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India: Custom-built communal riots

by Ram Puniyani, 19 April 2012

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17 April 2012

Ram Puniyani on how manufacturing riots has become an industry in India

IN SAIDABAD and Madannapeth areas of Hyderabad (first week of April 2012) violence was unleashed against the local Muslims. Women were allegedly raped, houses torched and scores were left injured. What triggered the riots was an inflammatory speech by Vishwa Hindu Parishad functionary Praveen Togadia. News that fundamentalists (read Muslims) had thrown beef and green colour at a Hanuman temple in the locality triggered the communal strife. Just a rumour was good enough to instigate violence. But when police succeeded in arresting the culprits, it was discovered that those behind the ‘so-called riots’ were goons from different Hindu communal outfits.

On New Year’s Eve, this year, in Sindagi town of Bijapur, the Pakistani flag was hoisted on a government building. The ‘news’ spread rapidly, leading to violence. The incident took an ugly turn and in no time government buildings, six state transport buses and many other vehicles were in flames. But as it turned out, those behind the incident were activists of the Sri Ram Sene which is headed by Pramod Muthalik, an ex-RSS pracharak. They were the ones who did the mischief and went about spreading the inflammatory news.

There are many more dimensions of both these acts of violence, brought about by using religious identity, symbols and emotive appeals. Communal violence is a cancer which has spread in the body politic of our society. The very foundation of communal violence is the ‘social common sense’ the ‘hate-other’ ideology built around the myths and biases prevalent against the minorities. As such, communal violence is the superficially visible part of the communal politics, a politics deriving its legitimacy from the identity of religion. To begin with, the hatred for ‘other’ community started getting consolidated around the communal projection of history, supplemented by the present social life of a community exaggerated and put forward in a derogatory way. In pre-partition India, violence erupted from both communities while the British chose to be neutral umpires.

With partition, Muslim communalism got deflated; violence changed form and started assuming different trends leading to rise of orthodoxy amongst Muslims. The minority communalism promoted more conservative values amongst minorities but at the same time it stoked communalism on a larger scale. A quiet period followed the ghastly partition riots but violence started surfacing post-1961 in what is called the Jabalpur riots. In the wake of these riots, the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, constituted the National Integration Council, which has since been playing some insignificant role in promoting national integration.

Communal violence, where two communities are pitted against each other, has changed its character and now communal groups on a provoking and attacking spree have a clear goal of intimidating and subjugating the religious minorities. At the same time, the pretext is manufactured that Muslims are violent or Christians have attacked. They ignite the violence and then get the ‘deserved’ punishment. This again is a totally make-believe construct. The two incidents which have taken place amply show the anatomy of a manufactured riot. The majority of communal streams have gained strength by polarising the communities along religious lines. Founded on the deeper biases against minorities, rumours aid as trigger for violence, or rumours precipitate the ‘hate other’ sentiment.

Violence anywhere is by and large planned but intelligently made to look like a spontaneous act, that too sparked by the minorities. The Hyderabad and Sindagi incidents are no exception. Earlier also in the Kandhamal, violence was triggered on the pretext of the death of Swami Laxmananand, who was allegedly killed by Maoists. His dead body was taken in a procession through Christian minority areas, and rivers of blood followed. Gujarat violence, it is said, was stage-managed after the Sabarmati Express was torched at the Godhra station by merchants of death.

Similarly, in Mumbai after the demolition of Babri Mosque, some Muslim youth threw stones at a police station. In turn, Shiv Sena activists threw gulal (orange colour of celebration used mostly by Hindus) on a mosque. It was enough to instigate violence, following which and Bal Thackeray called for ‘teaching them (the minority commuity) a lesson’.

So far many inquiry commissions and citizens’ tribunals have pointed out the role of the majoritarain communal organisation. Starting from the report of Bhivandi riots (Madon Commission) to Mumbai violence (Sri Krishna Commission), their conclusions to a large extent are similar. Riots instigated in a pre-determined manner pan out in a fashion as if first blood was drawn by those from the minority community.

Dr VN Rai, a police officer, did his doctoral work on the theme of riots in 1968-80 (Combating Communal Conflicts), A longish quote from this book will enlighten us on the issue, “Very often the way in which the first stone is thrown or the first hand is raised in aggression, suggests an outside agency at work, an agency that wants to create a situation in which members of the minority community commit an act which ignites severe retribution for themselves. In order to guard them against external criticism and to preserve their self-righteousness, violence is projected to be started by Muslims. It is as if a weaker person is pushed into the corner by a stronger, forcing him to raise his hand so that he may be suitably punished for his ‘attack’. Before the punishment is meted out a suitable hue and cry can be made about the fact that because the person cornered is naturally wicked and violent, he is bound to attack first,” (pp 56-57).

However, there are some changes in how riots are instigated these days. Now communal elements are gaining strength and resorting to very coercive and divisive means to trigger a riot. What has also changed is those affected by riots. In the 1980s, about 65 percent of the victims were Muslims, but by 1991 it the number swelled to 80 percent (Union home ministry data) and by 2001 this showed further increase. This data tells a story in itself, — communal violence has polarised communities along religious lines.

A host of measures are required to curb communal strife and organisations deliberately inciting violence should be dealt with a very firm hand. A multi-layered approach should be adopted to bring peace and harmony in the society.

Ram Puniyani is a communal harmony activist based in Mumbai. The opinions expressed are his personal.


The above article published in Tehelka is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use