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How religious processions gained steam in Hyderabad

Hyderabad: Within the second week of April this year the city witnessed two major processions – the Sree Ram Navami Yatra and Veer Hanuman Shobha Yatra. What is identical is the fact that both the processions were more of a show of strength than religious celebrations to mark the auspicious occasions of the Hindu calendar.

Thousands of people, particularly youngsters, participated in the processions, most clad in saffron clothes, carrying long flags and shouting provocative slogans while offensive songs, against Muslims, were playing in the background. This was particularly the case with Ram Navami’s celebrations.

The Hyderabad police took cognizance and filed two cases at Shahinayathgunj and Afzalgunj police stations with regard to the Ram Navami procession, wherein BJP Goshamahal MLA Raja Singh sang an offensive song.

But how and when these processions started and gained prominence?

It was in the year 2008 first that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) decided to organise a centralized Hanuman Jayanthi procession Hyderabad.

Organizations like Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagran Manch and other right wing groups actively participated in the procession, albeit it was held on a smaller scale without much fanfare. It was only after the 2010 riots in Hyderabad (wherein saffron flags were tied after after removing buntings tied during the Mila-un-Nabi celebrations by Muslims) the procession became famous and started drawing thousands of youngsters. 

In April 2012, two years after the communal riots, a few organizations sought permission from the police to take out a procession on Sree Ram Navami. The main organizer was T Raja Singh, the then corporator of Telugu Desam Party, who is now a BJP legislator. When the police refused to give permission, an online petition campaign was launched by a few Hindutva organizations.

The police later relented, and Raja Singh, who was in police custody in an alleged motorcycle theft case was released. He later led the procession. 

“The main motive of organizing the procession by T Raja Singh was to make his presence felt in the entire Goshamahal constituency. It was more of a political move than a religious move and it worked for him,” said a retired police official. 

Both the processions are more of a show of strength and political inclination and just over 10 years old.  Take the case of Milad-un-Nabi procession, which then was relatively a sober affair with religious meetings held in the city to mark the occasion. People also organized community food camps and distribution of fruits at hospitals/ orphanages/ old age homes.

In 2009, a newly formed group Sunni United Forum of India (SUFI) applied for permission for a centralized procession on occasion of Milad un Nabi, since then the procession became an annual affair. Several hundred tributary processions from across the city join the main procession. 

The timing of the procession raised several question marks in police circles. The processions were organized at a point of time when the Communist parties were trying to form their base in the old city, while other Muslim organizations were also doing the same, added the official.  

Ironically, then, public attendance at political rallies and meetings drastically came down irrespective of the political parties in Hyderabad. “Indirectly political parties spend a fortune on such rallies to make it successful. Such processions are more of a show of strength,” said Mohd Irfan, a peace committee member from the old city. 

The huge turnout and spending is an indication of fulfilling the underlying message sent by the leaders of outdoing the other community in terms of huge gatherings and decoration by putting up flags, hanging buntings and use of DJ music systems. 

Many feel that such processions are a cause of worry. “Such processions where hate speeches are delivered and offensive songs played are nothing short of mass radicalization of the communities. It nurtures a confrontationist attitude in the community, particularly youngsters,” points out a noted psychologist from the city., who did not want to be named.

She explained that the processions on Sree Ramnavami -2022 across the country show how hate is spread by the radicalized youth. At least six states across the country witnessed communal disturbances. Videos showing youngsters brandishing swords attacking Muslim religious places and properties are widely circulated. 

In Hyderabad, riots broke out at Musheerabad during the 2010 Hanuman Jayanthi procession and three days before it, communal clashes were reported in older parts of the city. Three people had died in the disturbances. 

Hyderabad only saw four major religious processions prior to 2008. The centralized Vinayaka Nimajanam procession, Bonalu procession, Muharram procession and the Guru Nanak Birthday procession. Small processions of dargahs, temples, gurudwaras etc were a regular affair and gathering was limited to a few hundred only.

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