In August, Muzaffarnagar, a district in western Uttar Pradesh, experienced violent communal clashes between Hindu and Muslim communities, eventually leading to one of the worst riots in India in recent history.
It is in the wake of this gripping communal violence, that the Department of Sociology, in collaboration with ‘Aman Ekta Manch’ — a citizen initiative — organized a lecture and discussion on Muzaffarnagar riots titled “Communal Violence: Emerging Trends” on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. [Audio Link]
The panelists for the event included noted Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar, and senior journalist with Outlook magazine, Bhasha Singh.
According to Kafila.org, Himanshu Kumar is a Gandhian activist who, together with his wife, ran the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh for 22 years. He learned the local adivasi language (Gondi) and worked through the Ashram to help adivasis access their rights under the law. Starting in 2005, during the murderous Salwa Judum campaigns of vigilante groups against the adivasis of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, Himanshu worked to try to get villagers back to their homes, get people falsely accused out of jail, and win justice for the victims of police and vigilante crimes. His Ashram was eventually bulldozed and he was forced to move to Delhi, from where he continues to try to follow up with legal cases on the state’s treatment of the adivasis.
Kumar in his talk said that spectators in India are unmoved by burning villages and mass murders. He said that violence has never been an issue here, it is pride which is the issue; implying we as a society are more concerned about our pride and less about violence. He made references to Gandhi stating that if one follows the British model of politics, then, just as Gandhi said, one would either use up all the natural resources and harm the environment, or occupy other people’s resources.
Kumar said that patriotism in India is conceived out of talks about who will win the next T20 cricket match. “Yadi aap ye baatein kartein hai toh aap deshbhakt hai. Par yadi aap aadivasiyon ki baatein kartein hai toh aap naxalite hai.” (If you talk about these things, then you are a patriot. But if you talk about tribal people, then you are a naxalite.)
Journalist Bhasha Singh said that the popular mainstream version of what led to the riots (a Jat girl was harassed by a Muslim boy) does not tell the true story. She stated that the riots were planned in a systematic way for at least a year, and slowly and smartly executed at several intervals. One of the “smart” moves was designating Amit Shah as BJP’s in-charge of 2014 election campaign in UP. However, she said, the riots that were supposed to benefit the Samajwadi Party have failed to do so.
She noted that people from 162 villages are now homeless because of the violence. And just like in any violence, women have been the worst sufferers in this one too. Cases of atrocities on women include kidnapping, acid attacks, rapes, gang-rapes and body mutilation.
She shared her experience from her visit to violence-struck villages in Muzzafarnagar and refugees camps in Loni, Ghaziabad. She said that only one of all refugee camps is run by the government. The others are being run by Madrassas and local communities. In a village in Muzzafarnagar that she had visited, she witnessed around 12,000 people taking refuge in the jungle. By then, three women had died after delivering their babies in the jungle, and two men died of snake and scorpion bites. “U.P. sarkar ne 300 logo pe FIR kara hua hai… ki woh jungle ki zameen hadapne ki koshish kar rahein hai,” she said. (The UP government has filed FIR against 300 people accusing them of trying to capture the jungle land.)
Listen to the hour-long discussion on Muzaffarnagar riots here: