Shabnam Hashmi, a prominent social activist and who has been relentlessly working on the issue of minority rights registered an FIR in Delhi against Owaisi stating, 'the whole speech is highly objectionable, inflammatory and against the values of our constitution, democracy and secular values'. Similarly, FIRs were also registered in the State invoking section 295 A (for deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) and 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups) of Indian Penal Code (IPC). Owaisi was finally arrested on Tuesday (8th January) and sent to 14-day judicial custody.
However, there was a small section of Muslims, mostly individuals, who held this as an illustration of the 'double standards of civil society and state machinery'. The crux of their argument was, that while governments take speedy actions and act in a haste in the cases where Muslims are involved even in petty crimes, criminals belonging to the majority community roam free despite being involved in all sorts of serious crimes such as communal carnage, mass murders, looting and rapes, let alone the cases of hate speech. While on the surface, these allegations might appear as a desperate attempt to defend communalists belonging to the Muslim community - and indeed some of them may be-the fact is that these claims are not that far removed from reality.
Sample this. Praveen Togadia, Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) international working President, during his recent visit to Hyderabad in December last year, made an equally inflammatory and communal speech while addressing a press conference in the city. The VHP president at the press conference on the issue of controversial Bhagya Lakshmi Mandir- Charminar threatened Muslims by saying that 'VHP will convert Hyderabad into Ayodhya if Hindus are not allowed to perform Puja'. The simple fact is that Hindus have never been stopped from performing Puja. He further thundered the VHP would teach Muslims of Hyderabad a lesson that they would never forget. Following this, a few cases have been registered against him but the government is yet to act. It is well known of course that this is not the first time when he has made such a speech. In fact, several such cases are pending against Togadia, not only in Hyderabad but in different parts of the country; and the police and the governments have never acted against him.
And Togadia is not a solitary soldier: there is a veritable contingent of Togadias whose prime work is hate mongering and inciting violence, especially in situations where there are higher chances of communal disturbance and violence. It has become almost a routine for these forces to fuel violence in name of protecting their religion, religious tenets and identity or interests of their fellow religionists and people. Ashok Singhal, Adityanath Yogi, Uma Bharti, Sadhvi Ritambhara and Raj/Udhav Thackeray to name a few. What is strange, though often understood, that they draw their supports from political parties of all hues. While certified communal political parties like BJP and Shiv Sena lent them open support, self- appointed secular parties like Congress and Samajwadi Party would never bother to book them according to the law of the land despite ample evidence being available. Hence, these cases of selective action only prove that our governments utilize double standards for crimes of similar nature, for criminals belonging to minority and majority communities. Varun Gandhi is the sole exception, and there are indications already that the UP government may go slow on him, after he submitted an application for quashing of the case against him.
It was interesting also to see how the Owaisi saga played out in the electronic media. Watching these programmes, one would think that Owaisi was the originator of hate speech in India, and not simply one among the many who blight public discourse through their venom. TV anchors after anchor summoned 'Muslim' politicians from a range of political parties daring them to condemn Owaisi. Would the Congress Party spokesperson be ever asked to condemn Togadia - or Rithambara or Uma -as a Hindu or as someone opposed to their politics or ideology? Why then this rush to seek declarations from Muslim politicians as Muslims? Coming just months after all TV channels were paying obeisance to Bal Thackeray, whose political career was built on hate and its articulation, the self righteousness of the various channel heads is only amusing.
So now that Owaisi is thankfully arrested, the larger question is: what about Singhals, Yogis, Bhartis and Thackerays? Will they ever be arrested and sent to jail like Owaisi for their umpteen numbers of crimes? This must be answered; at least to show that we as a constitutionally declared secular country - considered to be the world's largest democracy - do not practice two different sets of rules for majority and minority. Remember, mere lip service like in the past would not work this time as it would only further the argument of the State practicing double standards. Is anyone listening?
Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based civil rights activist and freelance journalist.
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