The communal incidents which rocked the urban areas of the Land of the Mahatma in 2002 have now spread to the quiet countryside
Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India
A blow-by-blow study of bloody communal violence in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat has exploded the myth that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state has remained peaceful after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom under his watch.
The 16-page, 2019 annual report just released by an Ahmedabad-based, self-effacing civil society organisation has also dropped a bomb shell that the communal incidents which rocked the urban areas of the Land of the Mahatma in 2002 have now spread to the quiet countryside of the state which has witnessed large-scale riots at least six times in the past 50 years, the worst one in 2002 that had left 2,000 people dead and thousands maimed.
In its document titled “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?”, Buniyaad observes that the six communal riots and two mob lynching recorded in 2019 indicate that the rural areas have been witnessing regular bouts of communal clashes since 2014 when Modi took up the reins of the country.
According to the report which has sourced its data from unfeigned fact-finding missions and media coverage straight from the horse’s mouth, earlier, bigger cities like Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat saw major communal conflagrations in 1946, 1969, 1981-82, 1985, 1990, 1992, 2002 and 2006 but in the past few years, rural pockets like Chattral, Vadavli, Khambat, Himmatnagar, Idar, Kheda and Halwad have also experienced such flare-ups of hostilities.
“The State does not publish official figures of communal riots and grossly underreports the instances of mob lynching. The ruling dispensation creates a narrative that Gujarat is a peaceful state with no communal riots after the barbarous clashes in 2002. This falsehood is repeated time and again to create the illusion of communal harmony and peaceful coexistence,” says Buniyaad, a civil society organisation that has been monitoring communal violence in the saffronised state.
Interestingly, not long ago, while addressing the Lok Sabha on the violence that broke out in northeast Delhi in February-end, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi had claimed that most incidents of rioting had taken place under the Congress regime, adding that there had been no riots post-2002 in Gujarat.
But the Buniyaad research paper points out that Hansraj Ahir, Minister of State (MoS), Home Affairs, had himself said in the Lok Sabha in December 2018 that the number of communal incidents in Gujarat was recorded to be at 74, 55, 53 and 50 in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Buniyaad’s Hozefa Ujjaini told Clarion India that there were deeper processes at work which were actively polarising society along religious lines for political dividends, and added that this, on the ground, translated into distrust, hatred and more prejudices among the members of different communities leading to communal tensions, violent outbursts and aggressive behaviour over major and minor issues which soon assumed communal colour.
The report cites several incidents like an unprovoked assault on a bearded Muslim rickshaw driver wearing a skullcap to prove that polarisation has taken deep roots in society and violence based on religious identity is the new normal.
“Fewer convictions and overall impunity mean that mobs are fearlessly lynching innocent, vulnerable people,” says Gujarat High Court advocate Shamshad Pathan, whose NGO, the Alp Sankhyank Adhikar Manch, a network of human rights activists and civil society organisations, has provided to Buniyaad its significant findings based on its daredevil, dedicated volunteers’ visits to the troublespots.
Though the number of communal riots came down from 13 in 2018 to six in 2019, and lynching declined from five in 2018 to just two in 2019, the report claims that the figures were misleading as polarisation along religious lines, hatred, distrust and hate speeches have become more intense, adversely affecting the social fabric in the state.
“While the number of communal riots is low in the past few years, the number of offences promoting enmity between different groups has increased,” states social activist Ujjaini, and adds that in 2017 and 2018, there is a substantial jump in the number of offences promoting enmity between different groups.
“This indicates the simmering conflicts and violence brewing sub radar. By no means has the communal discourse or violence reduced in society,” informs Pathan.
Buniyaad has also mentioned in the report that the nature of communal violence has changed after the 2002 communal carnage. While 2002 riots were large-scale in terms of its geographical expanse and losses in terms of property and lives, subsequent riots have been sub-radar on a smaller scale.
Says Ujjaini: “This can be explained by a combination of different factors. But the impact of recurring small-scale riots can be witnessed in rapid polarisation of society along religious lines and increasing intolerance among communities, creating an impression that communal riots are not taking place in Gujarat.”
The divisive processes are reinforced and strengthened by a number of factors as seen in the report: “The Hindu nationalist organisations enjoying implicit or explicit patronage of the ruling dispensation are instigating common citizens against vulnerable communities by spreading lies and distortion of history.”
Tools like social media are effectively used to spread discriminating narratives and provoking citizens. Not only social media but digital media and news channels, too, are displaying their anti-Muslim bias, claims the Buniyaad report.
The state itself through its discriminating policies is helping in the polarisation process by creating ghettos and restricting inter-mingling between different communities through legislations like the controversial Disturbed Areas Act and the draconian Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime, according to the report.
Sums up Pathan: “There is now a risk that the innocent will be implicated into serious offences and pose a threat to voices of dissent. Collectively, these processes at multiple levels are hollowing out democratic institutions and values which have acted as a cementing bond for peaceful co-existence in the past.”
Independent analysts say that 2,000 men, women and children, mostly Muslims, were killed in the beastly clashes in 2002 that also saw destruction of 302 dargahs, 209 mosques and 13 madrassas and put the property loss to Muslims at Rs 2.44 billion.
But the BJP-controlled state government maintained that the three-month-long riots had claimed the lives of only 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. The riots erupted and spread throughout Gujarat after 59 Hindus were charred to death in a train fire near Godhra railway station in central Gujarat on February 27, 2002.