Communal Politics – Recognize and Resist the Pattern

(How is the communal seed sown? How can we prevent it from taking root? To understand this, let us look at the ‘templates’ of recent instances of communal violence in some parts of the country.)

Uttar Pradesh On the Boil

The Indian Express published a series of investigative reports on communal violence in Uttar Pradesh. Their investigation found that “a third of all “communal” incidents recorded by police in Uttar Pradesh in the 10 weeks following the Lok Sabha election results have occurred in — or on the fringes of — 12 assembly constituencies that are scheduled to go to polls over the next few months.

If a larger circle is imagined — covering broadly the region around these constituencies — this proportion rises to two-thirds, police records show....The records show a running strand of attempts made by an aggressive BJP, a desperate SP, and a flagging BSP to turn every clash involving individuals from the two largest religious communities into a communal issue....There is also clear evidence of provocation in areas where Dalits and Muslims live together, leading to communal polarisation....

“Between May 16 — when UP delivered a spectacular tally to the BJP in the Lok Sabha — and July 25, 605 low-key clashes took place which police identified as “communal” in nature. Nearly 200 of these occurred in or around the 12 constituencies, and another 200 in the broader region. MLAs at these 12 assembly seats contested the Lok Sabha elections and have become MPs. Polls to the vacant seats are due within six months.

Five of these seats — Saharanpur Nagar, Bijnor, Kairana, Thakurwada and Gautam Buddh Nagar — are in Western UP, where the largest number of 259 communal incidents were recorded. Fifty-three incidents took place in Awadh, where the Lucknow East assembly seat will go to polls.

“In the Terai, Eastern UP and Bundelkhand regions, each of which is home to two of the 12 seats, 29, 16, and 6 incidents respectively were recorded.

“Records of more than 400 communal incidents in and around the constituencies show that tensions arose out of broadly six issues. The most common were construction activities involving masjids, madrasas and kabristans (graveyards); and the use of loudspeakers for prayers (120 instances each).

“Issues of land led to communal tensions in about 70 cases; alleged incidents of cow slaughter in 61 cases; and alleged incidents of elopement and eve-teasing or harassment involving men and women of different communities in 50-odd cases. Minor accidents triggered communal incidents in some 30 cases.

Trigger Points

More than a quarter of the communal incidents were triggered by clashes over loudspeakers, the Indian Express investigation revealed. But even in the words used to instigate hatred over loudspeakers, the theme of ‘Muslims as a threat to the izzat (honour) of Hindu women’ can be seen. Take the following Whatsapp message sent out allegedly by the Vijay Kumar Mittal, head of the Bageshwar temple committee in Saharanpur:

Mitron aaj to tumhare mandiron se speaker utar rahe hain, ek na huye to kal yeh tumhare ghar main ghuske tumhari izzat utarenge. Isliye bolta hoon, apni taakat dikha do. To sab milte hain, shaam 6 baje Bageshwar mandir. (Friends, today, they are removing speakers from your temples; if you do not unite, tomorrow they will enter your homes and humiliate you. This is why I say, demonstrate your strength. So let us meet at 6 pm at the Bageshwar temple.)

More recently, there is a report of a minor quarrel between two 15-year-old school children, one Hindu and the other Muslim, leading to a communal clash in Bahadurgarh village in Hapur district of UP. Though the communal flare up did not result in any casualties, about half a dozen shops belonging to both sides were burnt down, while a mosque was also damaged.

In Jharkhand, one person was killed in the communal violence instigated by a deliberate attempt to disrupt the Eid-ul-Fitr festival, by challenging the right of Muslims to hold prayers on a piece of land.

Pitting Dalits Against Muslims

Indian Express found that “A ninth of all communal incidents since May 16 have been Dalits vs Muslims, of which 70% were near 12 bypoll seats.

“Data from police stations across Uttar Pradesh scrutinised by The Indian Express show that out of 605 communal incidents in the state in the 10 weeks beginning with the Lok Sabha election results of May 16, 68 — or every ninth incident — involved Muslims and Dalits.

“Forty-eight of these 68 incidents — over 70 per cent — took place in and around 12 assembly constituencies where byelections are due.

“The clashes between Muslims and Dalits signal a fracture in the BSP’s once-potent social engineering experiment. One fallout of the weakening of the BSP’s Dalit-Muslim coalition has been that the party’s mixed leadership in these areas has found it difficult to take sides — and individual leaders have often rushed to align with their respective religious groups, alienating members of the other group.

“Tensions between Dalits and Muslims began, in several cases, after a relationship between, or elopement of, couples from the two communities. In many of these cases, local BJP units and leaders emerged as the “protector” of Dalits, police records show.

“According to a senior police officer who was involved in tackling the fallout of the riot, Dalit rioters were involved in around 70 per cent of cases of destruction of property. In Kalasi Lane on the outskirts of Saharanpur town, an area that is surrounded by Muslim and Dalit neighbourhoods, only three shops in a shopping complex were set on fire — all belonging to Muslim tailors. All the suspects that police have in the case are Dalits.

“Of all the non-Muslims who were arrested for the violence in Saharanpur, only 2 per cent were Sikhs — most of the rest were Dalit Hindus.

Role of Media

The Indian Express observes that “The second significant — and new — aspect of the ongoing phase of communal tensions in UP is the intensity and spread of the violence in areas that are completely or predominantly rural. Rumour has played a role in polarisation, along with instruments of propaganda and posturing such as loudspeakers.

“In several cases, communal tensions have polarised communities that have had no history of animosity, and have lived in harmony for decades.”

How are rumours spread? Not only through social media, sms, Whatsapp and so on. The print and electronic media, both local and national, do their bit in spreading the communal poison. Local newspapers in Western UP are awash with reports of ‘forced conversion and rape’ by Muslims, and their reporting of communal tension and violence tends to be heavily biased. They are an important vehicle for rumours.

Even national news channels are not responsible in their coverage of communal violence. Take one example. ABP News, a Hindi news channel, ran a ‘Special Investigation of Communal Riots in UP’ story on August 8, 2104 (http://abpnews.abplive.in/video/2014/08/06/article376141.ece/ABP-News-special-investigation-on-communal-riots-in-Uttar-Pradesh?id=376141#.U_cVYmOdQrY)

The supposedly ‘investigative’ story is an instance of how the media subtly shapes the communal violence narrative, making out the worst affected community to be the main instigator.

The story, covering communal riots in Bareilly, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Moradabad, spoke to relatives of those killed, as well as those who lost property in the communal violence. It cannot be a coincidence that each and every one of the victims shown was a Hindu or specifically, Dalit? Not a single Muslim victim was shown on this program.

No doubt, each of these victims is genuine. The loss of life, property, is as traumatic for the Hindus and Dalits affected. But how can it be that not a single affected Muslim family is shown, when the fact is that the Muslims form a disproportionate part of the victims?

The overall impact of a story supposed on communal violence in Western UP, subtly and not so subtly echoes the Amit Shah narrative, suggesting that Muslims as a community protected by the Samajwadi Party Govt, are the aggressors.

Such stories help to hijack and overturn the meaning of what ‘communalism’ is. In the popular imagination, ‘communalism’ begins to conjure up images of vicious minorities attacking the majority. Majoritarian violence is eased out of the picture, by such a portrayal of communal violence.

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