Slander, threats dominate narrative against anti-CAA protests
While the Modi government had initially started several public outreach programmes to remove fears surrounding the Citizenship Amendment Act, many party leaders have increasingly been resorting to hate speech to counter the massive wave of protests against the controversial law.
Calling the bluff of the BJP’s I-T cell chief Amit Malviya, 82-year-old Bilquis –who has become the face of ongoing anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest sit-in at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, where Muslim women have been camping on the road round the clock regardless of biting cold since December 15—asked Malviya on Friday to join the protesters for tea, see their resolve and listen to their concerns.
The octogenarian granny was reacting to unsubstantiated allegations triggered by a random video that Malviya had posted on Twitter recently. In his tweet, he had labelled the ongoing protest demonstration as a Congress sponsored paid protest. The video clip showed a conversation between two men at an egg shop, alleging that the protestors have been working in shifts at Shaheen Bagh in lieu of Rs 500 a day.
Soon after Malviya put out the tweet, it was widely reported by the pro-government media as a “sting operation”. Additionally, it was made viral by the BJP supporters on social media along with disparaging messages against the protesting women.
Agitated over the sweeping allegations, Bilquis said, “Where were they when people were being beaten up and shot at on the road during protest rallies? They should come and see for themselves that it’s not just Muslims who have been protesting at Shaheen Bagh. Those who distribute food and tea among protesters belong to all the religions.”
While the Modi government had initially started several public outreach programmes to remove fears surrounding the CAA, many party leaders have increasingly been resorting to hate speech to counter the massive wave of protests against the controversial law.
“Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace,” says United Nations, emphasising that “Silence can signal indifference to bigotry and intolerance, even as a situation escalates and the vulnerable become victims.”
Breaking his studied silence on CAA protests at Ramlila Ground last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had accused the opposition parties of misleading people whereas Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, recently accused the opposition parties of instigating riots in the country.
Nevertheless, several BJP leaders and supporters have been caught on camera shouting war-cry against protesters, “Desh Ke Gaddaro Ko, Goli Maro Saalon Ko (shoot the traitors).” And yet these people haven’t been held accountable by the law enforcing agencies.
Days after West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh questioned if it was blood or paint that was smeared on the forehead of the JNU student leader, Aishe Ghosh following an attack by masked goons on the campus, he thundered that anti-CAA protesters were “shot like dogs” in three BJP-ruled states including Uttar Pradesh. In keeping with his penchant, the BJP state chief on Friday called intellectuals protesting against the law “devils” and “parasites.”
While BJP MLA Jind, Krishna Middha, has demanded that anti-CAA protesters be thrown out of the country, Bandi Sanjay Kumar, a member of the Lok Sabha from Karimnagar, Telangana, has warned protesters of bomb attacks. “If you throw stones, we will hurl bombs. The war has begun. We will not spare anybody,” he said in an inflammatory speech recently.
Referring to the demography, G Somashekar Reddy, BJP MLA from Ballari, Karnataka, on January 3, had warned Muslims against participating in anti-CAA protests. “We are 80 per cent, you are just 15 per cent,” he said, addressing a pro-CAA rally.
Karnataka minister CT Ravi had last month outright threatened protesting Muslims with Gujarat-like violence if they continue to dissent. “The majority community is being patient. This does not mean that you can provoke people,” he said, calling the protests as “anti-democratic” and “unconstitutional”.
Accusing the anti-CAA protesters of taking money from mafia don Dawood Ibrahim, BJP leader Raghuraj Singh from Aligarh has threatened protesting AMU students that their future would be “ruined”.
Singh added that “We will chop off your (protesters) tongue. We will not make any compromise on the CAA. The government will slap sedition charges on the protesters…you will be buried alive.”
Last month, Tejasvi Surya, BJP MP from Bengaluru South, had alleged that only the “uneducated, illiterate puncture shop wallahs” are against CAA.
While these are just a few examples in the long list, independent political observers feel that the volcanic eruption in hate speeches against anti-CAA protesters is a sign of frustration in the “thunder-struck” ruling party. Many BJP leaders have admitted on record that they hadn’t anticipated countrywide protesters, which are believed to be the largest in recent decades.
Incidentally, a study by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch had disclosed in May 2018 that BJP had the largest number of lawmakers with declared cases of hate speech against them. ADR had even recommended amendments to the Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code by adding new provisions on ‘Prohibiting incitement to hatred’.
Jagdeep S Chhokar, one of founders of the ADR views the recent trend as “an extremely worrying phenomenon.”
Quoting several incidents, he stressed, “Public discourse can’t be made a street fight. True, Taali Do Haath Se Bajti Hai (it takes two to cause a quarrel) but the ruling party has a major share of responsibility.”
“The political discourse in this country has been progressively deteriorating over the past few years. Leaders from all political parties have been using intemperate language against each other. It has become a new normal,” he said, adding that “we are getting to see more and more such instances on a regular basis as the (CAA) protests are rather widespread.”
“In the current scenario, the discourse has gone down to such an extent that it no longer qualifies to be a civil discourse The question of decency in public discourse seems completely removed from the society,” he said, wondering, “We don’t know where it is headed for?”
Pertinently, Amnesty International India’s interactive website ‘Halt the Hate’ had last year recorded steepest rise in hate crimes since 2016. In the first six months of 2019 alone, it disclosed, 181 incidents of alleged hate crimes were recorded. The website was launched in 2015 for want of a publicly available disaggregated data on hate crimes after Mohammad Akhlaq, 52, a Muslim resident of Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, was lynched on the suspicion of eating beef.
From September 2015 to June 2019, Halt the Hate had recorded a total of 902 reported hate crimes in India, mostly from BJP-ruled states besides AIADMK ruled Tamil Nadu. According to the website, the victims got killed in at least 37 reported incidents.