Leftist Atheist Becomes Poster Boy for Hindu Right-Wing on Diwali
The Quint visited the residential complex in Mumbai where Bhanu stays to enquire further about what had occurred.
A Mumbai resident named Vishwa Bhanu put up a post on Facebook in which he alleged neighbours in his “Muslim society” did not allow his family to put up Diwali lights and make a rangoli outside the house.
The post has since gone viral on social media, and in order to enquire about what had occurred, The Quint visited the residential complex in Mumbai’s Malad where Bhanu lives.
Incidentally, other Hindu families in the same residential complex had lights outside their homes and had not faced any harassment.
The argument with Bhanu’s family, by his own admission, was based on a claim made by a neighbouring Muslim family that their child had got a shock after touching a wire of the fairy lights outside Bhanu’s house.
What Exactly Happened
- On Saturday, 26 October, evening, on the day of Chhoti Diwali, Bhanu’s neighbours complained to him and his wife that Masirah, an eight-year-old girl in their family, had received a shock on touching the lights strung outside Bhanu’s home.
- An argument ensued between Bhanu’s family and a few neighbours about the lights – on whether they were safe and what had to be done about them.
- Later on Saturday night, Bhanu went to Malvani police station and filed a complaint about the incident.
- The following day, on Sunday, cops from the station enquired about what had happened.
- At the station, the police “resolved the matter” asking Bhanu’s family and the Muslims involved in the tiff to come to an agreement. Once the matter was “settled”, Bhanu was asked to put up a post mentioning the same, which he did at a little past 6 pm on Diwali evening.
Vishwa Bhanu: An Atheist Opposed to Right-Wing Fundamentalism
Bhanu told The Quint that he is an atheist but his wife is religiously inclined. Reacting to the articles about him in right-wing propaganda publications, he says, “I am a communist and have always been opposed to the RSS, BJP and the Hindu right-wing. For example, I am completely against the mob lynchings that are happening in India, in the name of protecting the cow. Just as I am opposed to Hindu fundamentalism, I am similarly opposed to Muslim fundamentalism.”
He added, “I have more Muslim friends than Hindu ones. I have always been getting trolled on social media for standing up for them, and speaking about secularism. Now, the Hindu right-wing trolls are abusing me saying that this is what happens when you are secular and liberal.”
Since writing a post about the incident, Bhanu said he has been beleaguered by calls. “I have been getting calls from folks in the Shiv Sena, RSS, and Hindu right-wing groups. They say they want to help me out. But these people should know that I am not politically or ideologically on their side.”
The Bone of Contention: Offensive Comments
Vishwa Bhanu agrees that the child in the neighbouring Muslim family likely did get a shock from the wire. What he objects to are some of the alleged statements made after the argument began.
His wife Priyanka claimed that a few of the Muslims who had gathered while the argument was going on, had made comments like, “Why do you have to celebrate Diwali like this? Can’t you celebrate some other way?”
The neighbours denied that such offensive statements were made.
‘Not a Hindu-Muslim Issue’: Mumbai Police
Jagdev Kalapad, Senior Inspector at Malvani Police Station, told The Quint, “The police enquired about the matter. There is no Hindu-Muslim issue here. It was a case of a child getting a shock from some lights. The neighbours asked Bhanu’s family to put the lights higher or apply tape on the part that was giving shocks. Then, an argument ensued between them.”
Kalapad added, “There are other Hindu families living there as well. They celebrated Diwali with lights outside their houses as well, without any incident.”
The police is said to have asked the Muslims to get a candle for the Bhanus as a sign of rapprochement. The Bhanus told them that they didn’t want a candle but agreed that the matter had been resolved.
Both Hindu and Muslim Neighbours Downplay Argument
Imran Khan, whose house is adjacent to Bhanu’s, said that it was a girl from his family who had got the shock. Khan recounted, “When the child got a shock, naturally the family members got worried. We asked Vishwa Bhanu and his wife to either lift the lights higher, or plaster the cut wire with tape. The argument ensued when Bhanu’s wife refused to do that.”
Naseem Chaudhary, a Muslim woman who also stays in the complex, said, “This was a misunderstanding that arose from not putting tape on a strip of fairly lights, that’s all.”
The Secretary of the residential complex is a Hindu man named Gundu Redekar. Downplaying the argument, he said, “When there is an argument happening, people invariably gather around. A few people may have said something in the heat of the moment.”
Outside the Redekars’ house, there are similar fairy lights as were placed outside the Bhanus’. Chhaya Redekar said, “We have been staying here for 12 years. The Hindus and Muslims here live in harmony. Our Muslim neighbours come to our house and have puran poli (a Maharashtrian sweet delicacy), and we have the biryani they make during their festivals.”
Girish Khandelwal, who belongs to another Hindu family that stays in the complex, echoes the Redekars’ views. “There was no problem with Hindu families celebrating Diwali. We had fairy lights and rangoli outside our house. We burst crackers on Sunday evening after the pooja. There was no problem or objection by anyone.”
Jaago Hindu Family Arrives to ‘Help’
Representatives of the Jaago Hindu Family, a right-wing Hindutva organisation had arrived at Bhanu’s residence on Monday morning, offering their “assistance”.
Bhanu said he made it clear to them that he did not wish to escalate the matter any further. But while leaving his residence, the Jaago Hindu Family members told The Quint that though Bhanu didn’t want to escalate the matter, they were going to go and ask the police to provide security to Bhanu and his wife.
We learnt that the police has not acceded to the request.
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