India has been the victim of divisive-sectarian violence from more
than a century, more particularly after the British implemented
their policy of ‘divide and rule’ and encouraged communal
formations to flourish. These communal formations, Muslim and
Hindu both, in turn spread hatred against the ‘other religious
community’ and violence in the name of religion came to be a
tragic part of our nation. Many innocents have lost their lives in
this violence, which is instrument in the hands of communal
As the violence started becoming more structural some
features emerged. These features though they have been changing
their form from riot to riot, still they have some commonality.
The major pattern of riots after independence have been documented
and analysed by scholars like Asghar Ali Engineer, Paul Brass, Ashutosh Varshney and others. The inquiry commission reports which
have gone on to investigate these acts of carnage have also
pointed out to findings that are very disturbing to the plural
character of our nation.
These findings also show the nature of
our political class, administration and police in particular in
very poor light. In post independence India, since the Jabalpur
riot of 1961 down to the scattered acts of violence in recent
years in Rajasthan, (Sarada: Gopalgarh) and many places in UP, the
pattern broadly conforms to a well orchestrated mechanism and the
failure of the state to control it.
The foundation of this violence is in the myths and stereotypes
prevalent about the minorities in particular. ‘Social common
sense’ prevalent in the society, including that of those who are
in charge of controlling the riots is practically the same. This
social common sense sees Muslims as criminals, terrorists,
anti-nationals and violent people. Earlier, in communal violence
two religious communities used to be pitted against each other but
lately the minorities are the targeted communities.
common sense’ perceive the Christians as those who are converting
by force, fraud or allurement. The religion wise break up of
percentage violence victims is very painful observation, the
percentage of Muslims amongst riot victims is close to 90% (their
population as per the census of 2001 is 13.4%) The type of
attitude taken by police is by and large stereotypical and regards
them as the trouble makers and police believes that they can bring
these Muslims to heels through bullets and batons.
The recent riot in Mumbai 12th August, 2012, does not fit into any
of the prevalent notions of riot so far. It is a total contrast to
all this and at times also shows the ray of hope about the
possibility of positive forces being awakened to quell the
The 12th August event was a huge melee of Muslims
brought into Azad Maidan of Mumbai by Raza Academy and some other
Muslim organizations. Some mobilization was done through the
announcement in mosques. Police and organizers say they expected
only couple of thousands to turn up, as such 50000 people turned
up. Those who came were already feeling the heat of the present
anti Muslim violence-displacement of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar.
The ground of mobilization was prepared by section of Urdu media,
which projected as if Muslims are being attacked all over. This
exaggerated sense of insecurity was planted in the minds of large
section of community which turned up in large numbers.
To add salt
to the wounds some speakers made inflammatory speeches and some
morphed pictures/posters were shown to the assembled crowd, which
felt incited by the whole thing.
The real trouble, highly condemnable, began not due to this crowd,
but due to other 500-1000 armed Muslims, who started attacking
police personnel, molesting women police officers and attacking
the OB vans of the news channels. This was provoked due to
speakers at the rally aggressively putting forward that media is
not showing the news of Assam and Myanmar. Also police was
targeted as the Muslim community does have the experience of
police having gross anti minority stance.
This is so far as the violence
conformed to the usual pattern. The things which happened later
were a total departure from the past riots. Let’s note that the
attack of section of Muslims was not directed against the Hindu
community as such. They were targeting media and police.
In the first contrast to the usual pattern, the police
commissioner, Arup Patnaik, who had seen the 92-93 violence, had
different ideas and in the major departure from the attitude of
police. Patnaik asked police to exercise restraint.
So far the
attitude in such situation is a reckless firing, above the waist,
to instil a fear factor to control the violence. Patnaik not only
asked the police to exercise restraint, he went up to the stage
with great courage and conviction and appealed to the crowd to
maintain peace, else it may be the repeat of 92-93 carnage.
crowd assembled in the maidan quietly left from the other end of
the ground. While the section of Muslims who had come prepared for
doing violence, were brought under control with a minimum of
bloodshed, 2 dead, over 50 injured.
No words can adequately praise
the leadership of Mr Patnaik and the restraint shown by the police
personnel, despite provocations of the worst order. In this
violence, police has been the major victim of violence.
On the top
of this, the usual reckless arrests of Muslims in the wake of such
a violence has been a bit muted as the instructions seem to be
that only those youth-Muslims should be arrested who are seen
doing violence in the videos taken at the occasion. This one good
use of modern technology is very welcome. One knows that not only
in the communal violence but also in the acts of terror, done by
which so ever group, it has been the Muslim youth who are arrested
in large numbers.
The only hope this time around is that the police should be
discriminatory enough to arrest only the guilty. The other
heartening feature of the episode was the role of Mohalla
committees, which has not been duly highlighted. The Mohall
committee, which were conceptualized by one brave police officer,
Suresh Khopde at the time of Bhivandi riots in 1983, have come to
stay and are building the bridges amongst the religious
communities. During this episode they came forward and did their
peace making work with appreciable outcome.
It is probably the
first time, which showed that if the state-police and social
groups are vigilant and aim to control the riot, it can be done,
and that too within half an hour.
This despite the fact that the
underlying bitterness of the memories of 92-93 when the police
acted recklessly, and the guilty of 92-93 were not punished in
contrast to the accused of 93 March bomb blasts who were punished,
and rightly so.
This despite the fact the mob which had
congregated at Azad Maidan was huge and had been provoked by the
section of Urdu, media, the morphed images being circulated and
the provocative speeches which should not have been.
It is in this context that the need for communal violence Bill
becomes all the more urgent, to ensure that police does it job
properly, the state leadership acts without prejudices with the
sole aim of controlling the violence.