India's Alt-Right 'Trads' Take Up Gyanvapi Mosque Cause With Violent Memes
Jokes on the shivling that was allegedly found in Gyanvapi mosque has landed people in jail. Meanwhile, provocative posts calling for demolition of mosques are viral.
In December 2021, Hindutva groups gave a call for Karseva—a campaign to demolish the mosque and replace it with a Hindu temple—at Shahi Eidgah in Mathura. Tensions gripped the town but the police foiled any large gathering by Hindu groups around the mosque. Four months later, a similar campaign started in Varanasi and Agra. The Agra campaign against the iconic Taj Mahal came weeks after a radical Hindu priest Swami Paramhans' attempt to pray inside the Taj Mahal which he describes as a temple of Shiva. Similar campaigns against Qutub Minar, and different historic Islamic monuments, started across India. But the campaign against the Gyanvyapi mosque has so far been the most polarising one, especially online.
The infamous Hindu Trads, a group which hit the headlines after Muslim women were 'auctioned' online in Sulli Deal and Bulli Bai apps, are now targetting the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi. The groups are inciting violence against Muslims with provocative posts and memes on Reddit.
One of the viral meme is where Pepe The Frog, a commonly-used one, is armed with weapons, hammers and axes. The meme is essentially a caricature of the Karsevaks who demolished the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.
Memes And Arrests
Last week, social media was flooded with memes and jokes, mocking the alleged discovery of a shivling inside the mosque. The Muslim side had called it a fountain. Meanwhile, the Varanasi court passed an order to seal a portion of the mosque.
As jokes comparing the alleged idol to different objects resembling it surfaced online, the news of arrests came in too.
Two men- Naqsab Haider and Naushad were arrested after a complaint from Bajrang Dal activists in Meerut for their social media posts that compared litchi seeds and frozen water bottle to the shivling.
Samajwadi Party leader Mohsin Ansari was arrested too for posting a photo of a litchi fruit. "What is inside the Litchi? It should be investigated too," he wrote in his sarcastic Facebook suggesting that the Litchi seed resembles a shivling.
Dr Ratan Lal, a prominent Dalit thinker and professor at the Delhi University was booked for an allegedly objectionable social media post. He was accused of hurting religious sentiments. Soon after the complaint, the professor said he started receiving death threats. Dr Lal had been booked under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion) and 295A (malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code.
However, on the same social media platforms — right-wing groups shared video clips to spread disinformation and provocative posts and memes that incited violence against Muslims and called for demolition of mosques.
So far, no action has been taken on these posts.
An old video of Prime Minister Narendra Modi where he speaks about dug up roads in Uttar Pradesh is being shared by right-wing social media users who claim that that the Prime Minister is encouraging digging beneath mosques to find out if they were built over Hindu temples.
BOOM had found out that the cropped video, shared out of context to justify and incite demolition of mosques, was recorded before the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in UP.
The Prime Minister can be heard saying, "Yahan Khuda hai, wahan khuda hai, jahan nahi khuda hai wahan kal khudega (Our Uttar Pradesh is such that it has been dug up here, it has been dug up there... it has been dug up here... and there, and wherever it hasn't been dug up, digging will be taken up soon.)"
Another popular meme that is doing the rounds is of 'Daya', a character from the popular 90s show CID. In the show, Daya broke doors and vandalized houses of criminals to arrest them.
The meme is popular with a fake quote attributed to the court.
An Instagram Reel, made with a cropped video clip from the film K.G.F. 2 that shows the protagonist walking with an axe as a crowd follows him is viral with the text, "Main aur mere kattar Hindu mitra… Gyanvapi masjid ke taraf barte hue (Me and my staunch Hindu friends…walking towards the Gyanvapi mosque)". The video was shared by the handle __karsevak on Instagram.
What Are Trads Posting?
The arrests in the 'Bulli Bai' and 'Sulli Deals' cases had blown wide open a thriving community of alt-right internet users who share dehumanising memes, promoting anything between genocide, rape, child abuse, and murder. The target of these memes are Muslims, Dalits, Christians, and women, along with whoever is deemed as 'subhuman'.
The media, the police and the four accused in the cases themselves- Vishal Kumar Jha, Shweta Singh, Neeraj Bishnoi, and Aumkareshwar Thakur - said they belonged to what was known as the 'Trads'.
Trads' vocabulary is influenced by the Western 'alt-right' – the neo-Nazi online ecosystem that is vocally opposed to reservation for Dalits, special legal protection to vulnerable groups against violence, minority rights advocacy, and liberal values. A subset of generally educated 'upper' caste Hindus has appropriated Western alt-right symbols such as Pepe the Frog. The meme began as a politically unaffiliated cartoon in 2005 and grew to cult status by 2015 before being co-opted by white supremacists in the United States.
Soon after the Gyanvapi mosque petition came to the court, memes of saffron Pepe the Frog started being shared once again in these groups where Trads are. They were repurposed for the cause of the Gyanvapi mosque.
BOOM dug through the comments and posts of some the users amplifying these posts and memes. They are filled with hate and calls for violence.
A post that is going viral include a 'Bhagwazilla'—a meme character formed by mixing Saffron Pepe the Frog and the Hollywood monster Godzilla. They are shown demolishing mosques in Mathura.
There are memes that show Muslims as Green Pepes in skull caps where they are begging "pleej mat todo (please don't demolish the mosque)".
Photoshopped pictures of the Babri Masjid, where a mob is seen conquering and desecrating it is also being shared.
Not just on Reddit, open calls for anti-Muslim violence have been made on Facebook as well.
On Facebook, one Ravi Sonkar allegedly from the Bajrang Dal threatened to kill Muslims who have been praying in the Gyanvyapi mosque. In the video he alleged that Muslims have been spitting on alleged Hindu idols inside the Gyanvyapi mosques. "We will chop off their necks and hands," he threatened.
It's to be noted that the propaganda of Muslims spitting on alleged Hindu idols was promoted by the far right Kreately media promoted by Kapil Mishra.
Last week, even as the Supreme Court transferred the civil suit filed by Hindu devotees on Gyanvapi mosque to district court in Varanasi, a new petition has been filed— seeking a ban on the entry of Muslims inside the mosque complex. The plea will be taken up by fast-track court judge in Varanasi on Monday.