PUCL April, 2003

Communalising Rajasthan
-- Trishul Distribution
-- The Attack on MKSS shops: Politics of Coercion
Strategising & Mobilising against Communalism and Fascism
-- Intervening in the Media

-- By Kavita Srivastava, PUCL Rajasthan

Trishul Distribution
Though the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had been indulging in armed communal mobilisation in Rajasthan through its Trishul distribution Programmes since 1998, this gained in pace and stridency since the Gujarat massacre of last year. While only four thousand Trishuls had been distributed in Rajasthan in the four years till the Gujarat happenings, ( 1998-2001) the year that followed saw more than 150 percent increase in Trishul distribution and the figure crossed well above 10,000. Todate, in the first four months of 2003, more than 5,000 trishuls have been distributed in different places in Rajasthan.

The VHP called these Trishul ceremonies symbolic religious exercises undertaken in order to awaken the Hindus. But the VHP distributed Trishuls were not at all the iconic harmless Trishuls, which are not sharp at all, associated traditionally with Shiva temples and Shaivite orders. The VHP Trishuls were in fact sharp three bladed daggers meant to cause grave injury and even kill. And there was a definite correlation between Trishul distribution ceremony in an area and violent communal conflict therein. These Trishul distribution ceremonies were invariably accompanied by VHP leaders, led by Pravin Togadia, delivering inflammatory hate speeches against religious minorities, which immediately exacerbated communal temperature in the area concerned.

Alarmed at this heightened armed communal mobilisation, the civil society groups led by the People's Union for Civil Liberties had been pressurising the state government through petitions, press statements and public protests to bring the VHP Trishul under the purview of the Arms Act and prosecute VHP leaders like Togadia for their communal hate speeches in the Trishul distribution ceremonies and otherwise. The state government finally acted in early April this year and brought the VHP Trishul under the purview of the Arms Act on April 8th. The VHP in a bid to capitalise on this action of the State declared a "trishul diksha" by Togadia on the 13th of April. Two days before the event the police confiscated 650 trishuls from the office of the VHP. The VHP reacted and tried to create tension in the city. One day before Togadia's arrival members of women's organisations and the PUCL carried out a public contact programme around the message " trishul nahin talwar nahin chahiye , roti, paani, rozgar chahiye". They also distributed flowers to people as a response to the trishuls.

When Togadia openly violated the Arms Act and prohibitory orders by holding a Trishul distribution ceremony, he was arrested in Ajmer on April 13. He remained in jail for more than a week before being released on bail. All attempts by the VHP and the Bhartiya Janata Party to whip up a communal frenzy in the state in the wake of Togadia's arrest did not evoke much public response and not even their bandh call gathered any significant public support.

The Attack on MKSS shops: Politics of Coercion
An incident during the VHP-BJP sponsored Rajasthan bandh call in the wake of Togadia's attack exposed the coercive and fascist nature of saffron politics. Ajmer district is a stronghold of the RSS-VHP-BJP politics in Rajasthan. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, a mass organisation of peasants and workers that is well known in the country for its anti corruption and right to information movement, is also active in certain rural parts of this district and the adjoining Rajsamand, Pali and Bhilwara districts. The MKSS also runs five provisions shops for the rural poor in their area of operation. The organisation defied the VHP-BJP bandh call in the wake of Togadia's arrest and kept its shops open.

Angry at this defiance, the VHP thugs tried to force the MKSS workers to close down their shop at Jawaja in Ajmer district. When the MKSS workers refused, the local police also pleaded with them to close their shop in the interest of peace. The MKSS still refused and when the VHP-BJP workers tried to apply force, the organisation informed the higher authorities in the administration. As the VHP-BJP workers were foiled in their attempt, they attacked the MKSS shop at nearby Surajpura in frustration and looted it. On a First Information Report filed by the MKSS, the police arrested 25 people in the case.

This even further angered the VHP-BJP combine and they kept a Jawaja bandh for three days to get their people released. Their tactic did not succeed though. The 25 people arrested under charges of breaching prohibitory orders were released by the administration in due course after giving an undertaking of good behaviour and the five among them who were named accused in the MKSS FIR were rearrested. They were only released after a court bail order. The MKSS decision to keep their shops open during the bandh made a significant political statement in itself and also ultimately provided an opportunity for exposing the true nature of RSS-VHP-BJP politics.

A few works earlier Kaluram Sankla, self styled president of the Shiv Sena Commando force had come and held a "dharma sabha" in Bhim, the headquarters of the MKSS area, in February 2003. The purpose of the sabha was actually to publicly distribute swords and Pharsas (an axe like weapon) accompanied by hate speeches. When the MKSS filed FIRS against him, and demanded strong action, the government booked him first under section 153 A and then later under NSA. The day of the post Togadia bandh in Bhim was like anyother normal day. Bhim now minds how it treats public spaces and fears the consequences of participating in the Sangh Parivar's aggressive and unlawful tactics. Though like most small towns it is still a BJP base and vote bank

Strategising & Mobilising against Communalism and Fascism
After Gujarat and the stepped up saffron activities in Rajasthan, the people's movements and civil society groups in the state have become acutely aware of the need to seriously mobilise and strategise against communal and fascist politics. This being an election year in Rajasthan adds to the urgency of the situation. There is full realisation among progressive circles that one Togadia's arrest or such other isolated legal actions are not sufficient to stall the communal or fascist forces in their track. Various people's organisations and civil society groups in Rajasthan have embarked on a series of mass contact programmes, workshops for activists and strategy meetings.

Women's Day Celebrations this year, in most parts of the State had the theme Right to Work, Communal Harmony and Equal Citizenship. When the Desh Bachao-Desh Banao yatra initiated by the National Alliance of People's Movements ( NAPM ) passed through Rajasthan Over a perod of three days more than seven big public meetings were held between Udaipur and Jaipur Against Communalism Against Globalisation.

The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan has fanned out in the villages in its area of operation in four central Rajasthan districts with cultural teams putting up plays focusing on the themes of communal harmony and secularism and issues of food, livelihood, employment and governance to counter the saffron politics. This mass contact programme of the MKSS will continue till its annual May Day celebration at Bhim in Rajsamand district.

The Akal Sangharsh Samiti is a coalition of some 80 organisations in Rajasthan agitating for the Right to Food and the Right to Work for the past four years of severe drought in Rajasthan. Realising that communal politics diverts attention from the real issues of the people, various other organisations of the Akal Sangharsh Samiti, apart from the MKSS, have taken the issue of communalism upfront and have been holding various programmes, camps and workshop in their area.

The People's Union for Civil Liberties is now trying to develop a multi pronged strategy to combat communalsim and fascism in conjunction with other Rajasthan based organisations and also organisations based outside the state that are active on the issue of secularism and defence of democracy like Anhad and Hamwatan.

Intervening in the Media
As the two leading mainstream newspapers in the State, the Rajasthan Patrika and the Dainik Bhaskar are turning more and more communal in news coverage and expression of views and giving less and less coverage to people's issues, some media persons in Rajasthan have started a feature service to give voice to people's issues and concerns of a secular and democratic polity. This is called Vividha Feature Service and caters to more than 60 newspapers in fifteen districts of the State. Unlike mainstream newspapers, small newspapers do not have access to internet and feature writers therefore publish what they obtain from Vividha Features. In this way an alternative viewpoint is also reaching the public which helps in sustaining a space for an enlightened discourse. This goes a long way in countering the atmosphere of hate and devious discourse set by the RSS propagandist.

Vividha Features now plans to start graduating into a Syndicate in order to have a better impact.

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