Yet another doctored riot by Harsh Mander (Hindustan Times)
“A people who have never fought each other in history are today bitterly estranged, fearful and angry. ‘Not even during the Partition riots of 1947 did a drop of blood flow in our villages’, they repeatedly told us. And today, some 50 lie dead, and 50,000 have fled their homes in terror.
“Cramped into makeshift camps in madrasas and mosques, many resolve never to return to the land of their ancestors. The Muzaffarnagar countryside in western Uttar Pradesh is reeling under the gravest communal clash the country has witnessed since the 2002 Gujarat carnage.
“People of diverse faiths who live together do not spontaneously turn against each other. There are three requisites for mass communal violence to occur.
“The first is the deliberate manufacture of hatred. The second is the manufacture of a ‘riot’. The third is a complicit State: no riot can continue beyond a few hours unless the state actively wishes that it does so. [...]
“In Muzaffarnagar, in the patriarchal Jat community, the issue chosen to foment hatred was women’s ‘honour’. The claim was that ‘love jihad’ was being waged, by which Muslim boys were equipped with smart clothes, deodorants and sweet talk to entice Jat girls into ‘love’ traps.
“An unfortunate incident on August 27 in Kawal, in which three young men, one Muslim and two Jat were killed in violent clashes, was deployed as evidence of ‘love jihad’. The claim was that the Muslim youth was killed by the brothers of a Jat girl who he was stalking, and these brothers in turn were killed by a violent Muslim mob.
“BJP MLA Sangeet Som uploaded a video of two boys being killed by a mob in Sialkot, Pakistan, claiming that the footage was of the Jat boys being killed by a Muslim mob. This video was circulated widely through mobile phones, and fuelled mass rage against local Muslims. Later evidence suggests that the death of the three young men resulted instead from a hot-headed clash between the boys after a motorcycle accident.
“The second requirement for communal violence to occur is the manufacture of the riot itself. Building on the groundswell of local Hindu fury against their Muslim neighbours because of their alleged deliberate assaults on the ‘honour’ of Hindu girls, a mahapanchayat on September 7 was convened with the explosive theme ‘Save Your Daughters’.
“Fiery speeches were made against Muslims, and after the frenzied crowd dispersed, they attacked Muslim settlements. In the majority of villages, Muslims were labourers in the sugarcane fields of Jat landowners. Their small houses were set aflame and looted, some were killed, and terrified people fled to the safety of numbers in Muslim majority villages.
“The third prerequisite for a manufactured riot is a complicit State administration, which fails in prevention, control, rescue and relief. The administration took no steps to quell the rumours, arrest those stoking hatred, or prohibit the mahapanchayat. Once violence broke out, the police forces mostly stood watching as the crowds attacked Muslim settlements, without using force or firing to disperse the furious mobs.
“They did not rescue the escaping people; instead survivors depended on Muslim wealthy landowners to protect them as they fled. The administration did not establish relief camps; instead these were organised by the victimised community in Muslim majority villages. We found little presence of the State in these camps: it did not organise sanitation, healthcare, child care or police outposts to record people’s complaints.”
Lessons from Muzaffarnagar (editorial) (Economic and Political Weekly, September 28, 2013):
“The communal violence in Muzaffarnagar and neighbouring areas is a warning of the days to come. Uttar Pradesh (UP) is crucial to the electoral fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) if its prime ministerial aspirant, Narendra Modi, has to have a plausible chance of coming to power. There has been a rise in incidents of communal violence since the Samajwadi Party (SP) government was elected to office last year, but the “riot” earlier this month – when close to 50 people were killed, a few hundred injured and tens of thousands fled from their homes – stands distinct in its scale and is clear evidence of what Paul Brass has termed the ‘institutionalised riot system’. The ‘Gujarat model’ of using the terror of communal violence to forge communal unity among ‘Hindus’ to build an invincible vote bank appears to be the strategy that has been employed [...].
“That the ‘Hindus’ in this riot are largely Jats has been acknowledged. However, Muslims too have caste and class markers. Some reports talk about Muslims being farm labourers, carpenters and blacksmiths to the landowning Jats. That clearly indicates a subservient relation with the dominant caste. In fact, one report quotes a Hindu Jat villager, ‘There will be no peace until the balance of power is sorted out. One community in each village will remain dominant.’ This then raises the question of why the dominant agricultural caste would want to drive out farm labour at the very time when agricultural operations are at their peak and the harvest is only weeks away. Another newspaper reports that Muslims who have run away from their villages to relief camps claim that they have left behind acres of cultivated land with standing crops, but fearing for their lives they would not want to return. The report estimates that in total there would be thousands of acres of such land and most landholders fear that these will now be encroached by members of the dominant caste. Does this indicate that landless lower-caste Muslims are now becoming landed? Or does it mean that a section of the dominant Hindu agricultural caste is willing to forgo the services of its (Muslim) farm labourers, even when labour supply is a problem, only to be able to appropriate prime agricultural land of the landed Muslims?
“The shifting of communal violence to rural areas perhaps cannot be understood without understanding the major changes in agriculture over the last few decades [...]. But it is equally clear that after the Nellie and Bhagalpur killings of the 1980s, this is perhaps the first large-scale rural communal violence and a warning about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s new strategy of breaking out of its urban enclaves.
“This particular incident also built on the other trajectory of reactionary politics in the region – of trying to control the sexuality of women – which has expressed itself regularly in ‘honour’ killings and khap panchayat embargoes on lifestyle. That the present killings, which appear to have a land-labour angle, were planned at a mahapanchayat of Hindu Jat khaps calling for the protection of the ‘honour’ of their women illustrates the continuities between caste, class, patriarchy and property.”
Muzaffarnagar 2013: Violence by Political Design | Report of an independent fact finding group by the Centre for Policy Analysis (September 17, 2013)
Evil Stalks the Land: Fact Finding Report on Muzaffarnagar Riots (September 24, 2013)
30 days and counting... The aftermath of violence in Muzaffarnagar & Shamli Districts, Uttar Pradesh, report by Joint Citizens’ Initiative (October 11, 2013)
The riot route (Frontline, September 18, 2013)
The chilling familiarity of Muzaffarnagar by Farah Naqvi (The Hindu, September 18, 2014)
Communal violence raises fears of turmoil ahead of India election by Amy Kazmin (Financial Times, September 22, 2013)
Muzaffarnagar 2013: Meanings of Violence by Hilal Ahmed (Economic and Political Weekly, October 5, 2013)