In recent weeks, violence against members of the Muslim community has been reported in more than seven Indian states. Videos circulating on social media show provocative slogans and songs being broadcast in Muslim neighborhoods and outside mosques, sparking clashes.
One person has been killed, houses belonging to Muslims have been razed and attempts have been made to raise saffron flags in mosques during the Hindu festivals of Ramnavami and Hanuman Jayanti this year.
Eyewitnesses point out that provocative chants directed at Muslims became a precursor to the series of attacks.
In the city of Karauli, Rajasthan, for example, a defiant song played over loudspeakers and stones were thrown as a bicycle rally passed through Atwara, a predominantly Muslim enclave.
“Maybe it was devotional music. But there were enough references to the skullcap used by Muslims and it was incendiary,” Ram Rehman, a trader, told RFI.
The song performed was immensely popular on YouTube, where it had amassed around 450,000 views over the past four years.
Political pundits refer to the new trend 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.
“In previous decades in India, it sometimes took a provocative speech from a leader to bring violence to the streets. Now it seems all one needs is a DJ. Play music and violence will reverberate in the streets across the states,” said Brahma Prakash, assistant professor of theater and performance studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“Music, in fact, played a leading role in the rise of the Third Reich. The fascists loved it. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was an avid violinist and music critic. German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was a huge opera lover,” Prakash wrote in a recent post.
One song in particular, heard before violence erupted in Gulbarga, in the southern state of Karnataka, referred to the demolition of the Babri Mosque in the holy city of Ayodhya, a town in northern Uttar Pradesh. which has been marred by sectarian violence for decades.
A new trend?
In Koderma, East Jharkhand, videos of crowds dancing to songs depicting Muslims in shameful ways have also surfaced.
Some of the worst riots were reported in Khargone district in central Madhya Pradesh state, which is ruled by the right-wing ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Here too, the violence was preceded by loud music, according to eyewitnesses.
“All these songs that have been played in various places are nothing but incitement to violence. The authorities turned a blind eye,” political analyst Manish Jha told RFI.
The Delhi-based socio-cultural organization Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD) recently released a report on the rise in instances of hate speech and hate crimes in India.
It showed that anti-minority attacks are on the rise across India, mainly against Muslim and Christian communities.
The issue of hate speech has often been raised in Indian courts, but the judiciary is reluctant to impose restrictions on free speech.