By Aishwarya Pandit
September 17, 2013
Muslims hang posters to protest against the UP government for recent violence in Muzaffarnagar near the Tipu Sultan Mosque in Kolkata on Friday. PTI
The violence in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining districts in Uttar Pradesh has brought back memories of 1947 when the country not only gained Independence but was also partitioned. At the time, western UP and the districts of Moradabad, Saharanpur, Meerut, Hapur and Muzaffarnagar saw large-scale migration to either Pakistan or to the neighbouring districts. After more than six decades, villagers are fleeing their homes trapped in curfew, while there is a general arming of the population in the districts. Although the scale of the 1947 violence was unparalleled, the ramifications of the latest violence go beyond the confines of UP.
With the 2014 general elections round the corner, UP has been facing the risk of a massive communal showdown for a couple of months now. The slogan "Bahu Beti Izzat Bachao" coined by Jat Maha Panchayats made matters worse; to this a new slogan about the "threat to the cow" was added. Although violence has been contained for the time being, the possibility of further bloodshed comes as a burden for an already troubled society.
A Ministry of Home Affairs report has positioned UP ahead of other states in the number of riots, which are more than 100 in 2012, and also in the number of deaths. The warning signs were there for all to see, but politics took precedence over concern for human life and peace.
The Samajwadi Party government stands exposed in UP. Its claims to represent the Muslim community have been weakened; some Muslim groups have implicated the state government in these incidents. Reportedly, the clashes occurred over an incident of eve-teasing, but the circumstances and the reaction following it indicate that the police and the administration played a mysterious role. As the stakes are high for all parties, it is clear that these incidents are well planned and executed with a motive. History has shown that riots in the country are more a result of official planning rather than a consequence of communities unable to live together. Cases of Hindus sheltering Muslims and vice-versa have been widely reported in the press in Muzaffarnagar and the nearby districts.
This violence has taken us back in time, pushed us back by several years to the memories of 1947, 1961, 1989 and 1992. The seriousness of the situation is unmistakable: the Army had to go out on the streets, even as both sides continued to fire at each other. To the man on the street the message is that you are on your own, the state does not want to offer you protection or support. This incident also ensures another round of public and media bashing and political transfers.
But leaders do not care if even a hundred more people are killed as long as that fits into an agenda and acts as a tool for their propaganda. This also exposes our weakness as a nation since we continue to be guided by religious considerations in all our relationships and do not shun those who choose to exploit us. The situation in western UP has shown that the foundations of our society are still vulnerable; that women and their bodies have become an arena of contest within a male-dominated society. Whether these incidents influence electoral results is not the concern here, it is the fact that generations will continue to live under the shadow of killings, stabbings and the destruction of their homes. Generations relived the memories of the massacre of 1947. Will children today have to relive the horrors of their fathers or sisters being shot or burnt?
There is another lesson to be learnt here, that Panchayats have outlived their purpose, they have become bodies that eulogise violence rather than condemn it.