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Sunday 13 January 2013

Of Togadias and Owaisis By Mahtab Alam

Of Togadias and Owaisis
By Mahtab Alam

Akbaruddin Owaisi, an MLA of Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, who
belongs to a Hyderabad-based political party All India
Majlis-e-Ittihad al-Muslimin, better known as MIM, and its floor
leader in the Assembly made an inflammatory speech against Hindus on
24th December 2012 at a public meeting in Adilabad District. The
speech attracted widespread condemnation by Muslim activists, rightly
so, apart from left, liberal individuals and organizations. Dr.
Zafarul Islam Khan, President, All India Muslim Majlis e Mushawarat
(AIMMM), an umbrella body of prominent Indian Muslim organizations
termed it 'a hate and rash speech' arguing, 'words that should never
have been uttered by a responsible person, let alone a political
leader, were used'. Shabnam Hashmi, a prominent social activist and
who has been relentlessly working on the issue of minority rights
registered an FIR in Delhi against Owaisi stating, 'the whole speech
is highly objectionable, inflammatory and against the values of our
constitution, democracy and secular values'. Similarly, FIRs were also
registered in the State invoking section 295 A (for deliberate and
malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) and 153 A
(promoting enmity between different groups) of Indian Penal Code
(IPC). Owaisi was finally arrested on Tuesday (8th January) and sent
to 14-day judicial custody.
However, there was a small section of Muslims, mostly individuals, who
held this as an illustration of the 'double standards of civil society
and state machinery'. The crux of their argument was, that while
governments take speedy actions and act in a haste in the cases where
Muslims are involved even in petty crimes, criminals belonging to the
majority community roam free despite being involved in all sorts of
serious crimes such as communal carnage, mass murders, looting and
rapes, let alone the cases of hate speech. While on the surface, these
allegations might appear as a desperate attempt to defend communalists
belonging to the Muslim community - and indeed some of them may be-the
fact is that these claims are not that far removed from reality.
Sample this. Praveen Togadia, Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP)
international working President, during his recent visit to Hyderabad
in December last year, made an equally inflammatory and communal
speech while addressing a press conference in the city. The VHP
president at the press conference on the issue of controversial Bhagya
Lakshmi Mandir- Charminar threatened Muslims by saying that 'VHP will
convert Hyderabad into Ayodhya if Hindus are not allowed to perform
Puja'. The simple fact is that Hindus have never been stopped from
performing Puja. He further thundered the VHP would teach Muslims of
Hyderabad a lesson that they would never forget. Following this, a few
cases have been registered against him but the government is yet to
act. It is well known of course that this is not the first time when
he has made such a speech. In fact, several such cases are pending
against Togadia, not only in Hyderabad but in different parts of the
country; and the police and the governments have never acted against
And Togadia is not a solitary soldier: there is a veritable contingent
of Togadias whose prime work is hate mongering and inciting violence,
especially in situations where there are higher chances of communal
disturbance and violence. It has become almost a routine for these
forces to fuel violence in name of protecting their religion,
religious tenets and identity or interests of their fellow
religionists and people. Ashok Singhal, Adityanath Yogi, Uma Bharti,
Sadhvi Ritambhara and Raj/Udhav Thackeray to name a few. What is
strange, though often understood, that they draw their supports from
political parties of all hues. While certified communal political
parties like BJP and Shiv Sena lent them open support, self- appointed
secular parties like Congress and Samajwadi Party would never bother
to book them according to the law of the land despite ample evidence
being available. Hence, these cases of selective action only prove
that our governments utilize double standards for crimes of similar
nature, for criminals belonging to minority and majority communities.
Varun Gandhi is the sole exception, and there are indications already
that the UP government may go slow on him, after he submitted an
application for quashing of the case against him.
It was interesting also to see how the Owaisi saga played out in the
electronic media. Watching these programmes, one would think that
Owaisi was the originator of hate speech in India, and not simply one
among the many who blight public discourse through their venom. TV
anchors after anchor summoned 'Muslim' politicians from a range of
political parties daring them to condemn Owaisi. Would the Congress
Party spokesperson be ever asked to condemn Togadia - or Rithambara or
Uma -as a Hindu or as someone opposed to their politics or ideology?
Why then this rush to seek declarations from Muslim politicians as
Muslims? Coming just months after all TV channels were paying
obeisance to Bal Thackeray, whose political career was built on hate
and its articulation, the self righteousness of the various channel
heads is only amusing.
So now that Owaisi is thankfully arrested, the larger question is:
what about Singhals, Yogis, Bhartis and Thackerays? Will they ever be
arrested and sent to jail like Owaisi for their umpteen numbers of
crimes? This must be answered; at least to show that we as a
constitutionally declared secular country - considered to be the
world's largest democracy - do not practice two different sets of
rules for majority and minority. Remember, mere lip service like in
the past would not work this time as it would only further the
argument of the State practicing double standards.
Is anyone listening?

Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based civil rights activist and freelance journalist.

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