Trading in a career as a Sarpanch (village council chief) to liberate the voices of his community wasn’t an easy decision for Satyawan Verma to make, but it was the most beneficial one for him and his community. Foregoing the pressures of politics to become an India Unheard Community Correspondent has enabled Satyawan to combat gender discrimination and caste-based violence…
Places of worship and burial grounds taken away from Muslims.
“I never knew that some of my closest acquaintances were Muslims,” says Community Correspondent Satyawan Verma. “They sported Hindu sounding names and even changed their last names to fit in. It was only when the completed their education, got jobs, moved out of town and named their children Muslim names that I realized that they were Muslims. This explains the degree of the fear the Muslims experience in my neighbourhood.”
Satyawan has produced a video on the discrimination against Muslims by the Hindu majority in Hisar district of Haryana. In the last few years, the Hindus have vandalized and demolished mosques, roughed up Muslim civilians and even usurped their burial grounds. All through these atrocities the government has held a silence that seems to condone these attacks and allows to perpetrators to walk away with impunity. The state of Haryana which once had Muslim rulers is now predominantly Hindu. The violent discrimination of Muslims has forced them to migrate to other parts of the country. They now constitute only 4% of the population.
“The atmosphere here was never very secular,” says Satyawan. “There was always a sort of communal tension and a riot would break out on the whiff of a rumour. Recently, a Muslim shooed a cow away from his courtyard and that was reason enough for him to be roughed up by the Hindus.”
While Hindu rightwing always exercised control over social, economic and political spheres in Haryana, the 2002 Godhra riots and the communal violence that followed in Gujarat have resulted in increased violence. Haryana is notoriously orthodox and casteist and the minority religions, lower castes and women all live under the oppressive mandates of the male Hindu upper castes. Even the systems of justice have been hijacked by this group. They have been meting out medieval justice in informal courts called ‘khap’ panchayats which dare to over-rule the constitution and the courts. These blatantly unlawful activities continue with full political support.
“There is no one to turn to,” says Satyawan. “The system is mired in religion, caste and orthodoxy. If you are a minority, you’re at the mercy of the sytem, you’re voiceless.
Haryana continues to make mockery of the ‘secular’ ‘democratic’ foundations of the Indian Republic. In spite of bordering the national capital and being connected to the heart of the nation, the region continues its backwards march towards an opaque state of anti-enlightenment.