Muzaffarnagar: Cold-Blooded Cocktail of Communal Politics, Casteist Khaps and Patriarchal ‘Honour’

Muzaffarnagar in Western UP is the latest theatre of communal politics. An estimated 53 lives have been lost, and 55000 people displaced in the recent communal conflagration. The old familiar script played out - of Government and administration watching with calculated, calibrated, politically-motivated inaction even as political leaders stoked the communal fires and played with lives.

Modi has been anointed the BJP’s official PM candidate with the blood spilt in a timely manner at Muzaffarnagar. We know, by now, that several political leaders of the BJP, master-minded by Modi’s trusted lieutenant Amit Shah, played a key role in orchestrating the violence. We also know that the SP Government failed to prevent massive communal mobilisations, allowing people to gather in thousands at a Jat mahapanchayat from UP and even from neighbouring Haryana, in spite of a formal declaration of curfew. BJP MLAs such as Hukum Singh, Suresh Rana and Sangeet Singh Som and BKU leaders Naresh Tikait and Rakesh Tikait openly made provocative speeches, following which large-scale communal violence broke out. Why was such a large gathering permitted by the Government, in a known communally sensitive situation while curfew was in place? Why were political leaders allowed to address the gathering and make provocative speeches? This inaction cannot be explained away as mere incompetence – it smacks of a deliberate move by the ruling SP to sharpen communal polarisation with a view to reaping political benefits. We also know that the sitting MP from the BSP Qadir Rana also indulged in a provocative speech, while subsequently remaining missing when innocents were massacred.

The Muzaffarnagar communal campaign is significant for the way in which khap panchayats served as platforms for BJP-Sangh mobilisation, and the emotive plank of ‘women’s safety’ was deployed to project Muslims simultaneously as ‘terrorists’ and violators of the ‘honour’ of Hindu women. (see box) The bogey of ‘love jehad’ – a myth propagated by the Sangh in Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra in recent years - has achieved full-blown proportions in this communal campaign. We have recently seen how anti-dalit violence was stoked by the PMK in Tamilnadu by vilifying inter-caste marriages and cast(e)ing dalit youth as violators of the ‘honour’ of caste-Hindu women. The ‘love jehad’ campaign is on exactly the same lines, except that, helped by the State’s policy of Islamophobia and Muslim witch-hunt, it is able to neatly invert even ‘love’ to mean ‘jehad.’ VHP leader Ashok Singhal has made no secret of the Sangh-BJP gameplan to repeat the successful experiment of Gujarat in the laboratory of UP. He declared, “We’ll teach love jehadis in UP the same lesson we taught them in Gujarat.”

The mahapanchayat’s slogans of ‘Beti Bachao, Bahu Bachao’ and ‘Beti Bachao, Izzat Bachao’ (Save Daughters, Save Daughters-in-Law, Save Honour) that morphed into ‘Beti Bachao, Bahu Banao’, (Save Daughters, Make Daughters-in-Law) clearly underlined how the ideology of ‘protecting’ women and ‘honour’ is all too closely related to forcibly ‘making daughters-in-law’ – i,e raping.

The agenda of the khap panchayats – to consolidate castes by mobilising against women’s freedom to love/marry by choice – and that of the communal fascist BJP and Sangh Parivar, to demonise Muslims – have merged seamlessly. And this agenda gains tremendous force from the fact that it does not have the backing of the BJP alone. In Haryana, it is the Congress that is in bed with the khap panchayats. And now BJP is putting them to good use in UP. Muzaffarnagar’s primary lesson is that fighting communalism and casteism is impossible without a robust fight for women’s freedom. And fighting violence against women is not possible without resisting communal and casteist forces head-on. This is something the girls protesting on Delhi’s streets instinctively realised.

With Lok Sabha elections approaching, we can expect more attempts to recreate Muzaffarnagar in other parts of Uttar Pradesh and the country. Democratic forces and common people need to be extra vigilant to counter such attempts, to stand in firm rejection of communal forces, and to demand prompt, stern action by Governments and police/administrative

Box matter

When Khaps Meet the RSS

“This belt of western Uttar Pradesh is the home turf of the “dis-honor” killings, where the sex ratio is among India’s lowest (Muzaffarnagar has a child sex ratio of 863 in the 2011 census); where the narrative of “women’s honour” can be stirred so easily into the communal cauldron. Even the recent national outrage over increasing violence against women has been appropriated and deployed. One headline in a prominent internet news site screamed “Stalker’s death triggered Muzaffarnagar conflagration,” implicitly justifying the murder of someone the reporter decided to call a “stalker,” though there was no evidence or charge of stalking (a serious crime after the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013) in the incident of August 27. The story opened with, Two brothers kill a man stalking their sister [….] The actions by “the brothers” were in this and many other variations normalised, even tacitly valorised. For that is what “real men” do when family honour is on the line. It is precisely the mindset that applauds the death penalty for rape, knowing it will solve nothing systemic. But who cares, for it satisfies the blood lust.

The mahapanchayat on September 7, in violation of prohibitory orders, is variously reported as Beti Bachao Bahu Bachao mahapanchayat or Beti Bahu Izzat Bachao mahapanchayat. “Izzat (honour”) and “Bachao (protect”) are scary words in the macho lexicon of western U.P. Here, women’s sexuality is a tool to be deployed only in service to community and patriarchy. Sexual autonomy is a threat to the entire edifice, and opposing intercommunity relationships (signalling choice and sexual autonomy) has long been a favourite pastime for the khaps that rule the roost. Many such intercommunity relationships, ending in murder, have been inter-caste. Now with inter-religious romance labelled “love jihad” under the Vishwa Hindu Parishad scanner, we need to be worried and watchful, as this game of izzat plays itself out. The “love jihad” construct of the Hindu right in one stroke raises the spectre of the “violent, enemy other, seducing by force” (Muslim jihadist) and condemns personal choice (i.e. “love”). And when protection and control over “our” women’s bodies are placed at the centre of any blood feud, one must fear the ground that communalists of all hues are preparing in the fertile soil of western U.P.

...The comparisons between the “narratives” of Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar are telling. In Muzaffarnagar, an alleged attack by the “other community” on the izzat of two brothers (by harassing their sister) turns out to be fake (NDTV, September 14). But it still leads to a mahapanchayat called to protect “the honour of women.” This then spurs the violence (with inflammatory speeches, incendiary video, death and displacement, police inaction, omnibus FIRs, and truckloads of scared people fleeing their homes).

We saw a similar narrative structure in Gujarat 2002, and it was written about in two reports by women’s rights activists — Survivors Speak and Threatened Existence. In addition to the train burning at Godhra, there was a false news report on February 28 in Sandesh (a leading Gujarati daily), saying that Hindu women were dragged from a railway compartment by a fanatic mob. A fake follow-up on March 1, said some women’s bodies were found with breasts cut off. A retraction, published much later by Sandesh, lay buried in a corner of the paper, while the fake news spread like wildfire, and became the justificatory rallying cry for what followed (Survivors Speak, pp 10-11). All of this — from Gujarat to Muzaffarnagar — is of a piece with the existing stock repertoire of the Hindu right — stories and myths about Muslim marauders, raping and defiling Hindu women, and by conflation, attacking the “izzat” of Mother India herself, provide eternal justification for “honorable” retaliation by Hindu men and the Hindu nation (Threatened Existence, p.39).”

- From ‘The chilling familiarity of Muzaffarnagar’, Farah Naqvi, The Hindu, September 18, 2013

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