Crowdfunding efforts for minorities targetted for faith show public's resistance to politics of hate

Jyoti Punwani
·6 min read

Within hours of the report from Mysuru about daily wage labourer Syed Issaq's public library being burnt down by 'miscreants' on 10 April, more than a lakh of rupees had been raised for him through crowdfunding. By the end of the day, almost Rs 10 lakh had been collected. The figure now stands at Rs 14 lakh.

A similar episode of violence occurred a month ago in Uttar Pradesh. On 11 March, 14-year-old Asif, son of a daily labourer, was thrashed for drinking water from a tap inside the Dasna Devi temple complex in Ghaziabad. The assailant, unemployed engineer Shringi Nandan Yadav, videotaped himself thrashing a boy half his size, twisting his arm and trying to kick him in the groin.

Later, the temple's caretaker Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, defended this attack.

But within eight days of the attack, came the news that Rs 10 lakh had been raised for Asif's education through crowdfunding.

Immediately after the news of both incidents became public, people from many faiths religions contributed to the victims. Many perhaps felt shame and anger in the way these innocents had been targetted because of their religion.

But what must these two Muslims citizens have felt on receiving this money from roused to indignation and action?

Issaq is one of those ordinary, yet remarkably secular and wise citizens that dot our country. This former bonded labourer turned underground drainage cleaner, sad that he had never had the chance to be educated, set up a Kannada library in 2011 to encourage those living in the nearby slums to read.

He stocked his library with 11,000 books, 85 percent of them in Kannada. Among them were 3,000 Kannada copies of the Bhagwad Gita, 1,000 copies of the Koran, and the Bible. He also kept 17 newspapers, and spent Rs 6,000 a month on the library's maintenance.

No sooner was his painstakingly built collection burnt down that Issaq announced his resolve to rebuild it.

Perhaps his age, 62, and experience with his patrons €" around 150 a day €" helped Issaq stick to his core belief of spreading the reading habit. But what of Asif? He was just 14 and the world a vast place to explore when he received the shock of his life.

As his father said, "Does water have a religion? I don't think there is any religion that can refuse water to a thirsty person."

The generous response to crowdfunding shows that not everyone has been swept away by the Hindutva wave that has been spreading across the country since May 2014.

The BJP's vote share in both the Lok Sabha elections has also shown that they have yet to get the overwhelming support of Hindu voters, despite the rabid speeches of their top leaders and the 24/7 dissemination of hate through social media.

But this is not enough.

Given the immunity enjoyed by goons in certain states, such attacks will only continue.

Shringi Yadav was arrested only because the video of him thrashing Asif went viral. It was a token arrest; the police didn't apply all relevant sections, neither did they oppose bail. Within two days he was out, appealing for funds, again in a widely-circulated video, to buy a gun since "his life is in danger''. That itself is enough for the police to move to cancel his bail, but don't hold your breath.

The Karnataka police have behaved no better. Even before conducting a proper inquiry, they have hinted that garbage fires and unstubbed cigarette stubs strewn near Issac's library may have caused the blaze.This, even though Issaq was earlier threatened by mmiscreants.

Since the library was set afire in the middle of the night, the police may give up the hunt for the arsonists even before it begins.

While heartfelt gestures help the victims heal, the only way of ensuring such incidents do not occur is to ensure that the ruling party is not one that supports such actions.

In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, whose founder Bal Thackeray was way more strident about Hindutva than his contemporaries in the BJP, showed how it could handle the politics of hate the BJP and the section of the electronic media that support it tried to whip up, when two Sadhus were lynched in Palghar in April 2020, and again the same month when a communal angle was sought to be given to the gathering of migrant workers near Bandra Station.

Maharashtra too has a beef ban introduced by the BJP-Sena government in 2015, but there have been far fewer attacks on cattle transporters in the state, specially since the BJP was ousted in December 2019.

While interfaith couples are routinely attacked in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka, Delhi's AAP government recently issued a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) including special cells headed by DCPs and a 24/7 helpline to help such couples. Of course they were only following Supreme Court guidelines, and pressure from the organisation Dhanak of Humanity, which helps such couples, has worked. But would Adityanath's, Shivraj Singh Chauhan's or Yedurappa's government ever implement the guideline?

The handling of the anti-CAA protests is another indicator. Uttar Pradesh saw the most brutal crackdown on the protesters. Leaving aside the North East where protests began, in Telengana and Maharashtra, protests were held for long periods. Cases were filed, but the Maharashtra government later agreed to withdraw them. In West Bengal and Kerala, massive anti-CAA rallies were led by their CMs; their Assemblies also passed resolutions against the CAA along with those in Punjab and Rajasthan; while Bihar and Delhi Assemblies passed resolutions against the NCR.

Perhaps the best example of resistance comes from the dance videos uploaded by Kerala's medical students as a challenge to the objections raised against the first such video from Thrissur Medical College that showed a Hindu student dancing with her Muslim counterpart. Such defiance can only come from a feeling of security. The CPI (M) government obviously has created such an environment, notwithstanding the unceasing political murders that take place between the ruling party, the RSS and the Muslim League specially in Kannur district.

Before the February 2019 Pulwama attack, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had begun praising coalition politics indicating his lack of confidence in winning the May Lok Sabha polls on his own strength. However, the attack changed everything and he came back with an even greater majority. The Modi hold is so strong that even after last year's callous lockdown, migrant labourers refused to blame the prime minister.

However, in Bihar, where the first elections were held just after the lockdown, though the BJP improved its performance significantly, it still won fewer seats and received less vote share than Tejasvi Yadav's RJD. Mostly, state elections where local factors play a role have seen the BJP doing badly.

Those who want to resist Hindutva politics thus have their task cut out for them. In state governments, where regionalism and diversity of interests reign, lies hope.

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