of us remain unaware.

Consider this story, which was reported on April 10: “UP girls held for ‘cow slaughter’ released on bail”. The story tells us that three girls, two sisters aged 12 and 16, and a cousin of theirs who is 15, from Muzaffarnagar were in jail for three-and-a-half months. The girls are Muslim, of course, and were sent to jail instead of a juvenile home by the district police. The report said that “though they showed their Aadhaar cards that attest their age, officers had then said they ‘guessed’ the girls were adults by their ‘physical appearance’.” 

To me the interesting part of this story was the fact that it was reported on an inside page in one newspaper and I only happened across it serendipitously. There was, at least to my knowledge, no reporting that the Uttar Pradesh police was now arresting Muslim children on the matter of beef. Or that these kids had been picked up and jailed last year, on December 29, without a protest or action by the courts against the criminal jailing of children.

This is what is meant by stories being demoted because they have become regular.

Many were surprised by the ferocity from Dalit groups protesting against the Supreme Court’s watering down of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Those of us who work on cases that concern the SC/ST POA will know that it is actually a law that the state is most hesitant to apply. It is cruel to accuse victims of falsifying cases when the main problem with the Act is that its provisions protecting Dalits and Adivasis are deliberately not followed by upper caste bureaucrats, officers and judges.

Illustration by Binay Sinha
But we can understand why things have come to this pass, and it is because, exactly like in the matter of beef violence, Dalit issues have been demoted in the media for sameness. There is not as much awareness of the atrocities against them, though they of course are much better informed than the rest of us, being participants and victims. For every one story like the savaging of young Dalits in Una, or the amazing item from this week about a district magistrate in UP disallowing a Dalit groom from riding a horse because of parampara (tradition), there are 100 stories that the rest of us do not know about, but Dalits do, through their WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages.

With a disinterested media, there has been no systematic tracking of what damage religious majoritarianism of the Hindutva school has done and is doing to India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always been comfortable living with some collateral damage to Indians for its political benefit, and this is not new. Two thousands Indians were killed after the BJP helped pulled down that mosque in Ayodhya, but the party continues to pick at that scab. How much damage is being done as their ideology produces regular, low-intensity violence across India? This is not really fully understood, even by the BJP itself. There is no calibration and other than the deliberate creation of conflict, there is no larger plan.

We can observe the effects of the bullying of Muslims in India almost daily now. I got a note from Al Jazeera seeking to interview me about some vandalism and thuggery by Hindus in mosques, including one in Delhi. I did not even know this had happened. Meanwhile it has become acceptable for Hindu lawyers to prevent the filing of a case on the rape and murder of a child in Jammu, because the child was a Muslim. Such actions have a shield, and it is created by the idea of majoritarianism that is being forced down our throats. Once we sort out the minority then things will be fine apparently, or at least better.

The reality is that this idyll never arrives. Pakistan with 97 per cent Muslims cannot escape the majoritarianism blight either. As that nation’s well wisher and friend, it is difficult for me to accept the amount of national energy and time spent on ganging up against the 3 per cent. Pakistan’s Parliament can be shut down and its cities and neighbourhoods can be set on fire on the matter of the blasphemy laws that mainly target Christians and Ahmedis.

I met two foreign diplomats this month. Both asked me if I thought it likely that there would be some riot inside India before the election. I said I hoped not, but it is interesting that people observing events in India think that such things are possible and even likely. The election that is coming towards us looks like it is going to produce the most vicious campaign in our history. We can safely discard competence and performance as the basis on which the ruling party is going to ask for votes. There is no safeguard against this fevered communalism, and even the Opposition’s leader sees value in avoiding mosques and running to temples.

Brace yourselves.

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