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Communalism, Gujarat and Communal Amity
By Ram Puniyani

We are witness to strange spectacle in Gujarat. Day in and day out one is reading minor events sparking off violence, taking the lives of few people here and there. In Ahmdabad on 25th July 2004,two persons were killed in communal clash and curfew was clamped in the port town of Veraval in Junagadh district of the Saurashtra region in Gujarat. Eight persons were injured and the condition of at least four is said to be critical. The clash was allegedly sparked by eve-teasing of schoolgirls belonging to one community. In another incident on 28th July in Veraval district communal tension claimed two lives. Later the riot spread to the main Saurashtra town of Rajkot on Wednesday, which witnessed clashes in two areas, in which three persons were injured.

These are just few from the regular occurrences, which are happening in Gujarat with regular frequency. Since the horrific Gujarat carnage of 2002 any small incident becomes a pretext for the violence, killing many an innocent people. Why should such small incidents which community generally sorts out are triggering off such an undesirable violence?

Regular occurrence of these events is a signal that the communal propaganda has undergone a qualitative transition. The violence in the society sustains due to multiple factors. The two major of these are the attitude of state, leadership, bureaucracy and police, and the prevalence of social common sense against the minorities.

The massive Gujarat violence, which was unleashed on the pretext of Godhra reveled the role of both these to the fullest extent. The leadership, coming from RSS, Hindutva politics, was determined to polarize the society, to teach the Muslims a lesson and to consolidate their political base. During the period when violence was launched all the wings of state were instructed informally to sit back and not to hinder the ‘revenge’ process, which was being planned? In a meeting called on the evening of 27th July Mr. Modi told as much to the top officials of the state. The minister of state, who was part of the meeting, Mr. Haren Pandya, told this to citizen’s tribunal. It is too well to recount that Mr. Pandya was murdered after few months and Pandya’s father accused Mr. Modi for this crime.

As per the rulebook the state officials have all the powers to control the violence within few hours stated Harsh Mander, who was witnessing this could not stand the role of his colleagues and resigned from the services. Another serving police official, Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Rai has brought to out attention the fact that if the riots don’t come under control within 48 hours, one can make out that state is colluding with the rioters. During Gujarat violence those officials who tried to control the riots were immediately transferred and those who assisted the rioters were duly rewarded. The propaganda machine of the state and the RSS combine efficiently doctored the minds of the people to argue that if they are not voted back to power it will be the victory of terrorist Muslims, ISI and the like. This created a polarization and that’s what helped the BJP to come back to power despite the massive violence unleashed by it.

It is not for the first time that an outfit, which led the riots, came back to power in the following elections, Congress in 1984 anti Sikh riots got thumping majority after the Delhi riots. In Mumbai after the 92-93 riots Shiv Sena-BJP also was able to win the elections in Mahrashtra. Studies on communal violence demonstrate that communal violence is the route through which communal parties make their power base. One also can point out that just before the Gujarat violence BJP lost elections in all the northern states and even in Gujarat. Following Godhra and Gujarat it got massive victories in MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgargh.

Gujarat observations point out something more than the earlier communal riots. After the Gujarat violence the role of state in shrugging its responsibility in relief and rehabilitation was blatant. The victims could not return to their homes easily. Many of them had to give written undertakings that they will not file any complaint against the culprits. The state of judicial communalization is a painful fact. The Best bakery and Bilkis Bano cases are pointers to the state of that. While the communal propaganda is prevalent in most of the places, in Gujarat it has gone beyond the levels of tolerance. The communities, which were living together, how so ever together, have become full of suspicion against each other and the mental barriers are getting transformed into physical borders-barriers between the localities.

The ghettoisation of minorities in this situation is inevitable. That Ghettoisation is accompanied by retrograde tendencies in the community goes without saying. While this trend is discernible in most place in Gujarat it is starkly stares one in the face. The terms Hindu locality, Muslim locality no more jar one’s ears. The builders and landlords do go by the religion of the buyer or to the one whom the place is being given on rent. The National community of Indians has been given a severe jolt by the communalization of minds and the regular occurrence of violence.

As such if one takes a broad overview of the state of communalization, one realizes that it is after the coming of British that the seeds of communalism were sowed. In pursuance of their policy of divide and rule they introduced this through the communal interpretation of History books. Not knowing the Indian society their historians labeled Indian History as Hindu Period, Muslim Period and British (not Christian) period of India’s past. This view is totally faulty for two main reasons. One, it takes religion of the king as the marker of the period at the cost of exclusion of all other criterion. And two, it was not factually true even if this criterion is applied. At no point of time was their exclusive rule of Hindu Kings all over. At no times Muslim kings ruled all over. It was the kings who ruled and presented as if they are ruling for the sake of religion. All the people of that religious community were not rulers etc. This historiography showed the conflict of Kings due to differences in their religion, which is not true. The alliances of Kings cut across religious lines.

The Mughal Kings had high placed Hindu officials in their administration; Todarmal was in charge of finance during Akbar’s rule, Mansing was the commander of Akbar’s army, Jaisingh as the top Military official
of Aurangzeb. Rana Pratap had Hakim Khan Sur as his trusted lieutenant. Shivaji had Ibrahim Gardi and Siddi Sambal. Most of the Muslim kings had Hindu kings as in charge of their revenue departments. At the level of society Hindu and Muslims thickly interacted with each other throwing up syncretic traditions and culture in all aspects of social life. The religious traditions of Bhakti and Sufi developed in this period of history, the Ganga Jamni Tehjib (The culture in Ganges belt) also came up during this period. Urdu developed as the language of bazaar, as an Indian language. Our clothing, food, architecture, music and literature are deeply seeped in the mixed traditions. The intermixing of cultures was a joy for the average people of society.

The declining sections of society, Landlords and clergy of both the religions felt a threat from the rising values of democratic movement in all aspects of society. The political culmination of this movement came up in the form of National movement, movement for independence, the movement, which wedded itself to the values of Liberty, Equality and Community. Freedom movement was accompanied by the process of transformation of caste and gender relations. This process was hated and feared by the elites of the religious communities, the landlords, Kings, Nawabs and clergy. This politics of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha/RSS resorted to spreading hate against the other communities. This communal politics came in handy for the British to sow the seeds of division of the country, the partition tragedy. The edifice of this tragedy was built by spreading hate against the other of both the communal formations. Muslim League spread hate against Hindus and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS spread hate against the Muslims.

Post partition the Muslim communal elements left for Pakistan, leaving a small fragment here. This small fragment did provide provocation to the Hindu communalists and also played a very negative role for
Muslim community as a whole. Hindu communalism got its strength from the conservative sections; the one’s who could avoid the land reforms by various clever means. The clergy also aided in the process. RSS became the main vehicle of this politics. It kept training its swayamsevaks in the hate ideology on regular basis.

RSS hate ideology has systematically been propagated in its shakhas from last eighty odd years. This propaganda is based on a set of formulations. The chief of these are that India is a Hindu Rashtra,
Nation, Muslims and Christians are foreigners, secularism is an alien concept planted on the holy land, that Muslims are not loyal to India, they have four wives twenty children, they are more aggressive,
dirty, unreliable and that they are terrorists.

While Gujarat shows the worst manifestation of the intensity of this ‘social’ common, no part of the country is spared from the grip of these totally faulty notions. This writer has extensively interacted
with large number of social activists and others in number of seminars and meetings. The common understanding on the myths is no different in most parts of the country. None of these is true. Demographic data disproves the ‘four wives’ insinuation, the number of children in a household are determined more by the socio-economic status and educational level than by the religion of the family, temples and other holy places were destroyed by the kings not for religion but for wealth and political considerations. Kings belonging to all religions destroyed holy places. The conversions to Islam were undertaken by untouchables to escape the tyranny of Landlord and Brahmins. Today’s terrorism is more due to US imperialist policies to control the oil wealth of the world. People from all religions at a point of time have resorted to terrorism, today’s largest terrorist organization is LTTE (Hindus in the main), Khalistani movement was spearhead by Sikhs, In Srilanka many a Buddhists have also resorted to terrorism, so on and so forth.

These understandings have an appeal when communicated to community but there is inadequate effort in this direction. The prevalence of these notions sounded to be innocuous but the events of last few years have made it clear that these cannot be taken lightly. They have already created community divides and have the potential of creating total emotional secessionism if unchecked. One of the major reasons for the communal violence persisting and sustaining itself is the fact that when violence is going on the average people do firmly start believing the propaganda and are taken in by that. This is true in most of the places where violence has taken place. Such propaganda also prevails in places where communal riots have been checked, like in West Bengal. But the communal divides have the potential of creating havoc at a later date in the form of breaking the community bonds, a prerequisite for healthy society and providing the fertile ground for communal politics.

The communal violence hides the deeper communal politics. The communal politics as such aims to first to curtail the rights of weaker sections of society. In due course this politics will try to reverse the process of social transformation of caste and gender, howsoever little, which has taken place during last several decades. By creating an intimidating hysterical atmosphere it also distracts the society from the major task of struggle for human rights of weaker sections of society. Gujarat in a way is like a full blown case of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in one state. It is also an example of what can happen to the country if the hate ideology is not countered. It is also an example of the degeneration of the apparatus of the state if the commanding politics (RSS combine) has its way and controls the state.

The situation is extremely grave and challenging. The human rights movement has to take into consideration the violation of the rights of minorities, the acts of omission of the state apparatus and to struggle
against these at all the democratic forums. Also the battle for the ideas, the struggle to percolate the values of pluralism in democracy has to be rooted. The misconceptions and myths propagated by RSS combine have to be countered at every possible platform and medium. This is just to remove the roadblock to undertake the journey for more humane society, through a path of struggle for enhancement of human rights.