Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Anatomy of Muzaffarnagar communal riots

 By Shashi Shekhar

The Muzaffarnagar Riots have in a macabre way shattered every known “social science theory” on the “anatomy of communal riots”. In the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat Riots and subsequent elections we have had this farcical spectacle of social scientists from Ashis Nandy to Ashutosh Varshney peddling their own prejudices and biases as sound theses to explain away the unfortunate violence of 2002. If Ashis Nandy had described Gujarat as “structurally polarized” while spewing venom at the middle mlass, Ashutosh Varshney went on to advance deep theory on how to understand the riots by reducing it to an urban only phenomenon rooted in politics of Hindu identity consciousness.

The problem with the Muzaffarnagar riots in Uttar Pradesh is that every one of these ‘social science theory’ will have to now be thrown out of the window as a hapless administration struggles to control riots across villages even as it stares at a refugee situation with families fleeing conflict ridden villages in bullock carts.
It would be facile to reduce the conflict in Muzaffarnagar to one between two religious communities or to locate it within a Mahapanchayat of a single caste. A cursory look at the news emanating from the Muzaffarnagar region through much of August paints a very disturbing picture of violent incidents on the rise.
On August 14 multiple media outlets reported an incident of gangrape of a 30-year-old woman at gunpoint allegedly by policemen in a village of Shamli district. A couple of days later on August 16 came news of the eve teasing incident in another village resulting in the death of a Dalit youth bringing out the casteist faultlines. The socially conservative atmosphere in this part of Uttar Pradesh is best appreciated from this news story dated August 16 on how a girls wrestling team was prohibited from competitive participation by a local panchayat. On August 17 came news of yet another clash that saw a person killed in a different village, this time though the clash was between two groups from the same Muslim community. On August 21 came news of a large scale clash from Soram village with 14 arrests and 150 booked. On August 24 we read the horrific news of yet another gangrape in Shamli district, this time a Class IX student. The same day,  August 24 also saw a clash in Miranpur over objectionable content posted on Facebook with a clear communal angle to it. On August 30 we see the spiral of violence between youth of two communities in Kawal Nagar village.

It is important to note that well before the current wave of insidious theorising started on the root cause of the spiral of violence, on August 31 one already saw arrests of several people including a former of Minister of Uttar Pradesh belonging to the Ajit Singh-led RLD. Random communal incidents such as this one on a train about an attack on students and this one on the shooting of a Dalit shows the general state of lawlessness in the region.

It is also important to note that contrary to much of the shallow and insidious theorising by the media elite on the causes of the spiral of violence, on September 1 we witnessed a BSP MP and 2 BSP MLAs, all 3 Muslims, being booked for making provocative speeches over the violence in Kawal Village, following the arrest of the RLD leader.

It is not until September 5 that one sees the first references to the alleged fake video finding its way into the spiral of violence by when much political water had already flown on account of multiple political parties. Meanwhile on September 4 a different incident this time over garbage disposal flared up into a clash with both religious and casteist dimensions to it, leaving one person dead.

While Muzaffarnagar made national news on September 7 after the unfortunate deaths of a reporter of the Hindi news channel IBN7 and a photo-journalist the reality is the region was already on the precipice of a spiral of violence well before that caste Mahapanchayat and the attacks on it.

Before getting into shallow root cause theories on what underlies Muzaffarnagar’s spiral of violence it would be in order to pay attention to these two news reports from 2012. In November of 2012, Iftikhar Gilani writing in the DNA had chronicled how Uttar Pradesh was in the grip of communal violence ever since the new Samajwadi Party Government led by Akhilesh Yadav had been voted in. A couple of months earlier writing in the Times of India Subodh Ghildiyal reported on how repeated incidents of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh went unchallenged politically.

Perhaps underlying this spiralling violence is an unstated power struggle within the extended political ecosystem of the Samajwadi Party that remains unreconciled to the coronation of the relatively young and inexperienced Akhilesh Yadav. Perhaps even deeper reasons are to be found in the demographic transformation of Uttar Pradesh with a relatively younger and restive population. Either way, the Muzaffarnagar riots expose how shallow much of the commentary and analysis of riots has been.

With villages and communities torn apart over relatively trivial incidents that have been blown out of proportion by political players who can hardly be labelled the ‘usual suspects’ by an Ashis Nandy or an Ashutosh Varshney, it perhaps is time for a whole new theory on the anatomy of a communal riot.


1 comment:

  1. Jai Shri Ram!!
    My condolences to the Hindu families who died in the muaffarnagar riots, It's the failure of the SP party to govern the state. the state gov is hell bent in giving justice to muslim community what about Hindus?????
    We Hindus must unite together to save the dharma and vote as a block.Dr swamy is correct in saying this as this will get the parties to stop Muslim appeasement