Imperialist Historians had vested interests in penning down the history of India
, and afterwards the Nationalist Historians could not resist the temptation of becoming reactionary in their writings to some extent. Leftist Historians politically tried to reap the benefits out of diverse streams to establish their materialistic ideas in a land where the society was gradually becoming sick of sectarian religious thoughts. The outcome was an environment in which consciously or unconsciously History was reduced to a Tool; being used for raising interests of one group or for demolishing interests of the other group. History became a weapon, sometimes double-edged, which when treated was bound to cut or injure the sentiments of this side or that side, and sometimes both the sides.
The politicians started using History by misrepresenting or distorting the facts to establish their points. Impartial writing of History, thus, became redundant; as one who was interested in writing history was not impartial, and one who was impartial was not interested.
So, our country during the last six and a-half decades had to pass through a period of crisis of faith and belief in it’s own history. ‘Love this’ and ‘Hate that’ or ‘Left is right’ or ‘Right is wrong’ or vice-versa spirit of Indian History Writing marred the real SPRIT of HISTORY ; and the fundamental knowledge remained jaundiced bereft of new branches and dimensions of macro-micro social relevance .
HISTORY in Independent India has been parading in Left and Right wings, both adamant to make use of it for establishing their own view-points of interest. This, in fact, has been the biggest agony of History during the last seven decades in India.
Sajhi Virasat : Sajha Samkalp ( Sagar Trust , Varanasi , Aug. 2011 , Rs. 30 only) edited by Sri Ram Puniyani, Former Professor , I.I.T. , Mumbai , and Dr. Mohammad Arif, Chairman , Centre for Harmony and Peace , is only a 75-page booklet containing the valuable research articles of eight scholars on different aspects of history , religion , culture
, peaceful co-existence and legacy of Indian history during the “ AGE OF HARMONY , 8th
Century – 19th
Century “ . The authors have brought forward new facts lesser known till date which dazzles our knowledge of history of the period. They have demolished the general feel that history is a weapon for the politicians and the vested interests, and have successfully established that, if taken in true broader aspect, history can be the mightiest bond of peaceful co-existence, a strong inspiration for humanity’s moral and material development, a unique lesson for creating tolerance and patience among citizen , a builder of national character and love.
I wish the contents of this precious publication is made available to our convent students also. The book has immense scope to expand its horizon. It may be a basis for rewriting history in wide public interest. It can set some important standards history stands for.
Scripts and language awareness is must for reading and writing of history of respective periods. The study and research in the history of the ‘Period of Harmony’ requires basic knowledge of Persian. Unfortunately our university and college students of history are not capable to reach to original documents of the period due to lack of knowledge of Persian. They derive their conclusions on secondary and tertiary sources in Hindi or English. This not only hampers the true spirit and confidence of a researcher, but also makes him feel guilty. Hence, he is reduced to a simple listener in conferences and seminars. On the other side, their neutrality unconsciously provides chance to non-serious persons to define, distort, misrepresent history in their own interest. I, therefore, appeal to students and scholars of history to become serious about the knowledge of history, and not to allow it to become a toy or tool in the hands of novice.
The findings of these research pieces are glaring and deserve to be imparted to young minds, so that a strong independent India free of menial feelings of caste, class and creed etc. comes out adopting love and respect for the Nation. Such lessons of history can not only fight with but can also eliminate the curse of terrorism, naxalism, communalism etc. once for ever … …
My thanks to the team of Sajhi Virasat : Sajha Samkalp . Hope, they come out with an expanded edition of the book with still more clear references.
Historians… !, please, please come forward … otherwise you and your knowledge go unnoticed, unsung. unhonoured.
Dr. Jai Ram Singh
Phone No: 91-9415256496
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February 20, 2013
Ward Berenschot's 'Riot Politics' - Book Review by Ananya Vajpeyi
From: New Republic, OCTOBER 12, 2012
Hate and The State: Hindu-Muslim Riot Politics in India
BY ANANYA VAJPEYI
THE PHRASE “Gujarat 2002” has, for the past decade, struck fear and shame in the hearts of many Indians. It marks a period of about three months, from late February 2002, when the Western state of Gujarat, and especially its first city, Ahmedabad, erupted into ugly mass violence targeted at local Muslim communities. About 2,500 people died (though official figures claim half that number), and tens of thousands were displaced, many of them permanently.
The episode produced a sense of national crisis: the violence seemed overwhelmingly directed at the Muslim minority (though Hindus also died); much of it was heinous and brutal (particularly for women and children); and by all independent accounts, it proceeded with the full knowledge, support, and complicity of the state government, led by the Hindu supremacist Bhartiya Janata Party. Worse, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has been re-elected to power twice in Gujarat since that dark time. The state’s Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, enjoys such absolute political popularity on his home turf that he is currently presenting himself as a possible contender for Prime Ministership in India’s general elections in 2014. In the moral conscience of secular Indians, both within Gujarat and elsewhere, 2002 remains a calamitous setback for India’s diverse and democratic polity.
In the bloody tumult of Gujarat in 2002, one incident that stood out for its heinousness took place in a locality called Naroda Patiya, an industrial suburb of Ahmedabad, where close to a hundred Muslims were massacred on February 28. The details of the rape
, gang rape, and mutilation of women are too awful to bear repeating—in any case media reports at the time, as well as subsequent recollections, have been graphic enough. This year, on August 29, a verdict pronounced by a fast-track Gujarat court on the basis of a report filed by a Special Investigative Team (SIT), convicted 32 persons for their role as perpetrators in the Narodiya Patiya massacre. Those sentenced include Maya Kodnani, a gynecologist, a thrice-elected legislator from Naroda constituency, and a former minister for Woman and Child Development in Modi’s cabinet, as well as Babubhai Patel or Babu Bajrangi, a local leader of one of the Hindu nationalist organizations on the far right, the militant Bajrang Dal. Kodnani faces 28 years of imprisonment; Patel, a life-sentence. Neither one was sentenced to be hanged, even though India still upholds the death penalty.
The Gujarat verdict has been ubiquitously described as “stunning,” because so few expected any justice would be done, and because powerful politicians such as Kodnani and Patel, protected and promoted by the BJP, and by Modi personally, were indicted at long last. Never before in the history of India’s courts has a sitting legislator been given what is effectively a life-sentence for inciting mass violence. Stunning also was the fact that Kodnani is a woman and a doctor; that she was repeatedly elected to her seat in the Gujarat legislature; and that Modi actually rewarded her ghastly instigation and abetment of violence (for example, by distributing sharp weapons to rioters) by appointing her a minister—with ghoulish irony—in charge of the welfare of women and children.
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Modi’s escalating efforts to project himself as prime ministerial material, as well as his insistent denials that any harm was done to Gujarat’s Muslims with his government’s complicity, have been seriously damaged. The challenge to his apparent impunity is indeed stunning, for him as for the public. But the Naroda Patiya verdict also rekindles in the nation’s consciousness the old trauma of why, how, and when Mahatma Gandhi’s Gujarat became the theater of India’s worst nightmare of religious politics, sectarian strife and horrible, indeed atavistic, violence.
The term that Gandhi used to spell out his political creed of non-violence in the first half of the twentieth century throughout India’s anti-colonial struggle was ahimsa. We now think of ahimsa as a Gandhian coinage, but in fact the term and the idea both existed for close to three millennia in Indian religious and philosophical thought, particularly in Jainism and Buddhism. The significant presence of Jains in elite Gujarati society—the Jains have constituted wealthy commercial classes from ancient times, and continue to do so in Gujarat today—exposed Gandhi to the concept of ahimsa, literally “the absence of the desire to harm others,” from a very young age.
As he became the leader of India’s nationalist movement against the British Raj, Gandhi transposed non-violence from the esoteric and ascetic doctrines of the Jain philosophy into popular politics, urging the people to fight for the truth without visiting violence upon their enemies, even the hated English rulers. For Gandhi, India’s political goal was swaraj or self-rule, but for every Indian freedom-fighter, self-rule was not only a collective project of emancipation from foreign rule; it was also the effort to liberate the self from the desire to harm others
, and thereby to achieve a real mastery over violent impulses lodged in each and every human being. In the Gandhian struggle, ahimsa and swaraj were inextricably connected to one another—there could be no true freedom, for the individual or for India, without non-violence.
British India’s violent partition into the two nation-states of India and Pakistan in 1947 undid Gandhi’s decades-long leadership of a non-violent freedom movement. He was devastated by the slaughter of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs at the hands of their fellow-countrymen. Unable to bear the ripping apart of the subcontinent, the millions dead and displaced, the sectarian animosities spreading like wildfire from Punjab in the west to Bengal in the east, he retreated from public life. Six months later, in January 1948, he was shot dead by a Hindu fanatic, who represented the resentful hope of many Indians that if there were no more Gandhi, there would be no more archaic talk of ahimsa hampering the unambiguously violent advance of the new nation into its postcolonial future.
In keeping with this cruel volte-face of history, Gujarat, Gandhi’s home state, was the first to forget him and move on. Today the symbol of Gujarat is not Gandhi but Modi, who could hardly be a more Manichean Other to the Mahatma. He is committed to the unashamed deployment of himsa—etymologically, both “harm” and “the desire to harm”—as a necessary tool of governance and development (his two pet agendas, according to his own propaganda). It is not only the fact of violence but also the hidden agenda—the wish to dominate the weak, to put minorities in their place, to establish supremacy through bullying and hurting the most vulnerable of Gujarat’s citizens—that makes Modi’s politics starkly anti-Gandhian.
The name given in Indian politics to strife between religious groups is “communal violence,” and the ideology driving such violence—a peculiarly Indian inflection of Fascism—is called “communalism.” Throughout the past century, in both British India and independent India
, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and others, indeed all types of Indian groups whose identities are based broadly on religion and on religious politics, have been both the perpetrators and the victims of communal violence.
From its earliest appearance in Indian political discourse—in 1905, when the Viceroy Lord Curzon announced the partition of the province of Bengal into two Hindu-majority and a Muslim-majority sectors—communal antagonism between groups has been seen as the outcome of a meddling, malignant state, out to “divide-and-rule.” Partition in 1947 was widely perceived as an apotheosis of such policies on the part of the British. After independence, the Indian state—and particularly the ruling Congress Party that led the national movement since its foundation in 1885—smoothly took over the function of dividing communities and setting them against one another for electoral gains and raisons d’état. In recent memory, communal violence against Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 (following on the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards), and against Muslims in North India and Bombay in 1992–1993 (following on the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya by the BJP and its Hindu majoritarian allies) both vindicated the assumption of government complicity in the targeting of particular groups.
Gujarat 2002 was no different. The state became the source of threat, rather than the refuge, for its Muslims. (Proving this well-known fact in court has been an uphill battle for survivors, witnesses, and concerned organizations.) The term that the modern state has deployed to describe communal violence while absolving itself of responsibility, is “communal riot.” The word “riot” suggests the image of unruly, irrational, and violent citizens, who must be curbed, controlled, and perhaps incarcerated (if not put down or taken out altogether) by the authorities. Delhi 1984 has often been called “the anti-Sikh riots”; post-Babri 1993 violence “the Bombay riots”; and inevitably, what happened in Gujarat in 2002 was also cast as spontaneous “rioting” rather than the planned
, targeted murder of a very large number of people belonging to one community with the full cooperation of the law and order machinery.
When Gandhi advocated ahimsa, he taught his followers to curb their violent tendencies, to fortify themselves against the urge to “riot” against the overbearing force of the British colonial state. The idea that violence will bubble up and erupt, like lava that runs just beneath the skin of the body politic, has been used to ominous effect by guilty politicians. Rajiv Gandhi, son of the slain Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, spoke of the gruesome massacre of nearly 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi in early November 1984 as the inevitable destruction that ensues, the earth that shakes, “when a big tree falls.” Narendra Modi talked about the horrors visited upon Gujarat’s Muslims in spring 2002 in terms of “action” and “reaction,” applying the pseudo-Newtonian language of inevitability to killings that had actually taken months if not years to orchestrate and realize.
Ward Berenschot’s new book, Riot Politics: Hindu-Muslim Violence and the Indian State renders signal service to the social science of violence, particularly communal violence in South Asia, in two respects. First, it clarifies the role of the state in engineering and executing such violence through an intricate coordination of political actors, bureaucrats, police and ordinary citizens—Berenschot fills out the somewhat abstract formulation of what it means, in concrete terms, for the state to have a policy of “divide-and-rule.” Second, it demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that rioting is anything but spontaneous, unplanned, unpredictable, and subjective. It is, rather, a well-understood and well-recognized form of political engagement, with all of the institutional, administrative, and ideological paraphernalia necessary for organized and comprehensible political activity undertaken by individuals and groups who stand in a series of determinate relationships with one another.
Communal violence is not the magical effluvium of disembodied state power—it is the carefully constructed artifact of what Berenschot names “riot networks”; and the communal riot is the visible outcome of a particular form of politics that Berenschot names “riot politics,” which carries on in a regular, routine, continuous way, punctuated by the spectacular episodes of violence that it is designed to deliver now and again. As elections take place from time to time in a properly functioning democracy, so riots take place from time to time in a properly functioning communal state.
Through immersive observation and extensive interviews conducted in Ahmedabad localities in 2005 and 2006, Berenschot, who speaks some Gujarati, builds up a number of credible portraits of the people behind riots—the netas (politicians), goondas (strongmen), and chamchas (sycophants) for whom “rioting is maintaining relations.” From the outside, these people might appear as anti-political, sociopathic, almost inhuman; but in reality they are firmly embedded in their neighborhoods, communities, and the larger urban fabric, where who they are, what they do, and why they do it are all perfectly tractable to others within their circles. But Berenschot does not want to humanize and thus vindicate the authors of terrible violence. Instead he wishes to enter into the intricate ecology of relationships—the infrastructure of violence—the social psychology of a place that is diverse but also divided—the conditions of possibility that turn neighbors into informants and attackers, and peaceable, even cowardly citizens into inflamed mobs of rapists and butchers. Regular problems of access to state resources and electoral power; regular forms of political mediation and institutional corruption; regular actions and interactions involving bureaucrats, politicians, party workers, policemen, social workers, civil society activists, lawyers; are also the stuff of which, occasionally, so-called riots are made.
Berenschot inserts himself (a foreign anthropologist) in three socio-economically distinctive parts of the city over a period of some fifteen to eighteen months. He follows a range of characters—from legislators and parliamentarians, to opposition party leaders and political activists, to fixers, handlers, procurers, mediators, municipal councilors, assassins, ideologues, spokespersons and hangers-on—all of whom populate what he calls the “institutional riot system.” The worlds of the people that he describes are almost jarringly bustling and vital—a constant reminder that rioting is how these individuals and many thousands of others like them make their living and get by in contemporary Gujarat. The persons he discusses come from a spectrum of castes
, religious communities, and economic backgrounds; he also looks at some women of the Hindu right (he mentions Maya Kodnani in passing, with apparently no inkling of her future indictment as a mass murderer). The overall mood of the book is busy, upbeat—in contrast to, say, some of the films made in recent years about Gujarat 2002, such as Rakesh Sharma’s Lanzmannian Final Solution (2004) and Nandita Das’s brooding Firaaq (2008), both of which are heavy with the unspeakable memories and the scars of deadly violence. Riot Politics is more a vivid snapshot of a society where like many other kinds of activity and exchange, communal violence too is part and parcel of business as usual.
This approach is extremely helpful, because it distances itself equally from the notion that the state systematically invests in social conflict and the assumption that human beings are already always susceptible to what George Kateb called “political evil.” It also wades squarely into the question that has long troubled many analysts of modern South Asia: Why is mass violence in this part of the world not exactly genocidal? What—apart from numbers—sets communal violence apart from what is defined, in the parlance of international law, as “genocide”? Why can we think of Gujarat 2002 as stopping short of, or being qualitatively different from, a genocide of Gujarati Muslims? Berenschot’s careful exposition of riot politics, premised on the existence, cultivation, and maintenance of riot networks, provides a robust model for why even extreme and shocking communal violence is not much more than an extension of ordinary institutional vicissitudes and political processes in a mixed and internally fractured society.
Berenschot’s fine-grained analysis shows that even what happened in 2002, as well as its aftermath that still continues to vitiate political life in Gujarat, is not as exceptional as we might suppose. In the longer historical context of postcolonial Gujarati politics, and in the complex web of give-and-take that makes up the everyday unfolding of the political in Gujarat, such violence does not mark a setting apart of people into rigid categories of perpetrators and victims, murderers and Muselmänner, “sovereign power” and “bare life.” While it is true that the watershed of 2002 produced many new slums, ghettos, and refugee settlements for internally exiled Muslims, and that living conditions in these areas are abysmal, there is also a sense in which the continuum of prejudice and exclusion both precedes and stretches on after the pogroms.
It would seem that state institutions, political parties, and civil society are arranged in a circle, and sometimes—at moments that are not quite predictable, but not utterly preposterous either—at the center of these linkages there opens up the abyss of unimaginable violence. Gandhi apprehended that violence is the appalling hub of both social networks and individual consciousness. The sovereignty of the self lies precisely in its mastery over deep, primordial, and adamantine violence. Political freedom does not reside in the sovereign state’s establishment of its exclusive monopoly over violence, but in the complete or near-complete extinguishing of the desire to harm from the very orientation of the self towards the other. Even as an old man, Gandhi recognized, in his own stubbornly assertive sexual urges, the veiled face of his greatest life-long enemy, ahimsa: the will to power, the desire to dominate, the urge to do violence to another. Literally to his dying day, still obsessed with a recalcitrant celibacy, an elusive detachment, he never stopped trying to achieve ahimsa.
The BJP was defeated in the general elections of 2004, and has spent the past eight years in the political wilderness, at least at the level of national politics. Whether it can recover lost ground in the next couple of years remains to be seen—for now, its prospects and its preparedness compare rather well to the disarray of the Republican Party in America. But in Gujarat, Modi has clung tenaciously to power. Increasingly, he fancies himself a national leader of the Hindu Right. Manipulative and mendacious media stories set him up as India’s next Prime Minister, even though his political creed bluntly impugns the country’s constitutionally mandated secular character, and he, his party and his government—including twisted figures like Maya Kodnani, the woman who abetted the torture, humiliation, rape and murder of other women—have the blood of thousands of Muslims on their hands.
In such a setting, scholarship such as Berenschot’s ethnography of what we may characterize as “riot culture” assumes a significance far beyond the academy. It helps bring to the fore the mutually enabling relationship of modern hate and the modern state: two entities with which the citizens of democratic India, as much as any other nation in the world today, must familiarize themselves to a far greater extent than they might have hoped a few decades ago, at the time of the founding of their new republic.
Ananya Vajpeyi’s book, Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India was published in September by Harvard University Press. She is with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.
Riot Politics: Hindu-Muslim Violence and the Indian State
Columbia University Press
Cloth, 320 pages,
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The Origins of Communalism
Book Review by Aria Thaker
Book reviewed: Issues of Communal Violence: Causes and Responses
Author: Irfan Engineer
Published by: Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution
PB, Pp: 52
In his Issues of Communal Violence: Causes and Responses,
Irfan Engineer discusses the societal conditions that bring about and perpetuate communal riots in modern India. Most of the time, Engineer's analysis strikes an effective balance between theoretical and empirical explanations; he discusses the nature of communalism, but also provides ample proof of his reasoning by citing both scholarly studies as well as documented incidents from the 2002 Godhra riots, 1992 Mumbai riots, and many other instances of communal violence. In a few parts, however, Engineer's explication of particulars regarding the formation of riots seems to be a bit simplistic or difficult to apply. Overall, however,Issues of Communal Violence
is a persuasive text, one that disentangles many issues that are often confused in media and popular discourse surrounding riots today.
Engineer begins the book with a broad, theoretical exploration of the nature of communalism. The first chapter quotes liberally from different scholarly texts, so much so that it is a challenge to discern which beliefs Engineer agrees with and which he is simply offering as counterpoint. His heavy engagement with other works, however, ends up providing a thoughtful portrayal of the complexity—and controversy—surrounding the idea of what communalism is and how it happens. He describes scholars' varied explanations for the causes of communal violence; some describe it as resultant of mounting religious tensions, some state that it is caused by political and economic factors instead, and some describe it as being caused by a confluence factors, both ideological
, religious, political and material.
The second chapter takes a distinct departure from the continually referential style of the first. In the chapter introduction, Engineer makes powerful, assertive statements that dispel much of the propaganda surrounding riots, such as the idea that communal organizations exist to "protect" people of their faith against violence from other communities. "There is not a single instance," Engineer writes, "where Shiv Sainiks marched to the largest Muslim ghetto in Mumbai--Bhindi Bazaar--to secure Hindu minorities in the area when some of them were attacked as a revenge to Muslim casualties in other areas, nor did Muslim armed groups that were attacking Hindus in the Bhindi Bazaar area ever try to protect Muslims in the areas where they were vulnerable and in the minority" (pg. 11).
Engineer also makes a persuasive argument to explain the flawed logic behind communal violence; aggressors think that in attacking members of another religion, they are "imputing guilt" to members of faith in a "primitive and barbarous" way to avenge previous wrongs done by members of that same, targeted faith. "A collective punishment," Engineer states, "is handed down in order to deepen and polarize communal identities within members of both communities" (pg. 12). This explanation of communal reasoning powerfully illustrates the vicious cycle of bloodshed that is perpetuated when violence is attempted to avenge previous acts of violence.
In his discussion of the constituents of communal riots, Engineer delineates four categories of people who participate in communal violence. These categories, in order, are the organizers, the trained fighters, the people who spread rumors to inflame communal sentiment, and the people who have motivations other than communal hatred. Engineer's categorization does effectively convey the diversity of efforts that go into the planning and execution of what is often incorrectly perceived as spontaneous violence. It may be true that the four listed roles form the backbone of most communal riots and wanton violence. However, it is simplistic to conclude that therefore there must be only four distinct categories of people
who contribute to the violence. The distillation of communal elements into four distinct categories discounts the possibility that some people occupy two, or multiple of the niches Engineer presents. The first and fourth categories, in particular, seem to have a great deal of overlap, as do the first and third.
Not only do the four main categories of participants fail to include lax (and therefore complicit) law enforcement and political officials, they consciously omit the inclusion of people who are swept up in mobs and become participants of communal rioting. "Their involvement," Engineer asserts, "was not on large scale” (pg 13). It is unclear what Engineer's source is for this fact. He cites two examples of interviewed Hindus who have, out of confusion and curiosity, engaged in throwing bombs and rocks at Muslim buildings, but he dismisses such involvement, saying that the same people later helped shelter and aid Muslims. What were the circumstances that allowed the interviewed people to be receptive to the ideas of throwing petrol bombs and rocks? While moral culpability might be a tricky issue when it comes to mob mentality, and no one will dispute that a riot planner is much more at fault than someone "caught up in the moment," participation in communal violence at all levels must be acknowledged and examined if we are to fully investigate the manner in which communalism and religious bigotry become entrenched in society. After all, many of the same social forces that caused the two interviewed subjects to throw weapons at mosques may have caused riot planners to become as prejudiced and vengeful as they are now.
The third chapter--the strongest one in the book--addresses police complicity in communal riots and makes a nearly indisputable case for the need for more impartiality in the world of law enforcement. In "Role of Police in Communal Violence," Engineer strikes the ideal balance between referring to other scholarly data as well as making original, compelling arguments of his own. He liberally cites a paper written by IPS officer Rai, who argues that because "Indian society is not torn apart with civil war and existence of armed militias" as other nations are, "if the police and administration is unable to control a riot within 24 hours, it only means that their actions
, conduct and behaviour need proper examination" (pg 19). Rai's research concludes that the Indian police operate under dangerously extreme communal biases, which results in communal bloodshed continuing and escalating for far longer than it should. Engineer states chilling statistics; for example, during the first phase of communal rioting in 1992 Bombay, 192 of the 250 Muslims killed were shot by police. Out of those killed, over 90% died of injuries above the abdomen, "proving that police had fired to kill and not to disperse a rioting mob." (pg 23) After the 1992 riots, 97% of riot victims from the Muslim community saw the police as their enemies.
Meanwhile, 93% of Hindu victims stated they would approach the police for help during riots. These are only a small fraction of the frightening statistics, not to mention the numerous, appalling anecdotes, which Engineer provides to support his case.
Engineer's barrage of evidence conveys the dire need for better, more responsible law enforcement and administration. The various solutions he proposes the police should attempt—to maintain greater vigilance in the formative stages of riots, provide more impartial and immediate assistance to all
victims of violence, facilitate dialogue and reconciliation between community leaders, and counter of rumors through the dissemination of truth--are almost all excellent. However, he comes close to suggesting a measure that would only result in further abuse of power: the curtailment of freedom of speech. In addition to the above activities, Engineer suggests that pro-active police intervention should consist of police "arresting those making provocative speeches" (pg 20). Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democracy, and whenever possible, it should be upheld regardless of how abhorrent a speech’s content may be. Having communal leaders punished for merely making speeches would likely make martyrs of them among their respective communities, further inflaming communal sentiment. In addition to that
, encouraging an already-biased law enforcement system to arrest people based on inflammatory speech would result in leaders of marginalized communities being arrested at a far more frequent rate than leaders of the majority community. Detaining people for acts of speech, of course, requires that police pass subjective judgment in order to deem certain speech "inflammatory" or not. And as Engineer very correctly states, "police believe that to be communal is only prerogative of Muslims;" therefore, encouraging police to arrest more people based on violence-inciting speeches would simply result in the disproportionate and unjust arrest of Muslims and the turning of many a blind eye to any inflammatory speech made by Hindus. Law enforcement in India should instead concentrate on consistently halting instances of violence, because no police force alone is capable of changing ideological currents that shape the motivations for such violence. It is possible for police to vigilantly respond to hatred-fueled speech acts—with increased security, countering of false rumors, surveillance of the speakers’ other activities, crowd control, etc.—without arresting people for making the speeches. Encouraging the arrests of people based on their speech acts only further justifies and allows for acts like the Gujarat Congress Party’s shutdown of an entire television channel during the 2002 Godhra carnage, or the Mumbai police’s arrest of a young woman who posted a facebook status that was perceived to be anti-Shiv Sena.
In another extremely rhetorically powerful chapter, Engineer discusses the impact of a communal social climate on minority communities themselves, describing how groups respond to violence by isolating themselves from diversity, thus leading to more strife and distance between communities and thereby causing more violence and tension. This chapter should be required reading for anyone who makes the extremely common, victim-blaming argument that people, particularly minorities, who suffer communal violence should have known better than to openly "flaunt” their religion through their clothing and other orthodox practices. According to Engineer, it is the fear of violence that causes religious identity to "suddenly become the most important aspect of [people's] existence--that can save or endanger [people's lives.] (pg. 33)." A community's turn inward is caused by "development of perception of self and "other" binary in ethno-religious or religious-nationalist terms (pg. 33)." Engineer shows how this polarization is manifested outwardly in many practices—"more men start wearing skull caps or growing beards increases after riots
, men pray in mosques more often as identity markers. Muslim women start wearing burkha and conform to the expected norms of behaviour to identify with the community or as a measure for security." (pg. 33) In an extremely disturbing footnote, Engineer cites Sophia Khan, director of SAFAR, Ahmedabad, who reported a significant decrease
in the amount of Muslim women filing domestic violence cases, despite the fact that domestic violence was on the rise.
In the fifth chapter, Engineer explores the impacts of communal profiling, especially when it comes to accusations of terrorism. He alludes to a global, not just an Indian, issue when describing how "Muslims are often subjected to stricter security checks at airport and other check points, more likely to be suspected for offences, including those linked with the underworld, organized crime and terrorism, subjected to more severe tortures, and more likely to be subjected to third degree methods..." (pg. 42) The humiliation and ostracism that come along with these accusations result in the community's further social marginalization and impoverishment, only sharpening communal tensions.
In the final chapter of Issues of Communal Violence, Engineer briefly explores possible avenues for ameliorating communal violence in today's society. He correctly asserts that building peace has to exist both at the state level as well as within society. The state, he argues, "will have to perceive the threat posed by communal violence and terrorism as a threat to democracy. One cannot be fought in isolation from the other (pg. 45)." He is correct; in order for a democracy to function, all constituents must be able to participate in a society without fear for their lives and livelihoods. At only two pages, Engineer does not leave much room in this chapter for the elaboration of actual schemes that might start solving endemic problems of communalism, but that, of course, can be a topic for another book. As it currently reads, Issues of Communal Violence is an extremely well crafted primer on the basic issues and causes behind communalism and its violent iterations.
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Volume 1, Issue 1
Published by All India Secular Forum
C/o. Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
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Secular Action Network, March, 2013