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A people who have never fought each other in history are today bitterly estranged, fearful and angry. ‘Not even during the Partition riots of 1947 did a drop of blood flow in our villages’, they repeatedly told us. And today, some 50 lie dead, and 50,000 have fled their homes in terror.
Cramped into makeshift camps in madrasas sand mosques, many resolve never to return to the land of their ancestors. The Muzaffarnagar countryside in western Uttar Pradesh is reeling under the gravest communal clash the country has witnessed since the 2002 Gujarat carnage.
People of diverse faiths who live together do not spontaneously turn against each other. There are three requisites for mass communal violence to occur.
The first is the deliberate manufacture of hatred. The second is the manufacture of a ‘riot’. The third is a complicit State: no riot can continue beyond a few hours unless the state actively wishes that it does so.
I visited Muzaffarnagar as part of a Centre for Policy Analysis fact-finding team, with Seema Mustafa, Sukumar Muralidharan, EN Rammohan, Kamal Mitra Chenoy and John Dayal. We were deeply dismayed to find striking evidence of each of these elements combining to violently divide communities that have lived and worked together peacefully through generations.
Communal organisations have perfected the art of manufacturing hatred against the ‘other’ community by cynically deploying rumour, innuendo and falsehood. The issue chosen to demonise the ‘other’ varies based on what would resonate and enrage most. In Partition, pork was thrown into mosques and beef into temples; later riots are spurred by rumours of cow slaughter, support to terror, and violence perpetrated by the ‘other’ community (the falsehood of the slaughter of Hindu students in hostels by Muslims led to the massacre of more than a thousand people in Bhagalpur).
In Muzaffarnagar, in the patriarchal Jat community, the issue chosen to foment hatred was women’s ‘honour’. The claim was that ‘love jihad’ was being waged, by which Muslim boys were equipped with smart clothes, deodorants and sweet talk to entice Jat girls into ‘love’ traps.
An unfortunate incident on August 27 in Kawal, in which three young men, one Muslim and two Jat were killed in violent clashes, was deployed as evidence of ‘love jihad’. The claim was that the Muslim youth was killed by the brothers of a Jat girl who he was stalking, and these brothers in turn were killed by a violent Muslim mob.
BJP MLA Sangeet Som uploaded a video of two boys being killed by a mob in Sialkot, Pakistan, claiming that the footage was of the Jat boys being killed by a Muslim mob. This video was circulated widely through mobile phones, and fuelled mass rage against local Muslims. Later evidence suggests that the death of the three young men resulted instead from a hot-headed clash between the boys after a motorcycle accident.
The second requirement for communal violence to occur is the manufacture of the riot itself. Building on the groundswell of local Hindu fury against their Muslim neighbours because of their alleged deliberate assaults on the ‘honour’ of Hindu girls, a mahapanchayat on September 7 was convened with the explosive theme ‘Save Your Daughters’.
Fiery speeches were made against Muslims, and after the frenzied crowd dispersed, they attacked Muslim settlements. In the majority of villages, Muslims were labourers in the sugarcane fields of Jat landowners. Their small houses were set aflame and looted, some were killed, and terrified people fled to the safety of numbers in Muslim majority villages.
The third prerequisite for a manufactured riot is a complicit State administration, which fails in prevention, control, rescue and relief. The administration took no steps to quell the rumours, arrest those stoking hatred, or prohibit the mahapanchayat. Once violence broke out, the police forces mostly stood watching as the crowds attacked Muslim settlements, without using force or firing to disperse the furious mobs.
They did not rescue the escaping people; instead survivors depended on Muslim wealthy landowners to protect them as they fled. The administration did not establish relief camps; instead these were organised by the victimised community in Muslim majority villages. We found little presence of the State in these camps: it did not organise sanitation, healthcare, child care or police outposts to record people’s complaints.
I had hoped that the 2002 Gujarat carnage would be the last in which cynical politics would succeed in fomenting hatred and organising communal massacre, and the last in which the State would abdicate its duties for relief, rehabilitation and justice.
But the Kandhamal carnage happened, and now events in western Uttar Pradesh demonstrate how easily even today communal organisations and parties can manufacture both hatred and a riot, even between communities that have no history of violence or animosities. They also remind us how opportunistic and unreliable are the convictions of ‘secular’ parties.
The urgent passage of the Communal Violence Bill, which would make dereliction of duties by public officials a crime, and relief and rehabilitation a legal State duty, will help in preventing criminal State abdication.
But to push communal riots into history, the people of India must reaffirm and defend the secular democratic idea of India, and reject all parties and organisations that use hatred and violence to harvest political victories.
Harsh Mander is Director, Centre for Equity Studies. The views expressed by the author are personal.