We continue to feed our communal fires
Ram Puniyani advocates a stronger communal violence bill to address recurring tensions
THE FREQUENT incidents of communal violence in different parts of the country over the past two months have been very disturbing to say the least. In Uttar Pradesh in particular, incidents of communal violence were reported from Mathura, Pratapgarh, Bareilly, Meerut, Allahabad and Lucknow ever since Samajwadi Party took office in March 2012. The tragic events in Faizabad are the latest in the series.
On 24 October, a girl was molested by some miscreants during a Durga idol immersion procession. A few people started pelting stones in protest. Believing that the protestors were Muslims, a mob went on a rampage burning nearly 25 shops of Muslim traders and destroying a mosque as well the office of Aap Ki Takat, a bilingual (Urdu and Hindi) daily that opposes communal politics. Manzar Mehdi, the editor of the paper, sees the incident as an attempt to silence the voice of peace. Local activist Yugal Kishore Sharan Shastri calls it a pre-planned attack, alleging that the police took long time to reach the spot and did not intervene effectively. The fire brigade also took four hours to reach, by when the shops were totally gutted.
In distant Assam, another round of violence between the Bodos and Muslims resulted in the death of six people, and it was feared that there may be a recurrence of the tragic incidents of July, when 60 people were killed and nearly four lakh, mainly Muslims, were displaced. Assam violence seemed like a plan to get the Muslims out of Bodo areas. The rehabilitation by the state government too is alleged to be discriminatory since it has left out a large number of Muslims for lack of proper records. This spate of violence was based on false propaganda that Muslims are infiltrators from Bangladesh and have been encroaching the lands of Bodos and the police largely remained an onlooker while it occurred. A lot has been written to dispel the myth that Muslims have been coming to Assam from Bengal since the 18th century due to the British policy of achieving a population balance between the two states. But so deep-rooted are the perceptions that communal forces have taken full advantage of these to their end.
The third incident is from Andhra, where the historic monument of Charminar is being vandalised to renovate the adjoining Bhagyalaxmi temple, in violation of the Archaeological Survey of India norms. The ASI plea that the changes in temple threaten to damage the Minar has fallen on deaf years. The state government is allowing changes to the Charminar much to the annoyance of the old city resident. There have been minor skirmishes in which many a people have been injured and the area even remained under curfew.
THESE THREE incidents are very typical of the simmering tensions that are fanned by communal forces to gradually turn them into communal riots. In Hyderabad one sees the use of historical places to incite the communal tension. How systematically communal forces built up the Ram Temple campaign leading to demolition of Babri Masjid is a sad reminder to what can happen in Hyderabad. In Faizabad, it is clear that the police machinery was totally disinterested in controlling the violence even if it could have. It either helped the rioters or looked the other way when the violence took place. Could it be that these communal forces are beyond the control of the state’s SP government or does the SP see a political benefit in letting violence happen?
Acts of violence go on because the multiple factors behind them remain unaddressed. Social activists and scholars have pointed out the role of communal forces, state machinery, ‘social common sense’ targeted against minorities as a major reason for communal violence. Addressing these factors only mandates the need for an effective and balanced Communal Violence Bill. No democracy can be satisfactory unless it minorities are safe and secure and have equity in economic matters.
Ram Puniyani is a communal harmony activist based in Mumbai.