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Concerns arising from Muzaffarnagar riots
Wednesday September 18, 2013 11:26 AM, Irfan Engineer

Year after year there are major riots in the country. Yet the UPA is sitting over Communal and targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill! How many lives must be lost before the UPA Govt. wakes up to the reality that special situations require special laws? There have been more than 40,000 casualties since the year 1950. Hardly any foot soldier has been punished and the conspirators, abettors and orchestrators of the riots climb up the political ladder and become ministers and chief ministers instead of finding them behind bars. When security of all Indians is threatened through bomb blasts, the response of the state is to immediately come with special laws like TADA, POTA and UAPA. Security forces are given free hand to target innocent members of minority communities with impunity under protection of laws like Disturbed Areas Act and AFSPA. When women are sexually assaulted, the response of the state is to issue an ordinance and rightly so, which if implemented in right spirit, could ensure that offenders would be brought to justice. However, when security of minorities is under threat, they are advised to behave better and forget the incident in the interest of "national integration" and "peace". Poor relief for survivors of riots, negligible compensation to a few survivors, riot entrepreneurs not brought to justice, and worsening condition of riot survivors encourages the riot entrepreneurs to orchestrate, plan and execute even larger and more vicious riots. Riot entrepreneurs are acquiring more and more capability to inflict larger casualty in shorter duration, whether or not they are in power. Lack of will to legislate a special law to ensure riot survivors to access justice and right to reparations is viewed by the riot entrepreneurs as an enabling environment and a politically desirable goal.

Last year, (in the year 2012) the country witnessed major riots in Bodo areas of Assam state, UP state witnessed 9 riots – Kosi Kalan and Pratapgarh (both in Mathura), twice Gaziabad, Sitapur, Bareilly, two in Faizabad and Bijnor. Maharashtra witnessed communal riots in Pachora, Buldhana, Raver (Jalgaon) and Akot. In Andhra Pradesh, communal riots occurred in Sangareddy and Hyderabad. In Gujarat, communal clashes broke out in Vadodra and Damnagar (Amreli). This year too had witnessed several riots in Dhule (Maharashtra), Nawada (Bihar) Kishtwar (Jammu), UP, and other states. Given the election year, the riots are becoming more frequent and larger in scale with the Kishtwar and Muzaffarnagar acquiring national attention. On the one hand Narendra Modi is pretending to confine his election campaign on the issue of development and good governance, while the other fraternal organisations of the Sangh Parivar like VHP are busy looking for issues to polarize the electorate and to politically mobilize the diverse Hindu community and attempt to convert them into a political community and vote bank. The 84 kosi parikramma during election time when there was no religious tradition by the VHP is a case in point.

The Muzaffarnagar Riots
According to the Times of India dated 17/9/13, on August 27, there was a minor scuffle in Kawaal village of Muzaffarnagar between Shahnawaz and Gaurav over crossing of motorbike and bicycle, when Shahnawaz slapped Gaurav. Gaurav mobilized his accomplices and killed Shahnawaz. People witnessing the incident caught hold of Sachin and Gaurav among those involved in killing Shahnawaz and they were in turn beaten to death. The version of Jats as reported in the TOI was that locals gathered during the incident and in the melee some Muslim by mistake stabbed Shahnawaz. The Jat version does not seem very credible, but it is for the police to investigate, if at all they investigate impartially and thoroughly without any fear or favour.

A fake video of some other incident which the police say was recorded two years ago was circulated through social networking sites and mobile phones purporting it to be video of the incident of killing Gaurav and Sachin. The fake video seemed to have evoked a lot of revulsion and consequent urge to take revenge. Interestingly, Jats were not first to react to the incident. It was the Sainis who traditionally are supporters of BJP, took lead in reacting and mobilising the Jats. A BSP leader and other politicians mobilized Muslims for a meeting on 30th August. Four BJP MLAs organised Jat Mahapanchayat. The Mahapanchayat was attended by thousands of Jats armed with swords and other lethal weapons in spite of ban on assembly. How the police allowed them to assemble with arms in spite of orders prohibiting assembly is for the police to explain. In all three Mahapanchayats were organised. Allegedly provocative slogans were in the air during the Jat Mahapanchayats and one of them reportedly were "Musalman ke do hi sthan – Pakistan ya kabristan". The rest is history as they say. Several houses burnt, more than 40,000 in relief camps, 43 killed according to affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by the UP Govt. One TOI report earlier reported doctors conducting post mortem on 53 bodies allegedly were shocked by the brutality with which the murders were carried out, including mutation of female genitals. The police, as usual, were mute spectators while all the violence and burning was happening, even as the survivors were desperately crying for help.

Concerns and issues
The rioters usually act on a doctrine of collective culpability of the community in any wrongdoing by any member of the "other" community. They have borrowed this doctrine of primitive times when any violation of taboo by any member of the rival tribe could be attributed to every member of that tribe in the nature of collective guilt and could be avenged by collectively punishing entire tribe or any member of the tribe. It is a primitive and barbarous way of thinking to impute guilt to someone for the action of another. Collectives do not have moral faults, since they don't make moral choices and cannot be ascribed moral responsibility. Thus every member of Muslim community is culpable for the perceived offence allegedly committed by any of them, even in the distant past – namely demolition of Hindu temples. A collective punishment in the form of communal riots is handed down in order to deepen and polarize communal identities within members of both communities. With the polarization, they would be permanently in conflict with each other and larger numbers of the majority community could be mobilized more easily in this "war". When will communal forces overcome this primitive instinct?

Collective punishments are calculatedly inflicted and preferred by communal forces to obliterate the multiple identities within every individual that makes every individual unique. For example, this author is a Gujarati ashraf Muslim born in and permanent resident of Maharashtra, a male, Indian, advocate, influenced by liberal left ideology, loving books etc. etc. Individuals make sense of their world through these identities. They sometimes consciously transcend some of these primordial and acquired identities. It is on this edifice of individual having multiple identities that the concept of citizenship is based. Citizens are invested with liberties and rights that enable them to live these multiple identities and still be treated equally disregarding their identities and ideologies that they chose to follow, so long as they are not in conflict with laws of the land. The communal forces target particular community only because of their primordial identity. Violence tends to ghettoize the targeted community for security reasons and thereby make the targeted identity salient in every individual sharing the identity. For example, if Muslims are targeted only because of their religion, this author's all other identities (like Gujarati, domicile of Maharashtra, male, ashraf, liberal left ideology following and book loving) become inconsequential except the fact that he is Muslim, which otherwise may not be salient in him. However, large scale violence does not only obliterate multiple identities within the targeted community. It marginalizes multiple identities even within the members of the community on whose behalf the violence is perpetrated, and brings to salience mirror identity within them for fear of violent reprisals. By targeting Muslim community, communal forces want to make Hindu identity salient within members of their community, and in the process, marginalizing say for example caste, regional, ethnic, gender, professional, neighbourhood based and hobby based identities. Through this process, the religious Hindu is converted into a political Hindu requiring authoritarian non-democratic cultural state privileging certain religion and suppressing others. Thus Jats and Muslims, which communities shared the regional culture, dialect, traditions, value systems, now fear each other. It is because of these shared culture and traditions that Charan Singh could politically mobilise the two communities together to vote for his party RLD. The Muzaffarnagar riots have divided the two communities Jat Muslims and Jat Hindus deepening communal identities within them and marginalizing their shared regional and caste identity. The Jat Muslims will not have to live with and become more of "Muslims" seeking communal unity with the Syeds and Pathans of the region and likewise Jats will have to seek communal solidarity, unity and identity with the Sainis and the Hindu upper castes. How this process plays out in future remains to be seen. However, this process leaves space only for communal forces on both sides to flourish – RSS and Sangh Parivar, including the BJP in an election year on one hand and Jamiats and Mushawarats on the other hand, who become arbiters of Muslim votes. The Hindu Jats will now be subjected to communal propaganda like "all terrorists are Muslims", that "Muslims are pro-Pakistanis and anti-nationals"

Even if theatre of communal riots had already shifted to rural areas from urban areas, for example in Bhagalpur, Nellie, Gujarat and BTAD, they were more of exception rather than rule. However, the theatre of violence this time in Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Meerut is predominantly rural. The large scale displacement cause by the violence in Muzaffarnagar is unprecedented for UP with survivors stating they will never be able to return to their villages again. This is a dangerous and worrisome trend. The brutality reflects the revulsion caused by the circulation of fake video and the likelihood of hatred that will be premised on the revulsion on long term basis unless there is effective intervention strategy from secular and democratic forces to reconcile the communities.

Women's bodies continue to be the battleground on which communal violence played out. The Jat Mahapanchayats emerge as strengthened and effective. What does this mean for Jat women, already facing several Talibani restrictions like the one on possession of mobile phones, restrictions on their dresses, choice of male friends and the timings and localities in which the restrictions would operate. The male-female ratio is highly skewed and women excluded from inheritance in practice. Women's organizations were struggling for equality and inclusion. Strengthening of Jat Mahapanchayats and Jamiats and Mushawarats would push the achievement of the struggle of these women's organisations how many years behind is to be seen. There are already reports of women being pulled out of educational institutions, particularly Muslim girls against their desires due to communalization and consequent security issues for women. The riots were according to one report, started with sexual harassment of a woman, though the TOI report dated 17-9-13 denies any such sexual harassment.

How far the caste based voting pattern is affected and how far Hindu votes consolidate across all castes in UP and outside the state is another issue of concern. For communal polarization would help poll campaigners for Modi. In this communally charged atmosphere, the voters suspend their judgments even more and be misled by Modi's campaigners exaggerated and even false claims. Better performance in UP for BJP is crucial for Modi's PM ambitions. BJP is the biggest beneficiary of the Muzaffarnagar riots making itself popular among the Jats. BJP is incessantly attacking Samajwadi Party, hoping to displace BSP as the principal opposition party. However, that chance seems too too remote.

For the secular and democratic forces, the main concern is ensuring organisation of relief camps, that compensation reaches the victims, reconciliation and rehabilitation and peace with justice. Secular democratic forces have learnt to force the Govt. to bring the guilty to justice. Exposing the design of communal forces and making people of India accept individual liberties, equality and social justice for all citizens of India irrespective of their religion is urgent priority. To ensure justice, we will have to demand with renewed vigour legislation on Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill be enacted immediately.

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