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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 6 New Delhi January 30, 2016

Malda Violence: Secularists are Not Silent, it is just that Some have turned Deaf

Saturday 30 January 2016

by Ram Puniyani

The violence in Malda poses the basic question: was it a case of communal violence or was it just a criminal act, anti-social violence as some are claiming?

On January 3, a large Muslim crowd mobilised to protest against the statement against Prophet Mohammad by Kamlesh Tripathi, a Hindu Mahasabha worker, later disowned by the party. His statement was in turn a reaction to the derogatory statement against the RSS by the Uttar Pradesh Minister, Azam Khan.

The size of the crowd, as estimated by the West Bengal Government and sections of the media, was around 30,000, while the spokes-persons of the BJP on TV shows put the estimate at 2.5 lakhs.

The crowd, instigated by some mischievous elements, attacked the police station and burned the station with records related to fake currency notes and smuggling of drugs. No significant injuries took place. No violence against Hindus. So now scholars will have to burn the midnight oil to classify this act of violence: was it communal violence? The BJP and their ideological parents said that it was a pre-planned violence meant to frighten the Hindus in the area, who are a “minority”.

The political parties in the State are sharply divided into three views on this tragic incident.

1. The Mamata Banerjee Government is projecting this just as a law and order problem, related to drugs and fake currency.

2. The BJP is shouting from house tops that it was a pre-planned conspiracy to dominate the Hindu “minority” in the area.

3. The Congress and CPI-M are saying that it was a fixed match between the Chief Minister and BJP for electoral benefits, in an area that had been with the Congress till late.

Given the earlier example of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh just before the Lok Sabha elections, with Mulayam Singh not intervening with the full force of his State Government, it does seem that the West Bengal CM allowed the incident to take place, and is now trying to downplay it; while alongside the BJP is presenting it as a communal incident, in the run-up to the West Bengal polls.

As to whether it was a communal incident or not, the Malda Chapter of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), along with many local residents, has pointed out that the violence “was not communal in nature by a long shot”.

The APDR observed: “When policemen are killed in non-Muslim areas, it is termed ‘law-lessness’ and when a police station is set afire in a Muslim majority district, it is labelled ‘communal’. The long-term result of this insane violence will be seen in the due course but one can say that it was a test case of analysing the motives of diverse political players.”

Significantly, as soon as the Malda violence took place the BJP leaders along with their supporters on the social media started asking why those who had spoken out against the Dadri lynching were silent now. Using dero-gatory language they asked as to how come those who were coming out against Dadri were silent in this case. Where is the ‘award-returning’ gang? Why are secularists silent now? Choicest abuses were hurled against those who uphold pluralism and secularism.

The ‘why did you not condemn this...?’ cry is not new. Within days of the Godhra train burning on February 27, 2002, even the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, criticised the minority groups for not condemning the act enough. This despite the fact that most of the minority groups and human rights groups had condemned that incident right away. Unfortu-nately, which statements draw popular attention and which fail to do so depend on the projection by the media as well! When thousands of Maulanas congregate in Delhi and Hyderabad and issue a fatwa that ‘Terrorism is un-Islamic’, this is tucked in some small columns in the middle pages, while Azam Khan or Owaisi get the limelight of the front page banner headlines and are the subject of prime-time talk-shows.

The secularists are always put on the dock with a great amount of vehemence. The flood of e-mails from anonymous sources put out choicest abuses against ‘sickularists’. The case of Dadri was clear-cut, where the same ‘shouting-accusing’ brigade was justifying the lynching action of the mob for possession of beef as cow is our mother. The pain was that death had been planned, it was horrific, and it was part of an agenda.

Dadri cannot be compared to Malda in any way. The Malda incident is highly condemnable. The type of response by the community, where a large number of Muslims were mobilised to protest against what was perceived as an insult to their Prophet is, like the atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, an expression of pain. It is another matter that some funda-mentalist Muslims are using this to bake their political bread, and helping vitiate the atmosphere.

The targeting of the community, the preva-lence of Islamophobia has affected popular perceptions of both communities, the one aggressive and the other defensive. Violence has to be condemned, but the underlying insecurity that is increasing by the day is there for real.

The Malda violence was not directed against Hindus. One recalls that in the wake of the Babri demolition angry Muslim youth pelted stones on the police station in Mumbai; this was not against Hindus but directed against the state for its failure to protect the Masjid.

Of course, Muslim communalism needs to be combated firmly and those guilty of violence must be punished. At the same time the guilty of all acts of communal violence also need to be brought to book. For if people like Mayaben Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, undergoing life imprisonment, can get bail, where is the justice which can then be the basis for secularism and communal harmony?

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.