Manufacturing a Riot

Ram Puniyani

In Saidabad and Madannapeth areas of Hyderabad (April 1st week, 2012) violence was unleashed against the local Muslims. In this violence several houses were damaged, many a people were injured and women were raped. Just before the incident Praveen Togadia had given an inflammatory speech in the area. There was news that fundamentalists (read- Muslims) have thrown beef and green color in the Hanuman temple. This news was enough to instigate the violence. The police succeeded in arresting the culprits, who turned out to be those belonging to Hindu communal outfits.

On the New Year eve, 1st January (2012), In Sindagi town of Bijapur Pakistan flag was seen on the government buildings. The news spread with rapid speed and violence which followed led to the burning of six state transport buses and many other vehicles. As it turned out it was the activists of Sri Ram Sene of Pramod Mutallik, an ex-RSS Pracharak (Propagator), who first hoisted the Pakistan flag and then went about telling people about the same.

There are many more dimensions of both these acts of violence, brought in by using religious identity, symbols and emotive appeals.  Communal violence is a cancer which has spread in to the body politic of our society. The very foundation of communal violence is the ‘social common sense’ the ‘hate-other’ ideology build around the myths and biases prevalent against the ‘others’. As such communal violence is the superficially visible part of the communal politics, a politics deriving its legitimacy from the identity of religion. To begin with the hatred for ‘other’ community’ started getting consolidated around the communal projection of History, supplemented by aspects from the present social life of a community, exaggerated and put forward in a derogatory way. In pre-partition period the violence was emerging from both communal streams and British were a sort of neutral umpires.

With partition process Muslim communalism got deflated, violence changed its form and started assuming different trend leading to rise of conservatism; orthodoxy amongst Muslims. The minority communalism promoted more conservative values amongst minorities and also gave provocations to the majority communalism. After the quiet period after the ghastly post-partition riots, violence started surfacing after 1961 with Jabalpur violence, in the wake of which Pundit Nehru, the then Prime minster of the country, constituted National Integration Council, which has been playing some insignificant role in promoting national integration. It is more of a debating club, meeting once a while, forgetting about the issue in the intervening period.

The communal violence, where two communities are made to pitch against each other has been changing its character and now communal groups, who are on the provoking and attacking spree have a clear goal of intimidating and subjugating the religious minorities. At the same time the pretext is manufactured that Muslims are violent or Christians have attacked, ‘they’ begin the violence and then get the ‘deserved’ punishment.  This again is a totally make believe construct. The two incidents which have taken place amply show the anatomy of manufacturing a riot. The majoritarian communal streams have built up their strength by polarizing the communities along religious lines. Founded on the deeper biases against minorities, the rumors played the role of triggering the violence, or rumors play the role of the precipitating factor in the concentrated solution of ‘Hate other’. Many rumors have been used, killing of the cow, abduction/rape of Hindu women, cutting of the breast of women, discretion of the holy place/book etc. Adding on the list has come in this Pakistan flag, which is a quiet an innovation during last some time.

The violence by and large is a planned one and is made to look a spontaneous one, that too sparked by the minorities. The Hyderabad and Sindagi incidents are new pointers to this. Earlier in the Kandhamal, violence was triggered on the pretext of the death of Swami Laxmananand, who as such was killed by Maoists. Swami Laxmananand’s dead body was taken in a procession through Christian minority areas, and the rivers of blood followed. The Gujarat violence was undertaken in a pre planned manner on the pretext of the burning of train in Godhra and the merchants of death followed. In Mumbai after the demolition of Babri Mosque, some Muslim youth threw stones on the police station, the Shiv Sena activists threw Gulal (Orange color of celebration used mostly by Hindus) on a mosque and Bal Thackeray gave the call for ‘teaching them a lesson’. So far many inquiry commissions and citizen’s tribunals have pointed out the role of the majoritarian communal organization. Starting from the report of Bhivandi riots (Madon Commission) to Mumbai violence (Sri Krishna Commission), their conclusions are similar to a large extent. The riot instigation is done in a way, it is orchestrated it in such a fashion, as if the Muslims have thrown the first stone or Christians have precipitated the violence.

Dr. V.N. Rai, a police officer did his doctoral work on the theme of riots between 1968-1980 (Combating Communal Conflicts), and a longish quote from this book will enlighten us on the issue, “very often the way in which the first stone is thrown or the first hand is raised in aggression, suggests an outside agency at work, an agency that wants to create a situation in which members of the minority community commit an act which ignites severe retribution for themselves. In order to guard them against external criticism and to preserve their self righteousness, violence is projected to be started by Muslims. It is as if a weaker person is pushed into the corner by a stronger, forcing him to raise his hand so that he may be suitably punished for his `attack’. Before the punishment is meted out a suitable hue and cry can be made about the fact that because the person cornered is naturally wicked and violent, he is bound to attack first” (Pg. 56-57).”

Now there is some change in the trajectory of the riot instigation; there is a continuity and change in the issues used to manufacture the riots. Now the communal elements are becoming bolder to hoist the Pakistan flag or to throw the piece of beef and green color more boldly. The other change is in the relative increase in the percentage of victims belonging to minority community. By 1980s 65% of victims were Muslims (V.N.Rai) in 1991 it was 80% (Union Home ministry data) and by 2001 this percentage has further gone up. These data tell their own tale. The communal violence has polarized the communities along religious lines, and has given flesh and blood to the communal politics. It has laid the foundation for identity related issues coming to the fore and marginalizing the core issues of society.

While large number of measures are needed to curb the communal violence and to snub the organizations deliberately playing mischief, it is imperative that multi layered approach is taken up to bring peace and harmony in the society. We need to battle against the stereotypes and biases at all the levels, amongst the people and amongst the administration. At the same time a major step of setting up inter-religious committees in all the areas can combat the rumors or find the truth as to who has hoisted the flag or thrown beef, and this may prevent the violence in many a situations.

(Ram Puniyani was a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai and works keenly on social issues. He is the author of three books including Communal Politics: An illustrated primer.)

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.

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