DURING RAM NAVAMI processions in April this year, communal violence broke out in several states across India. In almost all cases, there was a similar pattern. Hindu mobs entered Muslim neighbourhoods, wielding swords and sticks, shouting communal slogans and playing loud music. They danced, women and children included, in front of mosques as provocative songs, replete with Islamophobic content, blared from speakers. In most instances, this invariably happened during the late afternoon, when Muslims were performing namaz or breaking their Ramzan fast.
Fights broke out between the two communities, leading to arson, stone-pelting and vandalism. Many people suffered injuries, and there were even reports of some deaths. In Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone, men wearing saffron scarves climbed mosques and tried to plant Hindutva flags. Houses were burnt down. Vehicles were ransacked in Mumbai. In the aftermath of the violence, state or local authorities controlled by the Bhartiya Janata Party sent in bulldozers to raze down homes. They called it “anti-encroachment” drives. These homes and shops belonged mostly to Muslims.
Our cultural memory is rife with examples of religious processions preceding communal violence. The infamous Ram Rath Yatra led by Vishva Hindu Parishad and other affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, in 1992. The procession was fuelled by cries of “Mandir vahin banayenge”—we will build the temple there. Conflagrations around rallies have been a frequent feature even in the more recent past, particularly around Ram Navami. But commentators have noted that there was something different about the violence this time. A significant catalyst for these violent activities were the songs played from speakers in these rallies. Many videos have surfaced from these processions showing the charged atmosphere, the provocation clear in the songs.