The partition clashes, anti-Sikh riots, the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits, the Babri Masjid demolition, the Godhra riots. We can add one more incident to these now. The Muzaffarnagar riots.
This report from the Independent tells us that the riots being talked about were the result of a very trivial matter (relatively speaking, of course), namely, eve-teasing. However, when a Muslim youth was stabbed to death for allegedly teasing a Hindu girl, things started getting out of hand. Retaliatory strikes from the youth’s family led to the deaths of two Hindu men.
A group of farmers got together to demand justice from those killed. However, inflammatory speeches made by a few politicians coupled with a video made a couple of years ago in Pakistan showing two men being hanged led to heightened tempers and extreme tension. The result? An open clash between Hindus and Muslims leading to around 28 people dead and scores injured, some critically.
Heads have already begun rolling in the police department with top officials being transferred in the aftermath of such brutal violence. The DIG of Saharanpur, the SSP of Muzaffarnagar and the SP of Shamli were the first officials to be transferred.
Of course, just like any other similar incident in India, political capital has already started to be minted from these riots. With the Indian National Congress claiming that the SP and BJP were behind these clashes, the cat and mouse game of vote-bank politics has started.
This cycle of communal violence is perpetual in India, it seems. The rest of the developing world has moved on beyond petty violence and killings. Why do we stay grounded firmly in the past? Why must we always harken back to the days of old when religion was everything and might was right?
To resort to a very cliched point, there are two Indias. One of them is the face we wish to present to the world. The face of a rising India, one which can stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the United States, China, Germany etc. This India seeks to trumpet its GDP, imported goods, high standards of living and extreme math skills. It is haughty and proud of its achievements. It bristles whenever the west lauds movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” and tells everyone that India is more than a land of snake charmers and poverty. It wishes to see India catapulted into the ranks of the “Greatest countries of the World”. Elitism rules this part of the population and they privately deride any comparison with other emerging economies, especially China.
The other India is the one most Indians are familiar with. The land of rickshaw-pullers, paan chewers and farmers. The land where the only thing that shines is ignorance and religion is a way of life, not just an abstract ideal. The effects of globalization have not truly affected these people. They haven’t heard of Hugo Boss, Apple or Microsoft. And they have no wish to hear about them either. All they wish to know is where their ticket to a better life awaits.
The idea of India doesn’t hold much value for the second group. When you worry about your next meal everyday, patriotism isn’t the first thing to strike your head. Hell, even education is the last thing on your mind when your own stomach is empty and you have five crying kids to feed. The only group bigger than the individual and family these people care about is the group they can fall back on in times of crisis, i.e. their community. And so whenever someone does something against their community, they respond fiercely, vehemently and often violently. And seeing that most people in India are of this mould, there’s a high chance that flying sparks will kindle their anger and lead to killings.
With a Human Development Index close to Bangladesh (which is rapidly catching up) and (in some states) equal to many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the India its elite want to hide will never progress beyond where it is. Giving free food, strengthening rape laws, banning politicians from giving hate-speeches and trying for schemes like NREGA only alleviates the symptoms, it does nothing about the real problem, the HDI itself. If it does not increase substantially in the next few years, the Indian story will remain bloody, anarchic and communal for a long time to come.