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Why is Delhi communally restive?

Cramped living, fierce competition, limited resources and an ever-increasing population have given Delhi its famous short fuse. But as a city, it was never communally overwrought. But the past one month has changed that.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2014 11:45 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Communal riots,Delhi

Cramped living, fierce competition, limited resources and an ever-increasing population have given Delhi its famous short fuse. But as a city, it was never communally overwrought. But the past one month has changed that.

With elections set to be declared any given day, the city has seen a full-blown riot and four other instances of religion being at the centre of conflict.

How this has become the city’s reality is something its residents have failed to understand.

Trilokpuri, where the riots broke out on Diwali, is a place inured to violence. People from all parts of the country and religions live here. And clashes break out every other week.

The 1984 anti-Sikh riots had ravaged the settlement but since then, there was never a full-blown riot. In the recent years, fights have been contained with the help of local leaders and the police. But how did a riot as severe as the one on Diwali that shut the area for five continuous days could break out in an area like this has left residents with several burning questions. And there are no clear answers.

Bawana, Babarpur and Okhla, too are areas where periodic violence is common. Communal tension, however, is contained and usually resolved at the local level.

Is it then a mere coincidence that polarisation has knocked on Delhi’s doors just before elections are to be announced?

According to Harsh Mander, a noted social activist who has studied communal clashes extensively, riots and communal tensions follow a set template.

“If left to themselves, people from different areas and communities tend to live together largely peacefully. It is political interference that causes stress and this is done in three stages,” he said.

He went on specify the three stages. “The first,” he said, “is when hatred for another community is generated around a sensitive issue. These issues are usually related to places of worship, love affairs, or instances like cow slaughter. Further deterioration of the situation is achieved by organising people in a collective on the basis of this hatred. Weapons, in many cases bricks and stones, are distributed. The third important thing is allowing it to fester for some time. Strict action is not taken at the first instance.”

“A riot is a carefully manufactured product. With elections round the corner, this template is being followed. But we won’t see violence that will result in loss of life as that leads to sympathy. The violence should be just enough to let people forget other problems,” he added.

The role of local politicians in flaring tensions has been highlighted by the police in their report to the ministry of home affairs. Members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have also alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been instrumental in igniting communal tensions.

“If it was one isolated incident, one would not have read into the motivations. But there are a number of other cases as well and there is a pattern to it. You are forced to look at the timing and context in which these things are happening. It doesn’t take too much to understand who is behind these things and who stands to gain from this polarisation,” said Yogendra Yadav, a senior leader of AAP.

“It happened in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana before the election and now it is happening here. The aim is to polarise voters. I don’t have any concrete proof, which I can hand over to the police,” he added.

The BJP too agrees that the clashes have been engineered to cause polarisation and blamed AAP for it.

“The incident at Trilokpuri was not communal to start with. It was given a communal colour. The other incidents are also part of a larger conspiracy by people who want to create fear psychosis in the minority community. AAP is provoking such incidents to keep its voter base intact,” said Ashish Sood, general secretary, Delhi BJP.

The police points out how a society which is densely populated by poor, multi-lingual, multi-regional and multi-religious people falls easy prey to communal tension. According to senior police officials, each group has its own priorities, sensibilities and response to social situations. Lack of resources, especially space, further accentuate the fight for limited resources for their community.

First Published: Nov 12, 2014 00:34 IST