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Introduction

The recent controversy at Lulu Mall, Lucknow has yet again highlighted the growing trend of Indian religious intolerance. In less than 10 days since it started operations, the mall has become a hotbed for a Hindu-Muslim clash. But in a broader perspective, it is a comment on India’s increasingly polarizing, revengeful, and divisive mindset. Most of the population is rapidly subscribing to the “my way or the highway” school of thought.

Instances of “shuddhikaran” to reciting Hanuman Chalisa in retaliation to a namaz reading only prove the gradual tearing away of India’s fabric of co-existence, harmony, and unity.

What is the Lulu Group

LuLu Group International is a UAE-based multinational conglomerate company that operates a chain of hypermarkets and retail companies. It was founded in Nattika, Thrissur district in Kerala, in the year 2000. The man behind the formation of said group, one who is currently under the radar is Yussuf Ali.

It is one of the largest retail chains in Asia and manipulates a significant portion of the Indian market as well. Their range of operations includes outlets, malls, and food processing units.

LuLu Mall Lucknow

The LuLu Mall, located on Amar Shaheed Path in Lucknow's Golf City, was inaugurated on 10 July this year, in the presence of UP CM Yogi Adityanath. The mall is the fifth such establishment in India at the behest of the UAE-based group. With construction costs of around 2000 crore, Lucknow's LuLu Mall is the group's latest project in India. The mall houses fine dining restaurants and several shopping outlets.

Controversy

Recently, a video went viral, showing some men purportedly offering namaz on the mall premises. This led to heated debates and The Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindutva outfit soon demanded that action be taken against the mall management and those who offered prayers in a public place. Lucknow Police lodged an FIR against the accused under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295A (deliberate act intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The accused have been sent to 15-day judicial custody. Paramhans Das, a self-proclaimed “saint” from Ayodhya was taken into preventive custody as he reached LuLu Mall to “purify” the area after people offered namaz there. The video of the seer asking the police personnel to maintain distance from him has gone viral. He further said that his “saffron clothes” were the reason he wasn't allowed to come near the mall.

Multiple right-winged organizations and Hindu factions also alleged that the mall – owned by businessman Yusuff Ali, a Muslim – was employing a greater number of Muslim staff and a fewer number of Hindus, accusing the management of promoting “love jihad” (which the article discusses further)

While the management dismissed the allegations made by the Hindutva activists, it also lodged a complaint against those who were seen offering prayers on the mall premises. It also clarified that those who offered namaz were not mall employees but some visitors.

This controversy comes at a time when religious tensions are already high.

Adityanath's and LuLu mall's statement

Amid the raging controversy, chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Monday asked the Lucknow administration to take serious steps, and ensure that such incidents remain isolated. He commented that LuLu mall activities (illicit or otherwise) have turned it into a political hotbed. He said that the demonstrations being organized have obstructed the movement of people. The mall authorities too issued a statement on July 17, in light of the controversy.

The LuLu mall had earlier clarified that no religious activity is allowed inside the premises and has now put up notice boards propounding the same. The mall further clarified that 80%of their staff is Hindu, as opposed to the rumours. They said that the publications of these “unverified” claims creating animosity are unfortunate and upsetting. The mall added that they would not undermine their integrity by discriminating on the grounds of religion.

Legal Aspect

The accused were booked under section 153A and Section 295A.

Section 153A penalizes promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony. This section propounds that disruption of public tranquility on the above-mentioned grounds can attract a jail term of up to 3 years.

In contemporary times, the frivolous use (abuse, rather) of the section has made headlines, however, earlier this section was on the verge of deletion. The case of Tara Singh v. The State (1951) challenged this section saying that it was in contravention of Article 19(2). However, the First Amendment added the words “in the interest of public order” to uphold the constitutionality of the section.

Section 295A is an extension of section 153A by virtue of them protecting the same subjects. This section penalizes deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reli¬gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli¬gious beliefs. It further says that contravention of the section may invite a jail term of up to 3 years. Offences under this section are non-bailable and non-compoundable. the distinction between the two is that the former deals with creating enmity between two groups and the latter lay down provisions for those who insult a group or religion.

Section 153A is a British-era law, and it was thus merely amended to fit the contemporary constitution after independence. Legislative History of Section 295A on the other hand can be traced back to a publication in 1927. Back then, a book entitled “Rangeela Rasul” was published which divulged in detail the sexual and marital life of the prophet Mohammed. The book received severe backlash from the Muslim community. The author, M.A Chamupati was initially arrested, but later acquitted. However, upon being released from jail, he was killed by a man called Ilm-ud-Din, to exact revenge for the malevolent publication.

The followers of Islam, in light of the incident, demanded a law citing punishments for anyone who disrespects Islam. After realizing that there is an ardent need for religion-specific laws as religion being a sensitive issue can easily sow the seeds of hatred among

communities, came Section 295A of the IPC with the Criminal Law Amendment Act,1927. While Freedom of speech is considered to be an indispensable right, these sections placed reasonable restrictions on the right. These laws prevent people from propagating abhorrence under the garb of freedom of expression.

The Muslim Bias

Ever since this incident came to light, conversations regarding “love jihad” have been re-ignited. Love Jihad has been propagated as a conspiracy theory that purports that Muslim men target Hindu women for conversion to Islam by means of “love” including and not limited to employing seduction, deception, kidnapping, and ultimately marriage. This is allegedly done to further their stake in the demographic "war" by Muslims against India. These accusations bear a striking similarity to the 1920s “abductions” which stirred up a hornet’s nest in UP. Whether 1920 or 2022, Hindu patriarchal notions form the core of these campaigns as they are evidently entrenched in such orchestrations by publishing images of passive victimized Hindu women at the hands of inscrutable, cruel Muslims abound. Among all of this, acknowledgement of women’s right to love and choice is often ignored and overlooked.

In the 1920s, the Shuddhi (purification movement to reclaim those who had converted from Hinduism to other religions) and Sangathan (organization in defence of Hindu interests) movements launched by the Arya Samaj took Muslim persecution to new heights. The communal clashes that followed have not left UP the same. The contemporary UP is not as accepting and hospitable towards religious minorities, especially Muslims. The period witnessed a series of manipulated and orchestrated propaganda campaigns propounding popular inflammatory and demagogic appeals by a section of Hindu publicists and Arya Samaj against conversions of Hindu women by Muslim “gundas”. Abductions and conversions of Hindu women by Muslims became the primary determinant of Hindu identity and consciousness. Even today, a distorted, and possibly more extremist version of the same prevails.

Love and marriage outside religious and caste groups have attracted censure in India since the dawn of time, for arranged marriages have been the accepted norm. Meanwhile, the lines between “arranged” and “forced” marriages in India are blurred, a phenomenon that’s so widespread, that it tends to get overlooked in a country hailed for its grand, lavish and colourful weddings. Over the past few years, however, the discourse on interfaith marriages, especially ones between Hindus and Muslims has turned dangerously hostile, with hardline, extremist Hindu groups launching a campaign against “love jihad”.

Even India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party (one Yogi Adityanath belongs to) has launched a malicious legal campaign against "love jihad” that is shrinking liberties in a country that has long celebrated endogamy.

With this debate emerging in Uttar Pradesh yet again, one of India's most polarized states, the spotlight shifts on its 40 million Muslims who will bear the brunt of it. The thunder before the storm has already struck with priests demanding a “cleansing” of the mall after the namaz was read there. Lynching and hate speech targeting Muslims have regularly made headlines in UP and all around the country since BJP swept to power, for it is them and their anti-Muslim rhetoric that emboldens the extremists. The BJP denies the accusations, but even its most prominent leaders rarely condemn such incidents.

Adityanath, the founder of the organization- Hindu Yuva Vahini, a polarized vigilante group implicated in the lynching of Muslims, has long been obsessed with relationships between Hindu women and Muslim men, and with “protecting” the honor of Hindu women. In an undated video Adityanath threatened that if Muslims take one Hindu girl, he’ll make sure Hindus claim 100 Muslim girls. He further added that if a Muslim kills one Hindu, Hindus will kill 100 Muslims. His contentious statements prompted Amnesty International to issue a reprimand calling on the BJP chief minister to retract his past statements and issue an apology.

Such instances of hate speech are not uncommon. In fact, as per data by NDTV’s VIP hate speech tracker. The incidences of hate speech have skyrocketed as much as 1310% since 2014.

Active since 2009, it has been chronicling hateful, communal, and violent remarks glibly passed by political honchos. Under the UPA government, which lasted between 2009-14, there were 19 cases, averaging 0.3 instances a month. But since 2014, the number has exponentially risen to 348. This pushes the monthly average to 3.7 cases.

On countless occasions, the Supreme court has reiterated the significance of embracing the inherent diversity of India. Article 25 in the Indian constitution also enshrines the individual’s freedom to choose and practice a religion of their choice. Irrespective of whether it placates and caters to a certain belief system, co-existence, and peaceful cohabitation is what the fundamental values of our country stand for.

Conclusion

This seemingly “insignificant” development in the frivolous abuse of sections 153A and 295A that gives paramount importance to the religious sentiments of the majority, just to further the goal of a “Hindu” Rashtra should be perceived as an ominous sign. Offense cannot be conceived on “take-as-you-wish” terms. However, our current laws empower only the offended and give them the power to shut down what they find disturbing not just for themselves but decide on behalf of others too. That has to change.

What seems minuscule and insignificant today is already becoming the breeding ground for normalizing Muslim persecution in India. This should not become the new normal. Dissent, especially at a time like now is the only way one can truly be a responsible citizen. We need to realize that what we are accepting and encouraging today, might just as well become the bane of our existence tomorrow.


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