Commentary

Religious Riots in India: Localised or Widespread?

By Sauro Dasgupta

Hindu-Muslim conflict in India is highly localised. 70 percent of Hindu-Muslim violence takes place in mostly a few cities like Aligarh, Surat, Varanasi, Delhi, Bengaluru, Ahmadabad, Tanjore, Meerut, etc. Fortunately, India’s villages have been largely unscathed by the communal killings that have swept its cities.

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Dr. Steven Wilkinson and Dr. Ashutosh Varshney opine that Congress was not at all instrumental in maintaining communal harmony in India. Dr. Gareth Nellis of Yale University challenges the argument of Dr. Varshney and Dr. Wilkinson. Dr. Nellis felt that Congress may act as a pacifying agent in various communal troubles. For example, when Communists were in power in 2007 in West Bengal when communal riots broke out in Kolkata at Park Street over the issue of Taslima Nasreen staying in India, the local Congress units had a big role in preventing the escalation of the conflict.

Wilkinson and Varshney argued that state governments matter more than local legislators. But Nellis argues that the local legislator matters more both in fomenting and controlling violence. For example, in areas with more Muslim leaders, the Great Calcutta Killings acquired a more violent shape in 1946.

Delhi Riots and Bengaluru Riots could be repeated in other parts of the country. Police often side with one group in a riot either by looking away or by abetting and sometimes even directly participating in the violence. Sadly, a large number of police officers and bureaucrats do not dare to stand up to political authorities who may often be complicit in riots like Anti-Sikh Riots (1984) and Gujarat Riots (2002).

Civil society can be quite important in creating bulwarks of resistance and peace, but that is not something it can do instantly. The creation of inter-religious networks between Hindus and Muslims takes a few years, if not more. The probability of integrated communities coming apart is much lower than the probability of segregated communities coming apart.

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A more immediate issue always is how to minimize the extent or the intensity of violence. And that’s where the media plays a key role. By reporting courageously; condemning what it finds unacceptable and sees as clear violations of norms, rules, and laws; and by creating a narrative of critique, the media can slow down or reduce the intensity of violence.

There is a rightful belief that commerce can build more communal peace. In Kozhikode and Surat, for example, Hindus and Muslims are strongly connected by business and this engagement serves as a bulwark of peace.  

So, there is no reason to lose hope. Communities have to live in harmony and peace. If any dispute arises, it should be solved peacefully without the involvement of the Political and clerical class, who will make matters worse. When we have lived together so long in India, we must continue doing so.

(The opinions and views expressed are those of the author)

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Author’s Profile

Sauro Dasgupta is pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a specialization in International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He is interested in reading, writing, public speaking and his writings have been published in many important magazines, journals and newspapers. He can be contacted at dasgupta_sauro@yahoo.co.in

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