In 1978, a neo-Nazi group insisted on marching through predominantly Jewish areas in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago. They were set on carrying placards that read “We are Coming” and on waving the swastika in an area inhabited by Holocaust survivors. The march did not eventually take place in that suburb—it happened in Chicago instead. But it is a reminder that such provocative marches, purposely carried out in sensitive areas, are not an invention of 2022; they are part of an old global playbook of hate, of which India is now firmly a part.
Riots have traditionally involved processions taken out deliberately to where religious and ethnic minorities live, not only as a show of strength but also to mark them out and hope to use their reaction as instigation. Even in India, this is not the first time that religious processions have been used to foment violence and the deepening of inter-community fault lines. But, while India has previously seen such “religious processions” heading towards mosques, bearing weapons, including sharp swords, and uttering loud abuse as slogans, even rioting, this most recent spate is different.
The violence around Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions this year crossed a line. That may appear to be a difficult claim to make in the raucous and fractious democracy that India has been since 1947. But the violence we witnessed these past months has been across several states. This makes it important to focus on the similarities of what is happening across India and interpret the signs clearly.