The cycle of loud and boisterous processions on festival days with young men screaming provocative slogans against minorities who then retaliate with stone-throwing has gone on for decades. The story repeats itself across India in regions that are communally sensitive and tend to be tense when festivals of different communities, especially Hindus and Muslims, coincide on the same day. This year, on Ram Navami which fell in the Muslim holy month of Ramzan, at least one person was killed and more than 20 injured in incidents of communal violence in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi and Gujarat among others. Last year’s Ram Navami processions in Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh had followed the same template and, in fact, had led to the demolition of 50 structures of those who had participated in stone-throwing in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone. In New India, the demolition was swift and fair justice, never mind that the legal process was abjured.
It bears reflection on the part of central and state governments as well as community leaders on how this template, more characteristic of the 1960-70s, continues to persist and blot the social fabric. The communally sensitive towns or parts of cities are not — or should not be — a surprise to the police forces in those towns and cities which are mandated to uphold law and order. Why the police cannot or does not adopt newer and more savvy methods, other than the age-old preventive arrests of the usual suspects, to nip tension in its bud is a mystery. The common wisdom is that if a police force wants to hold communal peace in its jurisdiction it has the capacity and tools to do so; it means that the cops can look the other way as the tension builds up and eventually finds a release in deplorable incidents. Why, for example, did the local police in the affected towns and cities allow provocative slogans and brandishing of swords in the Ram Navami processions?
Communal violence, studies show, usually benefits the Bharatiya Janata Party in electoral terms which means there is less incentive for the police under the party’s governments to act. There is usually a long history of communal strife in areas which erupt in violence, some going back to even pre-Independence years communal fires were stoked by both Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists. The processions have now assumed viciousness as hate of the “other” has become an intrinsic part of the governance fabric itself and open calls for violence against Muslims go unpunished. The hope lies in the sagacity of community leaders, in the small acts of solidarity of people from both communities, protests from a few opposition parties and resistance from the civil society. But more needs to be done to counter the hate-politics.
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