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Last year, just after communal riots broke out in Muzzffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, my household help, a Hindu, showed me a video on her mobile phone: The horrific clip showed men in beards and traditional Muslim attire beating two youths mercilessly.
“My husband passed it on to me ....I showed it to my neighbours and then forwarded it to others...,”Beena, a forty-something portly lady, said triumphantly. “Just see how the two Hindu boys were beaten up....they were only trying to save the honour of their sisters”.
I tried arguing with her that the video was a fake one (an import from across the border) and it had been edited and circulated to incite communal riots but Beena, a resident of Ghaziabad, would have none of it. By then her mind had been neatly partitioned into two sides: us and them. She raved and ranted for a few more minutes, blaming the Samajwadi Party government of inaction and finally confided that her vote in the 2014 general elections would go to a “strong party” because only “they can provide security”. So would her neighbours.
No prizes for guessing the name of the party. Even though the Muzzffarnagar police tried to block the video on the internet and filed an FIR against a BJP MLA and 229 other identified for sharing the video, the damage had already been done: communal violence singed Muzzaffarnagar and polarised the two communities and then had a cascading effect in other areas of the state (Meerut, Moradabad and Shaharanpur to name a few).
If Muzzaffarnagar was about “eve teasing”, Meerut was about a building a concrete fence, Moradabad about the right to perform prayers and the recent Muslim-Sikh riots in Shahranpur over a disputed patch of land. In a tense atmosphere like what prevails in UP, it does not take much for communities to clash or someone to engineer one.
Now, we are back to Meerut, an ancient city with settlements dating back to the Indus Valley civilisation, again after a 20-year-old teacher complained of conversion at a madrasa in Muzzaffarnagar (north of Meerut) and a subsequent gang rape.
She did not identify the rapists but claimed that 20 more girls were held captive at a place in Muzzaffarnagar. However, when the district administration raided a religious education centre, they did not find any girls.
Though the Meerut administration has deployed extra force to defuse communal tension, it will be not be enough to stop violence: they have to think of innovative ways to quell rumours because they (rumours) have the capacity to ignite further trouble, like they did in Muzzffarnagar.
The only way to do so would be to investigate the Meerut case as quickly as possible and present the correct facts to the people and counter any unsubstantiated information.
During the Shaharanpur riots, the district police apparently used drone to keep an eye on protesters. How much effort would it take for the Meerut administration to send SMSs/MMSs to quell rumours regarding the case and also forewarn people that strict action would be taken if anyone found guilty of indulging in violence?
Read: Meerut on edge after 'forced conversion, gang-rape' of teacher