The incidents of last week involving mainly the Bajrang Dal and its members were unfortunate but should come as no surprise. It was clear for many months that the Rumdamol Housing Board was on the boil and that violence would break at any moment. Much like what happened in Sanvordem two years ago, the Bajrang Dal has been creating situations on-the-ground designed to break the peace and construct a communal conflict, and then follow that up by creating pretexts to blame it all on the Muslim population.
What is surprising is that the government has watched all of this unfolding as if in a coma. Warnings were been issued to the government that the situation is tense and that conflict could break out at any time were met with stubborn indifference.
Just a little under two months ago, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti organized a major rally in Margao – an event designed and geared to promote hatred of the minority communities and, at which, the language of hate and division flowed in public. Citizens concerned for peace and communal harmony who attended the meeting out of curiosity came away shocked and worried.
At the very entrance to the rally, people were first led through an exhibition of posters, audio-visuals, and literature – each geared to create anti-minority feelings and hate. These were seeds of conflict, not, as the organizers claimed, a way of protecting the Hindu Dharma.
Many who attended the meeting and read reports about it were appalled by the militant and virtually fascist language used by most of the speakers. Open threats were issued to the minorities and speakers even challenged law enforcement authorities to stop illegalities they were openly committing, the illegal temple in Rumdamol being one of them.
The closure of Margao on Friday evening and on Saturday was totally unjustified. A newspaper report has this to say: “Activists of the Bajrang Dal thereafter went around the commercial town, asking shopkeepers to shut their establishments and join the street protests. Shops and vehicles belonging to a minority community were singled out and damaged…”
The government should have acted even more firmly by providing protection to shopkeepers, especially the Muslim traders whose shops were attacked. The entire business community’s losses are yet to be counted.
Traders estimate losses in business of at least two crores while in the market place fruit and vegetable sellers coupled with eateries and restaurants, fish and meat traders would account for losses in the range of one crore and above. Some two thousand or more daily wage earners on whom Margao business heavily relies probably went to bed hungry.
To succumb to the anarchy which the Bajrang Dal let lose sets a dangerous precedent. A RSS activist quite openly announced: “Let those who oppose us know that what they have witnessed is this is just the trailer; the real movie is soon to follow”!
The attempt of the Collector to bring together a Peace Meeting of people of different communities while laudable in intent, does not show any vision or understanding of what the underlying problems are. People with serious intention to promote dialogue and seek solutions are skeptical about the nature and constitution of the group. Several of the people invited to the meeting were people whose views are coloured by extreme political views. There is also concern that the formation of the group may just be an eye wash on the part of the government to postpone real solutions to real problems.
Above all, it is hard to imagine a situation where a Muslim or Christian can stand up and speak the truth in the open about the activities of the Bajrang Dal without being marked out and having to live under threat from then onwards. Citizens who went to seek information under the RTI about the legal status of the temple recently constructed in Rumdamol were met with threats and intimidation. Under such circumstances, the Peace Committee of the Collector has faltered even at its very origins.
Rumdamol has been on the boil for a long time now. Muslims in the area have expressed fear for their lives, their families, and businesses. The housing Board colony with a large minority settlement had been targeted several times, with majority groups assembling around the colony, several times in the past.
The government despite being aware of the situation has been a mute spectator. Even after the erection of the unauthorized temple and the threats that followed to those who questioned its legality, the government has done little by way of substance to rectify the situation.
Peace must return to Margao, and, indeed to Goa. A genuine peace, however, cannot be achieved under the barrel of the gun or under police protection. Peace in its true sense will prevail only when citizens together work to achieve it through mutual cooperation. What is called for – and is very urgent is a peace must have justice as its foundation.
The Muslim minorities sense that theirs is a condition where their claims for justice are ignored. The militant hate language and the totally unjustified and irrational claim that Muslims are anti-national are the pretexts under which Muslims are being denied justice.
It is important that people of faith and those who are agnostics and atheists whose lives are based on values of peace with freedom and justice for all to unite and oppose and reverse the patterns of hatred being propagated by the fascists of our times – the Bajrang Dal, RSS, and, of course, the BJP who give political legitimacy to these fascist element