Indian elections are always a violent affair. Scores of people are killed on all sides of the political divide. With politics dominated by syndicated criminals, this is natural. Over the years, violence has escalated alarmingly. Never a peaceful society, India has become even more violent with anti-Muslim riots on the increase.
The current elections (February 16 to March 7) also started with a bang. In the southern Indian city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu state, a series of bomb explosions killed 52 people and injured 200 others on February 14. What followed is typical of Indian politics. Since the explosions occurred near the site where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was holding its rally, it immediately blamed Muslim ‘extremists,’ saying the BJP president L K Advani was the target. The Congress (I) Party accused the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an ally of the BJP, pointing out that the BJP wants to further polarise Indian society by provoking communal riots.
This is precisely what happened. Without waiting to find out who was responsible, Hindu mobs as well as the police attacked Muslim localities. Scores of Muslim homes and businesses were set ablaze. Thousands of Muslims were forced to flee the city fearing for their lives. On February 19, trouble also erupted in Faizabad and Ajmer. Both were placed under curfew as Hindu mobs went on a rampage against Muslims.
In the ‘largest democracy in the world,’ innocent people must pay the price for politically-motivated allegations. According to the police, at least six ‘Muslim militants’ were killed when explosives, allegedly in their possession, went off during a raid in Coimbatore on February 15. The truth is that they were shot dead, as were many other innocent Muslims.
Two Muslim organisations, among them Al-Ummah, have already been banned. The army was rushed to the city as the police joined Hindu mobs in the mayhem against Muslims. The Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), a relief and welfare organisation set up in 1995, which had launched an appeal for help in December following similar attacks against Muslims, has again been called upon to provide relief.
Tamil Nadu state has become a battleground for competing Hindu parties with Coimbatore their special target. Jayalalitha, the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, and her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) lost power in the 1996 elections primarily because of the Muslim vote. Jayalalitha has now teamed up with the BJP, the Hindu extremist party.
Coimbatore, a small backward town in the mid-fifties, is today a thriving commercial centre, thanks to enterprising Muslims who have set up businesses there. Oppanaka Street, Big Bazar Street and Ukkadam area are the hub of business activity in Coimbatore. These are now the target of Hindu fascist forces who want to undermine Muslims by crippling them economically. This is not dissimilar to what happened in Bhawindi, near Bombay, in the early eighties. There, too, Muslims had established successful businesses.
The chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Muthuvel Karunanidhi, is not anti-Muslim, primarily because he came to power with their help. That explains why the BJP is demanding his head as a price for the February 14 explosions. Karunanidhi’s ouster would help BJP ally Jayalalitha in the current election.
Whoever was responsible for the explosions, Muslims have had to pay the price. What happened on November 29, 1997 gives clue to Hindu tactics. The murder of a Hindu constable Selvaraj by some hooligans was blamed on the Muslims. For four days, all hell broke loose as their homes and businesses were targeted and burnt. Ali Jafer of the Shoba Cloth Centre lost property worth Rs 400 million. The total damage to Muslim properties was estimated at Rs 10 billion in Coimbatore.
The loss of property was compounded by the deaths of innocent Muslims, many of them under 30 years of age, i.e., family bread earners. A number of Muslims were burnt alive; T A Habibur Rahman was one of them. Those who took the injured to hospital were attacked and stabbed to death there by Hindu mobs. In the November 29 to December 2 mayhem, 19 Muslims were killed and hundreds injured.
A more serious aspect of these killings is that Muslims in India are now targeted even for protesting against injustices, such as the desecration of the Babri Mosque in December 1992. In Chennai when the TMMK tried to hold a rally coincinding with the Babri Mosque anniversary, even the sympathetic Tamil Nadu chief minister refused permission.
The TMMK went ahead anyway; 50,000 people turned out for the rally. When they were arrested by the police, there was no place to lock them up in. They had to be released.
Since the Babri Mosque destruction in 1992, at least three imams have been killed in Tamil Nadu. The recent spate of violence against Muslims is part of this escalating campaign spearheaded by Hindu fascist forces given respectability by the BJP.
The future for Muslims in India looks bleak, especially with the rise of the BJP in a leading role.
The TMMK has set up a fund to help the victims of violence.
Muslimedia: March 1-15, 1998