The brutal thrashing of a 25-year-old bangle seller in Indore on Monday, 23 August, is not an isolated event. This attack was a result of a communal campaign pushed by Hindutva groups on different social media platforms that calls for an economic boycott of Muslim vendors in the country.
A day after the thrashing of the bangle seller, a clip from a 2017 video of BJP MLA Raja Singh was shared on a right-wing group on Telegram without any context. In the video, Singh can be seen calling for a boycott of Muslim businesses.
“Put this in your head, from today, if you buy anything, buy it from a Hindu person not from these traitors [Muslims]. If the 100 crore Hindus living in India follow this ideology, the remaining 25 crore [referring to Muslims] will definitely want to convert into Hinduism,” he announces on stage to cheering crowd.
The video was shared on the Telegram group with a caption that said, “Deshadrohi, dharm-drohi, bhaarat virodhi, vidharmiyon ka poorn aarthik bahishkaar.” [Translation: Complete economic boycott of those who are anti-national, anti-religious, anti-India].
This incident comes days after a video went viral where members of the Kranti Sena were seen conducting ‘surprise checks’ at a Muzaffarnagar market to ensure that no Muslim man applies mehendi (henna) on the hands of Hindu women.
A Narrative Built Online and Offline
Similar narratives are spread on other right-wing groups on different social media platforms, Hindu religious leaders and far-right TV channels like Sudarshan News.
A Facebook page called (Economic boycott of Muslims, Hindu should do business with Hindu) has over 6,000 followers and posts photos of street vendors that carried a saffron flag on them to identify themselves as Hindu.
Sushil Tiwari, the head of an outfit that calls itself the Hindu Army, posted a long and detailed Facebook status on how to boycott Muslim businesses. Many more Facebook posts were found that called for economic boycott of Muslims.
A group that was created to mobilise people for the 8 August protest at Jantar Mantar, where inflammatory slogans were raised, also called for an economic boycott of Muslims.
“Do not buy any goods from a Muslim’s place, do not ride in his car, these people will have to die financially, only then they will be calm. Boycott them in every field,” one message on the group said. Another one listed 24 professions where one should choose “Sanatani” sellers to make India a Hindu Rashtra in a month.
Similar slogans were raised by Uttam Malik alias Uttam Upadhyay during the protest in Jantar Mantar. In an interview, Malik said, “The economic boycott of Muslims has to be done to save the country. Stop buying goods from them. Only then we’ll be able to break them.”
Swami Anand Swaroop, a Hindu leader was the subject of an investigation by the Meerut Police after a video went viral where was allegedly calling for an “economic and social boycott of Muslims”.
Talking at an event in Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Swaroop said, “You decide that you will not buy anything from a Muslim. If you destroy them socially, politically and economically, they will begin converting to Hinduism from Islam.”
Another such coordinated campaign against Muslims vendors came to light when a Muslim fruit vendor was brutally beaten up by a mob chanting in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar in June.
Two days after the incident, social media posts shared videos and stories showing Hindutva activists blocking a road in Uttam Nagar area and raising anti-Muslims slogans. The group later recited the Hanuman Chalisa in the middle of the road. One of the organisers of this protest was Vinod Sharma, who goes by the name Aazad Vinod, one of the people arrested in the Jantar Mantar hate-speech case.
The group was seen protesting against what they termed as “rehdi jihad” (street vendor jihad), as mentioned in an article by The Wire. A keyword search for the term on different social media platforms shows the coordination among Hindutva activists before and after the attack in Uttam Nagar.
The “#BoycottHalalProducts” campaign launched last year by Hindutva groups and promoted by Sudarshan News editor, Suresh Chavhanke, had strong undertones of economic boycott.
A video of Chavhanke from a protest at India Gate on 4 March 2020 shows him calling for economic boycott of “rioters”. He does not mention who these rioters are but uses enough references for anyone to understand that he was talking about the Muslim community.
“If you want to stop them from slitting your throat, then you have to stop donating your money in their ‘green chadar’ now,” Chavhanke says in the video. This campaign continued on his social media channels.
He goes on to list the professions of the “rioters” as “barbers, carpenters, puncture fixers, fruit vendors and most importantly, the meat businesses” and says that “we need economic boycott, if we want to stop riots”.
COVID-19 Used as Means to Promote Hate
Although communal speeches against Muslims and calls for economic boycott are not new in Hindutva circles, such instances grew rapidly after the media trial of the Tablighi Jamaat in 2020.
Videos of BJP MLAs Brijbhushan Rajput and Suresh Tewari targeting Muslim vendors went viral. Rajput was seen harassing the vendor and a young boy outside his residence.
A few days before this, Tewari was seen in a video clip telling people not to buy vegetables from Muslim vendors.
“I am saying openly don’t purchase vegetables from Muslims (Ek cheez dhyan mein rakhiye ga, main bol raha hoon openly, koi bhi miyan ke hathon sabzi nahi lega),” the MLA can be heard saying.
After more such incidents came to light, the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an apex body of Muslim organisation, wrote to the Prime Minister in April 2020 to issue an appeal to his supporters to stop economic boycott of Muslims. The National Hawkers Federation also condemned the incidents of ‘discrimination against Muslim vendors’ during the COVID-19 lockdown.
However, the discrimination only increased when far-right activists were seen distributing saffron flags to vendors so that customers could identify Hindu sellers.
An FIR was also lodged at Biharsharief in Nalanda district of Bihar against members of Bajrang Dal for putting up saffron flags at shops that belonged to Hindus.
BJP’s national leadership distanced themselves from the targeting of Muslim vendors during the COVID-19 lockdown and PM Modi also urged for unity and brotherhood to fight the disease. However, recent incidents show that little seems to have changed on the ground. The excuse has gone back from the spread of COVID-19 to the incessant demand for a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The Quint