The anti-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining areas are already being compared to Gujarat 2002. As many as 50,000 people have been officially reckoned to have become internal refugees. According to official records, 85 people have died, but unofficial estimates put it at a much higher figure.
Police and administrative laxity, and sometimes police’s criminal collusion with rioters, have brought on this sorry state of affairs. Above everything else the murky dealings of Samajwadi Party leadership with the Sangh had a paralysing influence on the state machinery and encouraged goondas to indulge in rape, loot, arson and murder. Many Muslims have “disappeared”, many of their young women have been kidnapped and whisked away to places where they cannot easily be found.
Like Gujarat, it was a well-planned operation. Police in several areas have been seen to be hand in glove with rioters. These riots need a more comprehensive case study. The following is an account of some of the facets of these riots.
Role of Media
By now the riot methodology has been perfected. Disinformation, rumor mongering - the usual ammunition in every fascist armoury - are important components of this machinery. They have always been used with lethal effect in anti-Muslim riots all over India.
The post-Godhra riots began with a major news item in the two most important Gujarati dailies. The prominently-displayed news said Muslims in Godhra had raped two Hindu women and cut their breasts. This inflamed Hindu feelings beyond control. Later it was found that no such event had taken place.
However, by the time the truth came out, it was too late and hundreds of Muslim women had been raped and killed.
Several riots in UP in the past have been fuelled and aggravated by such false reports in Hindi newspapers. One such riot spread quickly after a Hindi newspaper wrote a story on the front page. The banner headline screamed: “Chaar sau bachche ghar nahin lautey” (Four hundred [school] children did not return home). The falsehood was known only after the damage was done.
Yet another vicious riot in Aligarh was aggravated by a false report in a Hindi newspaper that said Hindus in AMU’s Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College hospital had been poisoned by Muslim doctors.
In Muzaffarnagar, newspaper stories of a Hindu girl’s “molestation and rape” worked as petrol on fire. Subsequent investigations and reports by major publications found that the reports were not true. By then many people were killed and maimed, homes and shops burnt down, people in their thousands driven out to seek shelter in refugee camps.
The role of a section of media turned out to be as vicious this time as in the past.
The Muzaffanagar police complained that media had been reporting events that did not take place. That had a devastating effect. So far, media has gone completely untouched for its role in aggravating mass violence. This is a long record of impunity. Nobody ever dragged them to court for their crimes against humanity. Enough is enough. Victims must give a serious thought to legal action against these offenders.
The Press Council of India is aware of these transgressions, but being a toothless body all that they can do is after a proper investigation name and shame the offenders. However, it does not work as the offenders are shameless.
The larger pattern of anti-Muslim riots is intact, but smaller changes have been introduced into it to make such riots more deadly.
Throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s the anti-Muslim riots began with somebody pelting stones at Hindu processions. Once the stones were pelted systematic attacks on Muslims began and riot apologist would invariably argue that the riot was “started by Muslims”, taking it for granted that those throwing stones were Muslims.
On the other hand, Muslims knew well that it was the handiwork of agent provocateurs hired by the riot organisers. The simple logic for Muslim innocence was that they did not stand to gain from the riots.
“Muslim casts the first stone” theme has given way to “riots begin with Muslims molesting and raping Hindu women”. That was the alibi in Pratapgarh riots earlier this year and Muzaffarnagar riots earlier this month. In both cases, the media propagated this false news with devastating consequences for Muslims. In both cases it later turned out that no molestation or rape had taken place.
Other measures of disinformation and provoking the majority community included wide distribution of a video in which a mob was lynching someone. The mischief makers said the video showed Muslims lynching Hindu youth in Muzaffarnagar, while the fact was that it was an old video of violence in Afghanistan.
In some areas, young men were seen distributing pamphlets in “Muslim dress”, while in fact they were not Muslims. This was another way of provoking violence and blaming it on Muslims.
For years we had witnessed riots erupting after the discovery of cows’ heads and other parts in temples. Miscreants had regularly used this tactic to provoke riots. Over the years it has lost much of its effectiveness. That is why the new narrative involves “Hindu naari ki izzat par hamla” (attack on the modesty of Hindu woman). As it has worked well so far. We should expect more of it in days ahead