A mentally challenged man damaged a temple idol, police say, and Hindu extremists used it as a false pretext to target local Muslims.
At around 10 am on Thursday, a linga at a Shiva temple in Ranchi’s Rangrez Gali was found broken by the priest. Word quickly spread and a crowd gathered at the temple. Some local devotees alleged that the “desecration” was the handiwork of Muslims to “hurt Hindu sentiments”, but others demanded an investigation before reaching a conclusion.
By 10.30 am, members of Hindu supremacist groups Hindu Jagran Manch and Hindu Yuva Sangh, both affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had joined the crowd. And they lost no time in whipping up communal tension, said an eyewitness who requested not to be identified for fear of reprisal. “They jammed roads demanding the arrest of the culprits,” he added. “It was 3 pm before police arrived to control the crowd.”
The police examined CCTV footage from shops near the temple, and found an unidentified person pelting stones at the temple at around 6.30 that morning.
The police assured the agitated crowd that they would catch the culprit, and the protest ended by 6 pm.
Surendra Kumar Jha, senior superintendent of police, clarified there was “no religious angle” to the incident. They were still investigating, Jha said, but it was clear the culprit was a mentally challenged man residing in Pahadi Mandir, around 2 km away.
“It was a mentally unstable person who threw stones at the temple which resulted in the uprooting of the Shiva linga,” said Brij Kumar, head of the local police station. “But, usually in such incidents, the first thing the angry crowd assumes is that Muslims were involved.”
These revelations didn’t stop the communalisation of the incident, however. When Newslaundry visited Rangrez Gali the next day, several people continued to insist that it was the handiwork of Muslims. They all spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“This was definitely done by Muslims. It was a conspiracy by them,” declared an elderly shopkeeper selling electronic goods. “Destroying our religious places and hurting Hindu sentiments comes naturally to them.”
A ration shop owner said, “Had this been done by a Hindu, Muslims would have started a riot. But Hindus are civilised. We would never do such a thing. They are a threat to us.”
Not everyone bought this communal narrative, however. “If it was a conspiracy why would they do it in broad daylight? They would have done it at night then,” said a jewellery store owner, adding that the culprit was a mentally challenged ragpicker.
His view was echoed by a shopkeeper selling garments. “Word of the broken idol spread like wildfire. Some of us willingly shut our shops to stage a protest and a few were ordered by these Hindu groups to down their shutters until the miscreants were caught. They believed it to be some conspiracy by Muslims. It clearly wasn’t.”
Media peddles falsehoods
In spite of the police confirming it to be “a matter unnecessarily being given a communal angle”, a section of the local media and some news websites painted the incident in a communal colour. Even after the CCTV footage showed it to be an act committed by a local man, almost all local newspapers and news websites claimed that it was done by “unidentified miscreants”.
The Hindi newspaper Hindustan suggested that the temple had been vandalised, falsely as the CCTV footage shows. “No property was damaged or destroyed,” Brij Kumar, the police officer, confirmed. “Neither was the temple vandalised nor did the protesting crowd inflict any damage.”
Hindustan, published by Hindustan Media, is among the most widely read newspapers in the country. It runs 21 editions across the Hindi heartland.
The report by Hindustan mentions that a religious place was “desecrated by some antisocial elements” in Rangrez Gali on Wednesday night. First, the incident took place on Thursday, not Wednesday night. Second, despite noting that the CCTV footage shows a single person throwing stones at the temple, the report suggests that it was the handiwork of “miscreants”.
The newspaper’s website, Live Hindustan, which claims to deliver only the most “reliable, authentic and unbiased news”, carried a report headlined, “Miscreants destroy Shiva linga, spark unrest.” It was published before the CCTV footage had been checked, yet claimed the temple had been “vandalised” by “miscreants”. The report wasn’t corrected even after the police’s clarification was issued.
Prabhat Khabar ran a report on its website describing the incident as “tampering with Shiva linga”. The Hindi daily, published in Jharkhand, Bihar and Bengal, quoted the police as saying the act was committed by “antisocial miscreants”. They had said no such thing.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Jha, the SSP, refuted the report. “It has been proved by CCTV footage that a mentally unstable person did it,” he said.
OpIndia reported that protests had erupted in Ranchi after a Shiva linga was “demolished by unidentified elements”. Describing it as “a highly condemnable incident”, the Hindutva website claims the CCTV footage showed “a man entering the Shiva temple between 6.30 am and 7 am and throwing stones”. This isn’t entirely accurate; the footage clearly shows that the man never entered the temple.
OpIndia goes on to claim that “desecration” of Hindu temples has become “a routine affair” across the country, and lists some such incidents.
The Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran does point out in its November 5 report that the linga was demolished by an unidentified person, yet the headline suggests it was done by “antisocial miscreants”.
‘Oust them all’
Not long after a crowd had gathered at the temple, members of the RSS, Hindu Jagran Manch and Hindu Yuva Samiti arrived, and started shouting provocative slogans, eyewitnesses told Newslaundry. Their videos soon went viral on social media.
“If you let people from other religions have shops here, then will the temple not be demolished? If their population increases, will we not be weakened?” Bhairav Singh, an RSS member is heard saying in one of the video, referring to Muslims.
In another video, he is seen addressing local shopkeepers, “You have rented shops to these people from other religions, you must oust them all. They reside in your place, earn your money, and eye your mothers and sisters. It’s a request to all, kindly oust them.”
Speaking to Newslaundry, Bhairav Singh said, “It is a very ancient Shiva temple and its linga was destroyed. We demanded it to be investigated properly. The administration said they would arrest that person in 24 hours but he has not been arrested so far. Just to mislead, the police officials said it was done by some mentally unstable person.”
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