In Nuh clashes lurk old patterns of sectarianism
Law enforcement agencies mishandled communal violence in Nuh, Haryana, showing bias and inadequate response.
Without going into the graphic details of what happened in Nuh during the initial waves of communal violence last week, one can say that the handling of the whole episode by the law-enforcement agencies was shoddy and unprofessional. The response and reaction of Haryana’s police force — which is supposed to be better equipped than most other state forces in the country and is responsible for safeguarding law and order in regions of rapid economic growth — was found wanting. The first response of the administration was poorly planned and inadequate, and its subsequent (in)action smacked of bias.
While communal tension in the region has been simmering for the past few years, the protests against cow vigilantism only mounted after the brutal killing of Junaid and Nasir in Rajasthan’s Bhiwani district earlier this year. Many first information reports (FIRs) of mob violence against cow vigilante groups were registered. Most of the victims in these cases were Muslims; but the police inactivity in many of these cases — especially in its high-profile failure in nabbing wanted cow vigilante Mohit Yadav, or Monu Manesar — fuelled a general impression that administrative action in these cases was not only inadequate but full of communal prejudice.
The procession during which the rioting broke out is hardly a few years old. It started after the present political dispensation came into power in the state, stoked by some Right-wing groups as a show of strength. The usual police practice is to discourage any religious procession, especially in communally sensitive areas. Here, it was allowed for obvious reasons. For any procession, the timing, route, number of participants, slogans to be raised, or weapons to be carried, are meticulously documented.
On occasions such as this, leaders of communities reach a certain understanding in the presence of police officers and magistrates and assure the local authorities to abide by it in writing. It is unclear if any such steps were taken in Nuh, where the police appeared to have been taken by surprise by the widespread use of firearms late into the night on the first day of violence.
The Nuh riots are a classic replication of what has happened in dozens of communal violence incidents over several decades. There is, unfortunately, a pattern in the ways the administration acts (or doesn’t), with three common factors: First, the violence always initially begins as a clash between communities, but over time, morphs into a fight between the groups and the police. Second, the riots break out in an apparently spontaneous moment, but, later, it transpires that preparations were going on for quite some time.
And finally, at the end of the day, minority communities are left with the perception that the State did not do what it was supposed to do, or in some cases, did what was constitutionally inappropriate.
For example, in Nuh, certain visuals appeared in which policemen were seen hurling stones. This is not unusual in the situation they were in. A large hostile mob was roughly 100 yards away from them and was pelting stones and other projectiles; with the police were two useless weapons — a cane and a gun. The hail of stones didn’t allow them to move closer, making their canes ineffective, and guns couldn’t be used against supposedly unarmed citizens. So, they responded by throwing back the stones, to keep the hooligans away. But who were the other civilians seen in these visuals, standing next to the police and also throwing stones? Other videos showed both sides with guns, including some men identified as aides of Manesar with automatic ones. Did the administration not know about this?
During my work at the National Police Academy, I found that many instances of mob violence of a communal nature start as a fight between Hindus and Muslims, but soon transform into a conflict between the police and Muslims.
Some sections of the police, which should have played the role of neutral referees, instead become part of a warring group. Similarly, the role of the administration is also suspect.
In Haryana, for example, I don’t think that anyone can buy the claims of the state home minister that the police kept him in the dark or the chief minister trying to convince people that the police can’t protect all people because of their inadequate numbers. The provocative videos were in circulation for many days — without any response from the local authorities — and if these two high functionaries were unaware of these tensions building up, one can only sympathise.
The violence in Nuh holds a lesson that we must learn urgently because such instances can throw a spanner in the works of making India into a $5 trillion economy. The flames that singed the showpiece of foreign investment and capital last week might not only reduce public and private property to ashes, but also threaten to extinguish the dream of a peaceful and prosperous India.
Vibhuti Narain Rai is former director general of police, Uttar Pradesh, and the chronicler of the 1987 Hashimpura killings. The views expressed are personal