By SHEIKH SAALIQ
NEW DELHI (AP) — The frenzied fury against Muslims began with defiant songs played by Hindu mobs calling for violence. It ended with Muslim neighborhoods resembling a war zone, with sidewalks littered with broken glass, charred vehicles and burnt-out mosques.
A Hindu festival marking Lord Ram’s birthday turned violent in the town of Khargone in Madhya Pradesh state on April 10 after Hindu mobs wielding swords and clubs marched past neighborhoods and Muslim mosques. Videos showed hundreds of them dancing and cheering in unison to songs played over loudspeakers that included calls for violence against Muslims.
Soon, groups of Hindus and Muslims began throwing stones at each other, police said. As the violence subsided, Muslims were disproportionately affected. Their shops and homes were looted and burned. Mosques have been desecrated and burned. Overnight, dozens of families were displaced.
“Our lives were destroyed in a single day,” said Hidayatullah Mansuri, a mosque official.
It was the latest in a string of attacks on Muslims in India, where hardline Hindu nationalists have long taken a rigid anti-Muslim stance and preached violence against them. But increasingly, inflammatory chants directed at Muslims have become a precursor to such attacks.
They are part of what is known as “saffron pop”, a reference to the color associated with the Hindu religion and favored by Hindu nationalists. Many of these songs openly call for the murder of Muslims and those who disapprove of “Hindutva”, a Hindu nationalist movement that seeks to transform officially secular India into an openly Hindu nation.
For some of India’s millions of Muslims, who make up 14% of the country’s 1.4 billion people, these songs are the clearest example of rising anti-Muslim sentiment across the country. They fear that hateful music is another tool in the hands of Hindu nationalists to target them.
“These songs make open calls for our murder, and no one is stopping them,” Mansuri said.
The violence in Khargone left one Muslim dead and the body was found seven days later by senior police officer Anugraha. said P. She said police arrested several people for rioting but did not say if anyone who played the provocative songs was among them.
India’s history is marked by bloody communal violence dating back to the British partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. But religious polarization has increased dramatically under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, with Muslim minorities often targeted for everything from their food. and style of dress interreligious marriages.
The hate-filled soundtracks have further heightened tensions, but the creators of these songs see them as a form of devotion to their faith and a simple affirmation of being a “proud Hindu”.
“India is a Hindu nation and my songs celebrate our religion. What’s wrong with that?” singer Sandeep Chaturvedi said.
Of the many songs played in Khargone before the violence, Chaturvedi’s was the most provocative. This song urges Hindus to “stand up” so that “those who wear skullcaps bow down to Lord Ram”, in reference to Muslims. He goes on to say that when the Hindu ‘blood boils’, he will show Muslims their rightful place with their ‘sword’.
For Chaturvedi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, the lyrics are neither hateful nor provocative. Rather, they mean “the mood of the people”.
“All Hindus love my songs. It brings them closer to their religion,” he said.
Chaturvedi’s assessment is partly true. Despite the cheesy production quality, mismatched lip-synch, and repetitive techno beats, many music videos for these songs have millions of views on YouTube and are a hit with the country’s Hindu youth.
Music in a variety of languages, and often in praise of various Hindu deities, has always been an important part of Hinduism. Bhajan, a style of devotional music played in temples and homes, remains a key part of this tradition. But observers say the gradual rise of Hindu nationalism has encouraged a more aggressive form of music that breeds anti-Muslim feelings.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi-based journalist who has written a biography on Modi, said hate songs were first exploited in the early 1990s by Hindu nationalists via audio cassettes set to the tune of the popular Bollywood music, helping them appeal to younger people. listeners. The start of this decade saw a violent right-wing campaign in India which, in 1992, led to the demolition of a 16th-century mosque. in central India by a Hindu mob, catapulting Modi’s party to national prominence.
Mukhopadhyay said the songs have since become a “tested trope” by Hindu nationalists to “insult Muslims, denigrate their religion and incite them to react”.
“Most mob attacks on Muslims follow a similar pattern. A large procession of Hindus enters Muslim neighborhoods and plays hate speech and inflammatory songs that inevitably escalate into communal violence. The songs are, in fact, played with even more vigor in front of mosques to elicit a response from Muslims,” said Mukhopadhyay, who has also written about major riots in India.
Over the years, songs have become common at Hindu festivals and are not confined to the fringes.
On the day the violence hit Khargone, T. Raja Singh, a lawmaker from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party, led a similar procession of Hindu worshipers through southern Hyderabad city and sang a song composed by himself. which made veiled references to the expulsion of Muslims from the country. . Police accused him of “damaging people’s religious feelings”.
Similar songs that called on Hindus to kill those who don’t sing “Jai Shri Ram!” or “Hail Lord Ram”, a slogan that has become a battle cry for Hindu nationalists, were also played outside mosques in several Indian cities on the same day. They were followed by a wave of violence, killing at least one person in the state of Gujarat.
Meanwhile, the demand for these songs keeps increasing.
Last week, singer Laxmi Dubey performed some of her hits to a Hindu gathering in the central Indian city of Bhopal. In one song, she urged a cheering crowd of Hindus to “cut out the tongues of speaking enemies against Lord Ram”, videos of the event showed.
The Saturday, the same song was played in New Delhi during a procession marking another Hindu festival. Television broadcasts showed hundreds of young Hindus, brandishing swords and homemade handguns, marching through a Muslim neighborhood as loudspeakers blasted hateful music.
In a phone interview, Dubey said it showed his music was widely accepted.
“That’s what people want,” she said.
Associated Press writer Omer Farooq contributed to this report from Hyderabad.