[First published in Cafe Dissensus Everyday.]
On 29 November, 2013, the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) released a documentary on the Muzaffarnagar riots, unleashed between 7 and 9 September, 2013. The IAMC produced and presented the documentary titled, Muzaffarnagar Bleeds: A Reenactment of Gujarat Riots, 2002.
Rumor seemed to have played a significant role in building an atmosphere of suspicion and terror preceding the riots. However, the role of rumor is nothing new in communal carnage. Rumor always acted as a fuel in instigating communal tensions, be it during the colonial times or in the postcolonial times.
On August 27, 2013, a rumor spread that a Muslim man had eve-teased a Jat girl, who was on her way to school in Kawal.
Any mingling between young men and women from different communities is seen with hostility in the patriarchal belt of western UP. The Sangh Parivar has termed any romantic relation between Muslim men and Hindu women as Love Jihad, which supposedly employs love as a weapon to fight a war against Hindus by luring away their women.
Mansi Sharma, a social activist working with ANHAD, speaks how in the case of intercommunity marriages (between Hindus and Muslims) in a village in the Muzaffarnagar area, people had to flee the village out of fear for more than a month. In another recent incident, a Hindu-Muslim couple from Haridwar, who were staying in a hotel in Shamli, was harassed on the charges that the Hindu girl was raped by the Muslim man.
The Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD) Report mentions how often the eve-teasing was set up by the Sangh Parivar: “About 10-15 young men were recruited by the Sangh Parivar in each town and village and were deputed to spread hate. Systematic and organized, incidents of eve-teasing had increased many folds. The method was simple, use skull caps to eve tease a Hindu woman and wear Kalawa while eve teasing a Muslim girl in a Burkha. The anger against this escalation prepared the grounds for spreading notion of “love jihad” by Sangh Parivar in a highly male chauvinistic society, a campaign, which made the two communities suspicious of each other. Every instance where a Hindu Girl was found talking to a Muslim boy was publicized and seen as an invasion. This method had been successfully used in Gujarat before 2002 carnage.”
The Muslim boy, supposedly responsible for teasing the Jat girl, was killed by two Jat men, putatively her brothers. These two Jat men were, in turn, killed by Muslim men. However, it was later found that the video of the lynching was a fake one and was sourced from Sialkot, Pakistan.
The Citizens’ Report casts doubt if the supposed teasing of a Jat girl by a Muslim boy was the real reason for the killing of the boy and the subsequent riots: “In many of our interactions we found that there were a number of versions which people believed led to the present communal violence. The most popularly held being that Shahnawaz, a Muslim youth was killed by Sachin and Gaurav who killed him because he harassed their sister. They in turn were killed by an angry Muslim mob. This however has also been questioned as the girl in question here has denied ever even seeing Shahnawaz. What is now being said is that Shahnawaz and the two boys belonging to the Jat community died in an incident which had no communal colour. They had a fight in which Shahnawaz died, and as revenge, those people who knew Shahnawaz and were present at the spot, killed the two. The propaganda about ‘Love Jihad’ which is being widely spread by VHP in the state also helped fuel the fire.”
Following the murders, Muslims and Jats mobilized people in their respective ranks. On August 30, 2013, a Muslim congregation after namaz gave a call for revenge. On 31 August, Jats called for a Mahapanchayat. On 5September, a Jat Mahapanchayat gave a call for assembling people with arms on 7 September. Despite the prohibitory orders that were clamped from 28 August onward, more than 100,000 people were allowed to assemble for the panchayat.
Both the ANHAD and the Citizens’ Report detail the gruesome killings, looting, and assault on women during the riots. Vaseela from village Laakh narrates that “her daughter was brutally gang raped and then burnt alive. On the 8th of September, when the family was fleeing their village, her daughter, who was keeping unwell, was caught by four men and gang raped. She was then burnt alive. Vaseela and her family filed an FIR against those from the village they could identify but neither has the family been able to find her body nor has any investigation into the rape and murder seen the light of day.”
Two months after the riots, gendered violence still continues. A 20-year-old riot victim was raped by two youth in Jogya Kheri village. (Read the report.)
Role of Police and Administration
The documentary, in consonance with the ANHAD and Citizens’ Report, claims that the riots were a consequence of the failure of the police and administration to act in a timely manner. The police arrived at the scene but, instead of rescuing Muslims under siege, spent time with the Jats. Despite appeal from Muslims, they didn’t intervene. The reports indict the state and its complicity with the perpetrators.
The state failed to respond. It deferred pre-emptive action. Vrinda Grover speaks of the complicity of the state in the violence. People were allowed to gather, collect weapons, and then disperse to attack Muslims. However, they didn’t take any action against the perpetrators. In an affidavit filed in response to a PIL by the social activist, Nutan Thakur, the UP government has refuted the charge that the administration was lax in discharging its duties and also challenged the fact the Muzaffarnagar riots were similar in intensity to those of the Gujarat riots. (Read the report.)
Seema Mustafa, the noted journalist, rightly points out that the communal riots are never spontaneous but are always the handiwork of politicians, who stand to benefit. The plan for the riots had started at least 2-3 weeks before the actual happenings. Social activist, Shabnam Hashmi, too, claims that the riots were not spontaneous. Rather, a planning for the riots was ongoing for last eight to nine months. Since Amit Shah, one of the masterminds of Gujarat riots and fake encounter killings, moved into Uttar Pradesh as the election-in-charge of the state in June 2013, an atmosphere of communal tension was created in the small towns and the villages.
Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood, President, Zakat Foundation of India, narrated that in July 2013, Amit Shah held a meeting in Meerut, which is adjacent to Muzaffarnagar, in which he asked the Sangh Parivar, to repeat the ‘Gujarat Model’ in UP.
The term, ‘Gujarat Model’, is ambiguous: it could either denote the supposed model of economic development in Gujarat. It could also denote the atmosphere of communal polarization that has been successfully created in Gujarat. Even the most ordinary of altercations were turned into communal altercations. The plan was to repeat the Gujarat experiment in Muzaffarnagar.
The state intelligence and the central intelligence agencies were fully aware of the covert meetings and meticulous planning by the right-wing forces, which are busy creating communal polarization to benefit Modi in the upcoming election. However, these intelligence agencies never acted on the warnings.
Different Standards of Justice
Mohammad Salim Engineer, National Secretary, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, points out that there have been 35,000 riots since independence. In these riots, the minorities have borne the brunt and justice has eluded them. There have been two sets of justice, one for the majority community and the other for the minority.
Vrinda Grover avers that it will be hard for the riot victims to find justice because the police force is highly communalized and it wouldn’t file a strong case against the perpetrators of violence against the minorities.
Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan, President, All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, illustrates that justice is impossible because the police, the administration, and the lower judiciary are completely saffronized. One way to seek justice would be to approach the international human rights organizations, which are much more pro-active in ensuring justice everywhere around the globe.
Aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar Riots
Two months after the riots, more than 50,000 people are still living in camps, which have non-existent hygiene, absolutely no facilities for pregnant women and children. The UP government is ready to provide a one-time compensation of 500,000 rupees on condition that people won’t return to their villages. (Read report) The accused BJP legislators have been released on bail and no charge sheets have been filed against many of the accused.
Most of the activists feel that a strong communal riots prevention bill must be passed immediately. The act must hold the higher officers in the administration responsible for communal riots. Months before the general elections in 2014, the central government has already revived the Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013. Ironically, this bill is being opposed by many state governments on the ground that it impinges on the rights of states’ prerogative over law and order. Mamata Bannerjee has been one of the most vocal opponents of the bill.
One of the survivors of the riots sums up the sentiments of the victims succinctly: ‘‘Hamein yaheen dafan kar do, lekin jaane ko na kaho’’ (Bury us here but don’t ask us to go back to our villages).
Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD) Report, “Evil Stalks the Land”, released on 24 September, 2013, on the Muzaffarnagar riots.
Muzaffarnagar Post Riot Assessment: Report of Citizens’ Inquiry Team. This report was prepared by a team comprising of 13 members from different organizations in India and was convened by the Center for Peace Studies. They visited the camps from 8-10 October, 2013.
The UP government set up a one member judicial inquiry commission into the riot, headed by Justice Vishnu Sahai. Though it was asked to submit the report within two months, it has recently got a six month extension. (Report)
List of other fact-finding reports: Here.