Rising, decreasing, no rising: Curious case of communal incidents

No clarity as to what exactly defines ‘communal’ incident

By Nivedita Bhardwaj, TwoCircles.net,

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New Delhi: In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Narendra Modi, the then Gujarat chief minister, had written to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in December 2013 opposing the now withdrawn Communal Violence Bill.

Among other issues, Modi – who was by then already declared as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 polls – had raised objections to the lack of clarity on definition of ‘communal violence’ and also for ‘hostile environment’.

“Section 3(f) that defines ‘hostile environment’ is wide ranging, vague and open to misuse. Likewise, the definition of communal violence under Section 3 (d) read with Section 4 would raise questions on whether the Centre is introducing the concept of ‘thought crime’ in the context of the Indian criminal jurisprudence,” Modi had written in his letter to Singh.

But of course, opposing the wordings of the proposed bill and working on the ground to change the situation are two different things. Circa 2015, when Modi is firmly in saddle as the Prime Minister, things do not seem to have changed much.

In reply to a question in the Parliament about communal incidents, the government claimed communal incidents had come down from October 2014 to December 2015. Replying to the question raised by Jharna Das Baidya, Rajya Sabha member, Kiran Rijiju, Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, laid a statement on the table of the House, claiming: “The communal incidents have shown a decreasing trend during the last few months of the year 2014 from October to December 2014. During this period, 72 in October, 49 in November and 33 in December communal incidents have been reported. A total of 72 communal incidents were reported during the month of January, 2015.”

So, the minister starts his statement claiming “shown a decreasing trend” for 2014 but does not mention any increase while mentioning the high incidence in January 2015.

A look at the table accompanying the statement shows Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, West Bengal and Rajasthan were the states that registered incidents of communal violence.

The statistics shows while number of incidents did decrease from October 2014 to December 2014, in almost all states, there was a sharp rise in the number of such incidents in January 2015.

Comparing just the January 2015 figures, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, two BJP-ruled states are among the states – including Bihar, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh – have a high incidence followed by lesser number of incidents from Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and West Bengal.

Maharashtra’s number of communal incidents decreasing from October through December 2014 might be attributed to the state assembly elections in October 2014 but there is no justification whatsoever for the high number in January 2015.

Bihar too witnessed 12 incidents in January 2015 after a steady decline from nine in October 2014 to seven in November 2014 to just three in December 2014. West Bengal’s number of incidents have been almost steady with three each in October and November 2014 and one and two in December 2014 and January 2015 respectively. It would be important to note that Bihar is facing assembly elections later in November 2015 while West Bengal will be having assembly elections in 2016.

Incidentally, neither did Baidya ask nor did the minister reply about what were the measures taken by the government for keeping a tab on such incidents? Of course, law and order being a state subject, the Centre almost always washes off its hands on such issues. But with the BJP-led government at the Centre, can the Centre actually deny any connection with the rising incidents of communal hate and communal riots?

Stating that these cannot be termed as exact figures, Lateef Mohammad Khan, general secretary of Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee, said: “These are never exact figures. Who knows what exactly does the government consider as communal incidence or violence? The ground reality is very different.”

The increasing incidents of hate speech by leaders of the Hindutva organisations, the rising number of small-yet-effective-to-scare communal incidents with no casualties and last but never the least, the ill-famous ghar vapsi programmes across the country are some of the incidents which, if no case is registered, will not be counted as ‘communal incidence’ in government records. Even when all such incidents are happening, the government is claiming that the number of incidents have come down.

TCN File photo of a relief camp in Muzaffarnagar after the September, 2013 communal riot

Almost as a proof are the comparison with last year’s data. Strictly speaking, if the numbers are compared with previous years, as done by Times of India, it shows communal incidents in the country fell by almost 22 % to 643 in 2014 from 823 in 2013 and 668 in 2012. “Uttar Pradesh took much of the credit for the dip in communal attacks, recording the biggest drop (43.3%) from 247 incidents in 2013 to 140 last year. The high incidence of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh was mainly on account of the riots in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining areas in August and September that year,” the Times of India report said.

Soroor Ahmad, a political analyst and a columnist, said, “Law and order is a state subject. So, if the Centre is claiming that the number of incidents have indeed come down, the credit should go to the states.”

But Ahmad also pointed out how “numbers from Maharashtra and Bihar in January 2015 show the real picture. For Bihar – which faces elections later this year – the forces opposed to government will try to create trouble,” he said.

Do communal riots really help a political party ahead of either general election or state assembly election?

“If we see previous records, some or the other party has definitely benefited from the communal incidents ahead of the elections. Be it 1989 Bhagalpur riots just one month before elections, 2002 Gujarat riots or the more recent 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots,” Ahmad said.

But then, what explains the continued communal incidents in states such as Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka? Khan offered an explanation: “The very fact that there are continued incidents means that the political parties are deliberately provoking the population. A sadhvi gives a controversial statement here, a leader says something there. People feel aggrieved. As a result, a common Muslim or a common Christian is attacked.”

These kind of incidents – both where one of incidents of attack on a common Muslim or a Christian take place and also in case of organised riots – immediately lead to trust deficit between the two communities. “The vested elements try to build a wall between two communities,” Khan added.

The figures offered by the government in the Parliament – and this has been a repeated practice by previous governments too – mention only those recorded by respective state police departments as communal incidents.

For instance, pointed out Khan, a 70-year-old engineer was killed allegedly by Hindutva men in February 2015 at Hyderabad but that was treated as a routine murder. “Lot of incidents are not reported in the first place. The state governments too try to hide the reality,” the activist added.

The last week’s horrendous murder of an alleged rape accused at the hands of a lynch mob in Nagaland is the fresh example, he pointed.

Amnesty International in its ‘The State of the World’s Human Rights’ released on February 25 too had highlighted how “impunity is widespread for human rights abuses by state and non-state actors in India.”

“Despite progressive legal reforms and court rulings, state authorities often failed to prevent and at times committed crimes against Indian citizens, including children, women, dalits and adivasis,” it had said.

Considering all this, the responsibility of state and non-state actors in a situation that can be called as or can turn communal is very important. As mentioned earlier, maintaining law and order is the state responsibility. “(Hence), state governments in Bihar and West Bengal should be much more vigilant about political and administrative situation,” suggested Ahmad and added, “The states are currently unable to check – but they should – a whole lot of misinformation campaign. The states should learn from history.”

Much is left to be desired when it comes to removal of this trust deficit. And much is also left to be desired for the government functionaries to stop treating this as just another statistics and start treating each case as a challenge.