Of Owaisi and Togadias: A Case of Hate Speech in India

Praveen Bhai Togadia, the International working President of Vishwa Hindu Prashid (VHP) did it again. On Saturday (19th July 2014), he reportedly said, “Aap Gujarat bhul gaye honge, par aapko Muzaffarnagar yaad hoga.” He said it in Indore (Madhya Pradesh) while addressing a press conference about the World Hindu Congress Summit scheduled to be held in New Delhi in November this year.  “If you set Hanuman’s tail on fire, Lanka will burn. The Godhra incident led to the Gujarat riots, and the alleged rape of a Hindu girl led to the Muzaffarnagar riots,” he added.

Now the question is, will he be arrested like Akbaruddin Owaisi was last year for his alleged hate speech, or enjoy impunity as he and all the leaders of Hindutva brigade do? Given its renewed relevance, reproducing here an old article by Mahtab Alam, which first appeared in Kafila.org on 9th January 2013.

togadia_owaisiAkbaruddin Owaisi, an MLA of Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, who belongs to a Hyderabad-based political party All India Majlis-e-Ittihad al-Muslimin, better known as MIM, and its floor leader in the Assembly made an inflammatory speech against Hindus on 24 December 2012 at a public meeting in Adilabad District. The speech attracted widespread condemnation by Muslim activists, rightly so, apart from left, liberal individuals and organizations. Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan, President, All India Muslim Majlis e Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of prominent Indian Muslim organizations termed it ‘a hate and rash speech’ arguing, ‘words that should never have been uttered by a responsible person, let alone a political leader, were used’.

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 arrested 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?

Also read: Why ‘Police Can’t Arrest Togadia’

  • They help each other to mobilise(Read divide) their respective communities to run their business! Only solution is labour camp to these rogues, so that they understand the value of hard earned money by sweating in the open field or factory, which they are usurping by sitting in air conditioned rooms, high level security provided by the state and creating poison in our society!!

  • anon

    There is a distinct difference between Togadia and Owaisi’s speech! If you removed your blinkers of blindly supporting a certain population, you would notice that. Togadia’s speech talks about making Hyd-Ayodha. What happened in Ayodha? A historical temple that belonged to Hindus since before ISlam was a religion was reclaimed! Owaisi called for the MURDER and RECONQUEST of millions of Hindus. He said that the Muslims in India can murder hundres of milions of hindus, like they did during the invasion.

    If you cannot understand the difference, God save you and God save the Hindus!

    • Shalini

      Maybe it’s time you took off your blinkers- really God save the Hindus and India from ranters like you! Where is this supposed temple that was reclaimed in Ayodhya??There is indeed a big difference between Togadia and Akbar Owaisi, and it is that Togadia says whatever he wants year after year, on platform after platform to morons like you and he is not arrested though everywhere he goes he leaves a trail of violence. Quite apart from the fact that people like you and Togadia don’t know anything but hate; you look at the loveliness of the Charminar and see a ‘Muslim building’ that needs ‘reclaiming’. I don’t think even you know where your pettiness and thirst for blood will end. And by the way- murder, reconquest, invasion?? it looks like you listened to the Sangh version of the speech and then added your fantasies to it.

  • PleaseFreeYourselfFromBias

    “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?”

    Do you think Congress needs an invite to criticize Sangh parivaar people? They do it on every opportunity!
    Congress was called on TV shows and asked for their views because they were allies to MIM.

    Surely there are elements in the current ruling party who are extreme right wing people. But your demand could be simply for action against them if some of them are guilty of any crime. Bringing the Owaisi angle in, and saying he is arrested every time is a little fishy. If Owaisi is guilty of an offence, he can be summoned 100 times. At least in that case the machinery is working fine. So why bring that in?
    People in BJP, VHP etc. have been booked and cases filed against them. If some of them have gone away scot free inspite of being guilty, that is a failure of the system. But why bring an example that a muslim leader has been booked for crimes he has committed? He should be! Support the system at least in examples where it is working fine.

    • Shalini

      The question is- why does it only work fine in the case of a Muslim leader? Let’s just take the big ones: none of the BJP leaders spent any time in prison for their role in the demolition of the Babari masjid- Kalyan Singh went to jail for a day! And everyone knows they were there and that the whole thing was planned and executed by them. Bal Thackeray made the term ‘hate speech’ look small for the kinds of things he said; plus he and his party were publicly indicted by the Srikrishna Commission for the Mumbai riots. Did he go to jail? Was any action taken? From Bhiwandi 1970 to Ayodhya 1992 and Mumbai 1992-93- nothing. While we’re at it, did Owaisi’s speech cause violence in Nizamabad or Adilabad, or Ananthapur? No. If anything it was more harmful for Muslims everywhere in India. Mahtab Alam has been very careful in his writing- he has supported the action against Owaisi and condemned the speech. But still you ‘unbiased’ people will not do him the courtesy of engaging with his argument. So really, isn’t it you who must work harder to free yourself from bias?