Polarization with a difference: Muzaffarnagar Violence

    By Ram Puniyani,

    Communal violence has been the bane of Indian society, more so from last three decades. One can see its coming up prominently from 1893 to begin with and then it went through different phases. It became stronger after 1937, peaked in 1946 and then the post partition holocaust shattered the lives of lakhs of people. After a gap of a decade it started coming up again from 1961, Jabalpur violence, later anti Sikh violence of 1984 was not just violence, it was genocide. At different levels after this we see the big surge, Meerut, Maliana, Bhagalpur, Mumbai, Gujarat (post Godhra) being the worst of them. Pre partition it was both communal parties Muslim League-Hindu Mahasabah, and the communal patriarch RSS, which were major players in this dastardly game. This phenomenon led to the polarization along religious lines. This polarization was the hallmark of this violence which kept going up. The stereotypes about ‘other’ community kept worsening up; still the intercommunity rupture was not total or complete. The intensity about adverse sentiments about ‘the other’ went going up gradually, remaining at subcritical level till probably 1992, after which the ghettoisation of minorities started becoming a prominent urban phenomenon, and the misconceptions about minorities became a major part of social common sense. The other observation was that the communal violence, which is the superficial manifestation of politics in the name of religion, is predominantly and urban phenomenon. Many a social scientists made it the fulcrum of their understanding and blamed urbanization as the bane of our society, which was responsible for this type of violence.

    Support TwoCircles

    As the matters stand after the recent Muzaffarnagar violence, it is clear that communal violence being a major phenomenon in urban areas was just a phase of this process. Having polarized the urban populations, the agenda of communal outfits has now targeted the rural areas. Its implications surely are going to be more disastrous for our nation as a whole and it is time that the dangers are assessed of the trajectory of this process. There are many factors about Muzaffarnagar violence, which should make us sit up and take notice. So far the communal violence in different parts of the country benefitted the RSS-BJP in a major way and the litmus test of this was the increased social presence of RSS affiliates in those areas affected by violence and increase in political strength of BJP in electoral arena. Gujarat is a classic case where after the post Godhra violence, BJP has dug its heels in the state, and RSS affiliates are ruling the streets.

    As the political players calculate on the political chess board, this time there were two players who thought they will benefit. On one side from the usual beneficiary, the BJP associates, which in the aftermath of 84 Kosi Parikrama, activated its workers in this game of polarization. The other player the Samajvadi party probably calculated on the similar lines, if Hindu polarization benefits BJP, Muslim polarization should benefit Samajvadi party was their thinking, which let the violence happen. It is also true that since Samajvadi party came to power a year and a half ago, communal violence has gone up in Uttar Pradesh.

    In this case of Muzaffarnage violence as the three boys got killed on the pretext of teasing of the girl or a skirmish on the road (there are two versions of the beginning of the episode). There was enough time to see the dangers of such an inter-religious violence and control the same. But that was not to be. The officers in violation of the rules and even the imposition of 144 in the area let the Mahapanchayat of over a lakh people take place. The caste-communal outfits are patriarchal to the core and slogan-theme ‘Bahu Beti Bachao’ (save daughters and daughters-in-laws) was enough for the village Jats to turn up in large numbers with weapons. Communal propaganda is taken to the higher pitch. And so the communal violence enters the villages. And here the BJP communalizes the social space. Though it did not have much base amongst Jats, this occasion was cleverly manipulated to introduce divisive politics. Two factors were made use of. One the image of Modi as the savior of Hindus. Now Jat goes from the caste identity to Hindu identity. In communal politics religious identity is the foremost. The Muslim crowds also confront, play some role in violence but as is the usual case the partisan police machinery does not do its job in an objective manner and the result is a lopsided violence more against minorities, displacement and increase in the sense of insecurity amongst minorities follows.

    The Samajvadi party’s gamble will pay or not, time alone will tell. During the reign of Samajvadi party the monster of communal violence has been permitted to come out as is obvious from the observations that during Akhilesh Government every month nearly two acts of violence have taken place. How come during previous regime of BSP, the monster of communal violence had been restrained? Same officers, same people. Surely it is up to the ruling Government to let the violence take place or not. Communal forces, BJP and company, always keep instigating it and looking for opportunity to unleash violence. In UP the additional factor of course has been the presence of Amit Shah, who is on bail and who has the experience of Gujarat carnage, his role will have to be watched, but as such the RSS-combine machinery is in place and can take such assignment on the drop of a hat. While at one level, the instigation used was to propagate that ‘our’ daughters, daughters-in-laws are not safe, on the other hand a BJP MLA uploaded a video clip showing some people dressed like Muslims killing two young men brutally. This was a video shot few years ago in Pakistan when two young persons were lynched by the mob with the suspicion that they are dacoits. It went viral on the social media, which is reaching villages in good measure, and created a hostile atmosphere.

    As such earlier Jats and Muslim has affable relations, but from some years few tensions cropped up and the recent violence drove a deep wedge amongst these two communities and violence could spread to the villages. The tragic factor is the propagation of Modi, as a ‘strong’ leader who can save us (Hindus). The major back up of communal forces is to promote an autocrat, on the backdrop of the massive propaganda that majority community is not safe due to the miniscule minority. So Modi is supposed to fill the gap of a powerful leader which can protect the majority community. All this is far from true but popular perceptions have gone on and on and the contestation to these misconceptions has neither been effective nor far in reach.

    Lesser said about the role of police and administration the better. The administration has powers enough to ensure that such violence does not take place and if at all it takes place, it can control it in a day or two. Many of those in top echelons of administration-police have a biased mindset, and this if supplemented by the calculating Government, that violence will benefit their electoral prospects, the tragedy takes no time to flare up. UPA Government had promised to bring a Communal Violence Prevention bill. The subcommittee of NAC did lot of home work has submitted a draft of the bill. Surely there may not be a consensus on the draft, but probably by putting it to the grill of different mechanisms, the grain of the draft can be saved from the chaff to ensure that the officers and those in seats of power who do not do their job as per the norms of Constitution are punished. The provision for punishment to the officers guilty of dereliction of their duties, acts of commission and omission are a must. The political leadership has to be taken to the task for its inaction at the crucial time. The communal forces have to be combated at ideological, social and political level if we wish to have the country with communal peace and amity.

    (Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism.)