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Understanding Muzaffarnagar Riots

By Sazzad Hussain

14 September, 2013

It is a shame that communal riots still play a centre stage in the public spheres of India polarizing the society and the electorate while we take solace as Mera Bharat Mahan , boasting to be the largest democracy in the world. Ironically the secular credentials of our country still allow some political leaders to incite communal passion and hatred either by inflammatory speeches or resorting to the stereotyping of one community before the other. The uncontrolled social media in the cyberspace also fuels the situation with morphed uploading of provocative videos on You Tube which spreads like wildfires in millions of mobile phones within a second to instigate mutual animosity and acrimony. Muzaffarnagar in western UP, just 125 kms west of national capital Delhi is the latest town to be burnt in this oft-repeated communal violence that characterize present India. However religious differences are not the cause of these killings, looting and rapes that earn a very bad name of India at the international level. It is the socio-economic factor of the people that drove them to frenzy resulting in fratricides.

The communal riots in Muzaffarnagar centered on mainly between the Muslims and Jats. However, the Muslims of western UP are also ethnically Jats who got converted to Islam in early thirteenth century under the influence of Sufi saint Shaikh Faridudin Ganj Shaker and Baha Al Haq Zakiriya and had been an agrarian community like other Hindu and Sikh Jats. Muslim Jats too had similar clans like Aheer, Ahlawat, Atwal, Bal, Bhullar, Cheema, Deo, Dhaliwal, Dhillon, Dhindsa, Gill, Grewal, Gujjar, Jakhar, Khar, Khatri, Mann, Malik, Minhas, Nanda, Randhawa, Sagla, Sandhu, Sidhu, Uppal etc like their Hindu and Sikh brethrens. Jat Muslims observed all their pre-Islamic rituals until 1980s when the entire landscape was scorched by the smoke of the Ayodhya cauldron. The vacuum created by the communal polarization of the post-Babri demolition India was filled up by fundamentalist forces that want to homogenize the Indian Muslims under a common identity.

The post-Babri scenario also made all the Muslims of UP, Ashrafs, Ajlafs, Dalits to rally behind the OBC-Dalit-Minority combo pack of Kanshi Ram and Mulayam Singh Yadav, shunning their traditional mentor the Congress. But the Jat Muslims of Muzaffarnagar, Bhagpat and Shamli districts western UP, like their Hindu brethren, remained firmly behind Rashtrya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh. They have been living as neighbours together in peace for decades until late August this year when ugly communal frenzy make them apart.

In late August a Muslim boy living about 15 kilometres from Muzaffarnagar, was allegedly beaten to death by Jat teenagers for reportedly stalking their sister. The cousins in turn were lynched in retaliation. This tit-for-tat would have remained confined if the administration had taken immediate measures, but not only it did not take any action, it actually allowed the situation to get out of hand.

Politicians started fuelling anger and whipping up emotions by delivering hate speeches and even posting a fake video of a lynching. An interesting build up of Muslim leaders have been seen in the post-Babri UP under the non-Congress SP-BSP combine which is very assertive yet unable to shake off the stereotype image of the community and failing in bringing social justice, economic prosperity and education to them. These non-Congress Muslim leaders of UP do not represent the liberal ethos of the community and are found in many occasions succumbing to the same passionate rhetoric of religious sentiments. For example Haji Yaqoob Qureishi, a minister in the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government in UP announced a cash reward of Rs. 51 Crores for anyone who beheaded the Danish cartoonist for drawing cartoons of the Prophet in Jyllands-Posten. The Shia Muslim leaders of SP pressurized Mulayam Singh Yadav (at that time SP was with UPA) that New Delhi could not denounce the hanging of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in December, 2005 when the entire nation was shocked by the fate of once India's friendly leader. Very recently Akhilesh Yadav's government suspended IAS officer Durgashakti Nagpal for allegedly demolishing a boundary wall of a mosque only to appease a section of the clergy. On many occasions Muslim MLAs and ministers under both SP and BSP made incendiary comments to maintain their grip of power. In all such cases the SP, fearing the loss of Muslim votes.

This biasness of favour shown towards Muslim leaders (which in a way never benefited the community) has left many other communities dissatisfied. After the youth lynching incident, Muslim leaders called a 20,000-strong meeting in Muzaffarnagar where several politicians, including Congress leader Saiduzzaman and the SP's Rashid Siddiqui, were accused of making provocative comments on 30 th August. On September 7, a rally called by Jats was given the go-ahead by the district administration even though the whole Muzaffarnagar district was under prohibitory orders. About 150,000 people, many of them allowed in from as far Delhi and Haryana attended it. BJP legislators Hukum Singh, Sangat Singh Som, Suresh Rana and Kunwar Bharatendu, former Congress MP Harendra Malik, Bharatiya Kisan Union leaders Rakesh Tikait and Naresh Tikait all have been accused of making incendiary speeches and inciting violence.

A conspiracy was hatched to attack the jats when they return from the Mahapanchayat and many of them were attacked and murdered in Jolly Canal area. This attack incited fury by the Jats, who are fast losing their social status of being farmers in the changing economic and political conditions, against their Muslim brethrens. All these have left at least 48 dead and several people missing. Many were forced to leave their homes too. Army was called for the first time after 21 years in the state to control the situation.

For the incoming general elections of 2014, both the ruling SP and opposition BJP are shaky about their poll prospects in UP. As Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been anointed to be the Prime Ministerial candidate for BJP, he is likely to be given the Lucknow LS seat to contest. His man Friday Amit Shah is also appointed as the party's campaign leader for UP. Fearing a Hindu backlash Akhilesh Yadav seemed to be in a hurry to undo it by allowing the mere eve-teasing incident to be blown into a communal carnage.

The growing disregard of Jats in western UP have attracted them towards BJP and all these political chess playing have necessitated a communal riot with the objective of polarizing the electorate. Though the SP patronizes the stereotype Muslim leaders, the Akhilesh Yadav government has done nothing in providing developmental services, employment to the Muslims like his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar does. The representation of Muslims in UP's police is very low and the present state government has initiated no steps to bring any change. They also has not addressed, as promised in poll campaigns, the cases of detention of innocent Muslim youths arrested on false charges of terrorism. And there has been 27 incidents of communal violence across UP since Akhilesh assumed office eighteen months ago. The Dalit narrative says that it was the lower casts of the both side that suffer in such communal clashes.

(The writer is a freelancer based in Assam , India e-mail: sazzad.hussain2@gmail.com )




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