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Communalism: New Strategies

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Communalism: New Strategies

Irfan Engineer

The communal organizations often propound that there is peace as there are no riots, at least major riots in the country. They further propound that there being peace, there was no need for the proposed “Communal and Target Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill” or any other special law to deal with communal riots. That such a legislation would in fact deepen the communal divide and wounds that were healing. We are not going into the merits and demerits of the proposed draft of the legislation, which has been dealt with separately. However, it is an obvious fact that Gujarat 2002 type riots have not repeated after that. But this was true even after the 1969 major riots in Ahmedabad in which according to unofficial estimates over 2,000 people had been killed and 1970 Bhiwandi Jalgaon Mahad riots, equally devastating, only until 1984 when again there were riots in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bhiwandi and Mumbai! Throughout 1980s there were localized riots, including Godhra, Meerut, Maliana, Moradabad, Aligarh, Bhagalpur etc. of various intensities. These riots in step with the campaign to mobilize for demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and construction of Ram Temple on one hand and opposition to the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Shahbano Case on the other hand. The mobilization to demolish Babri Masjid finally culminated in communal riots in 1992-93 in many cities across the length and breadth of the country, mainly in the Northern and Western Regions, including Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat.
One explanation of the pattern of violence, given the political mobilization of various castes and communities to claim their share in the pie of the opportunities and fruits, could be that communal violence is cyclical and periodical. The period of the cycle may more or less vary, but the intensity of violence escalates. Therefore, the present period is more of a lull before the storm. But lull itself is not so peaceful with series of communal riots on low scale 8 riots in UP, in Dhule in Maharashtra, etc. The other observation regarding the pattern of violence could be that the communal organizations are now less dependent on riots as a tool for communalization and communal mobilization.
Communal organizations would like to spread a myth that communal riots are a natural and popular reaction to certain appalling incident like assassination of Indira Gandhi, killing of Swami Laxmanand or burning of a coach of Sabarmati Express, Communal violence is orchestrated to achieve certain objectives. Paul Brass suggests that an institutionalized riot systems have been created since independence in certain regions, particularly in north and western states in India, which can be activated during periods of political mobilization or at the time of elections. Communal violence is far from being spontaneous occurrences. The production of a riot, Brass argues, involves calculated and deliberate actions by key individuals, like recruitment of participants, provocative activities and conveying of messages, spreading of rumours, amongst other specific activities. There are frequent rehearsals until the time is ripe and the context is felicitous and there are no serious obstructions in carrying out the performance.
The objective behind communal riots in India is to deepen communal consciousness and marginalise all other primordial identities like linguistic, ethnic, gender; and ascribed identities like profession or occupation based, club/sports or that of animal lovers or art lovers etc. It also seeks to make the dalits and adivasis ignore the fact that they are oppressed and discriminated by caste based hierarchical structures on one hand and embrace the communal identity as informed by the interest of the upper caste on the other hand without questioning the caste based hierarchical structures.
Communal violence heightens an individual’s communal consciousness as based on his/her communal identity s/he could be killed. The fear of “other” is highest during violence and every person belonging to one’s community is perceived as comrade and persons not belonging to one’s community are perceived as a source of potential violent threat. Therefore during riots one is desperate to know every strangers identity. The communal consciousness acquired during riots due to heightened state of fear does not entirely wane after the riots. The communal forces build on the communal consciousness through constant propaganda popularizing many myths, stereo types and negative attitudes about the “other” community which sustains image of the “other” as a potential threat to their collective social interest. Thus communal violence leads to communal consciousness and discriminatory approach towards the “other” and preference for members of one’s own community in social, political and economic affairs. This process in turn pushes the society towards ghettoization of social space. Communal consciousness leads to acceptance of communal nationalism as a natural political order rather than secular and inclusive nationalism with democracy and its principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Communal riots therefore play an integral part in communalizing the society.
New Strategy:
The old strategy of spectacular and catastrophic riots was inevitable as the communal forces did not have sufficient following and critical mass to doctor consciousness of the nation without resorting to riots. Producing riots, as Paul Brass would put it, enabled the communal organizations to get increased coverage in a section of media and attract attention of the nation. The strategy was to use riots and the media together for constructing communal consciousness. However, of late, the communal organizations seem to have adopted an alternate strategy to achieve the objective of constructing communal consciousness and are less dependent on spectacular and catastrophic communal riots to communalize the consciousness of the society. Nay, they also face difficulties with catastrophic communal riots inflicting heavy casualty e.g. a section of media may cover the incident adversely, or they may run into problems with international human rights organizations and at times with national institutions like the higher judiciary and at times being accepted as a leader at national level, particularly, if one has prime ministerial ambitions.
Instead of heightened fear during communal riots, the communal forces are now disguising and morphing themselves as “Islamic terrorists” and executing terror attacks targeting Muslims as well as Hindus. The terrorists motivated by Hindutva ideology were first detected trying to manufacture a bomb, which exploded in the process on 6th April 2006. Two Bajrang Dal activists – who were manufacturing the bomb were killed, including one Rajkondwar. Maps of mosques, attire usually worn by Muslims was found by the police during their investigations. Rahul Pande, one of the person who sustained injury when the bomb exploded, confessed that they had made series of bombs earlier too. In January 2008, Hindu Munani activists were arrested by the police for placing bombs near RSS office and ST bus stand in Tenkasi in TN. They thought that the blame would naturally be on Muslim groups leading to communalization of the Hindus. On 24th August 2008, two Bajrang Dal activists died in Kanpur trying to assemble bombs. The group was planning massive explosions all over the state.
On 30th April 2010, Devendra Gupta, Vishnu Prasad and Chandrashekkar Patidar, long associated with RSS was arrested for placing bomb in one of the most popular Muslim shrine – Ajmer Sharif in October 2007. They are also believed to have placed bombs in Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad for which scores of Muslim youth were arrested and tortured during police custody.
Six members of Sanatan Sanstha were arrested for planting bombs outside of an auditorium in Thane, Vashi in 2008. On 30 August 2011, Ramesh Gadkari and Vikram Bhave belonging to Sanatan Sanstha were found guilty of the Thane blasts by the Sessions Court and received the maximum sentence of ten years rigorous imprisonment. NIA officers raided the organization’s headquarters in October 2011. The investigations are ongoing.
Two persons were killed in the Margao blast on 16th October 2009. The NIA has accused Prashant Juvekar (Ratnagiri), Sarang Kulkarni (Pune), Jayprakash alias Anna (Mangalore) and an unidentified person. The two men identified as Malgondi Patil and Yogesh Naik, who were carrying the bagful of country made explosives were reportedly riding a scooter when the blast occurred. The blast took place when a religious event was being held during which effigies of a mythical demon, Narkasur, were brunt to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Police linked the blast to a right-wing Hindu organisation named Sanatan Sanstha, which has its headquarters in the temple town of Ramnathi in Ponda region of Goa. In both the above incidents, the target was not Muslims. Naturally the blame was expected to be laid at the door of Muslims.
Communalization of section of IB and ATS:
While resorting to terrorist methods and using bombs to achieve their objective of constructing communal consciousness and fear of Muslims was one of the methods adopted by the communal organizations, the other strategy was placing persons indoctrinated with communal ideologies in key places within the security forces. The key individuals within the security forces would then misuse their positions and illegally arrest and murder innocent Muslim youth declaring them to be “terrorists who infiltrated from across the border with the intention to kill Narendra Modi or target some key individuals / installations and who were killed in encounter with the police.” Innocent Muslim youth were regularly targeted in this fashion until the brother of Sohrabuddin decided to wage a long legal battle against all odds and might of the individuals involved in the murder and those protecting them. Ishrat Jehan, Javed Sheikh and two others with her, one Sadiq Jamal and others were also similarly eliminated. CBI investigations of the murder of Israt Jehan points to the involvement of P P Pandey who retired as DGP of Gujarat and still investigating the involvement of Rajendra Kumar, officer of IB who not only provided the intelligence which enabled the murder to pass off as encounter, but also allegedly arranged for AK47 guns that were placed on the bodies of Ishrat Jehan and others to ensure that the murder passes off as an encounter for the media. Amit Shah, State Home Minister and Narendra Modi’s right hand person was arrested in the Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bano and Tulsiram Prajapati murder case.
The periodical murders of Muslim individuals would be followed by nationwide coverage of the police version by the uncritical media millions of avid news hungry consumers would have no option but to gulp the news as 24 carat truth. Repeated coverage of such periodical murders by unsuspecting and uncritical media, prime time debates around the incidents for days together made the consumers of news to accept the doctrine propounded by Narendra Modi and L K Advani that all terrorists are Muslims. The fear of Muslims after riots is replaced by fear of Muslims being terrorists and achieving the same objective of constructing communal consciousness. The murder episodes which were passed off as encounters also helped make individuals who were to be targeted as heroes of “Hindu community” and construct their image as iron persons.
Conclusion:
The alternate strategy now increasingly resorted to by communal forces is to use a section of intelligence and Anti Terrorism Squads (ATS) coupled with media coverage to stigmatize the minorities as posing threat to the nation. The communal forces have succeeded in getting its ideologically trained cadres placed in security forces and use them as a vehicle in communalization project. The new strategy can now work as communal forces have succeeded in systematically infiltrating the security forces to carry out its objectives. While a section of the IB provides cooked intelligence, the ATS pretends to immediately swoops into action arresting or killing innocent Muslim youth and claiming to protecting the nation against threat of terrorist attack. Nimesh Commission in UP has pointed out list of number of Muslims who were falsely charged by UP Govt. even during ‘secular’ Mayawati regime as terrorists. Khalid Mujahid was one such person according to Nimesh Commission on basis of evidence. Khalid Mujahid was eliminated under police custody. Minds have been so communalized that advocates defending the Muslim accused of terror charges are being beaten up within court premises by fellow advocates and the society / judiciary does not seem to be appalled! At least there are no strong signals sent by high courts or the Apex Court against such incidents within court premises! Qateel Siddiqui was killed in Yerwada jail as he could have testified to innocence of Himayat Baig, facing gallows for the German Bakery blast. The new strategy seems to be working, but it remains to be seen how long it will work? When will the citizens who respect democracy and institutions of democracy rise to question such blatant violence? Will they before we have a fascist state at our doors?

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Author: Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution

We work for peace and conflict resolution through peace courses, education and awareness. Our Aims are: •To study about the diversity in the society and making everyone aware of it. •To bring about policy change whereby promoting rights of the marginalized groups mentioned above. •To create democratic spaces in educational institutions, communities and public life on the whole through debates and reflection. •To encourage the discourse on peace education and human rights.

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