Thursday, July 06, 2006

Manufacturing communal riots

Calcutta is also of course the city that witnessed the Great Killing which began on 16 August 1946, and about 5,000 people were killed in riots. That event put the seal on the Partition of India.

Bastis were the centre of major riots during 1945-47, and again in 1950. Post-riot analyses dwelt upon the degraded conditions prevailing in the bastis, which may be seen as contributing to the build-up of rage that erupts in riots. In December 1992, some Muslim slum areas of Calcutta were rocked by communal riots following the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Looking from within a basti, it is possible to begin to understanding how and why riots actually take place, in the context of the politician-criminal nexus that thrives on deprivation and disempowerment.

The 1992 riots brought to light the criminalisation of the city and the political system. Poverty; lack of any hope from institutions; reliance on hoodlums to deliver anything; olitical patronage to the hoodlums to ensure the party’s dominance and to deliver the votes from a passive vote-bank; ventual autonomy of the hoodlums, who utilise opportunities to settle scores, engage in looting, make a point for bargaining with patrons - who takes responsibility for what is happening in the city? Many people know how things happen, but that has come to be accepted as the norm. The so-called protectors of law and order are themselves complicit with this.

This also recalls the points made in a study on Hyderabad undertaken on behalf of the Planning Commission in the 1980s by Ratna Naidu, about urban decay leading to communal riots. After the riots in Ahmedabad in 1999, the Chief Minister of Gujarat said in an interview : “… because of their geography and location, Hindus and Muslims live close by. Any minor altercation over water supply or sanitation immediately becomes communal. These areas are overcrowded and there is scope for mischief-makers.”

Slum environments are the cauldrons within which communal riots are manufactured.

Photo: Achinto

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