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13 November 2012

UP on a short communal fuse

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By Pervez Iqbal Siddiqui

What the demolition of the disputed structure at Ram Janmabhoomi could not do in 1992, stray rumours did in Faizabad 20 years later on October 24 this year. It was Dussehra day and the processions carrying Durga idols for immersion were passing through the city at their usual pace. Then suddenly rumours of a stone being thrown at idols spread like wildfire. Within hours, it singed the temple town, and Faizabad, known for religious tolerance and amity, was in the grip of a full-blown riot. One person was killed and property worth crores was gutted. A week down, the temple town is limping back to normal with curfew being relaxed, but people are stunned that the place, which remained peaceful even when the whole country burned after the Babri demolition, should break into riots now.

And Faizabad is only the latest episode. Communal riots, unheard of during Maywati's five-year rule, have occurred in quick succession at Mathura, Pratapgarh, Bareilly and Ghaziabad too. Lucknow and Kanpur saw minor skirmishes as well. Since May, eight major cases were reported in UP in which at least 15 persons were killed. Clearly these are not stray incidents; instead they point to an alarming pattern of one communal clash after another, slowly spreading out across the state and making it vulnerable to the ugly politics of polarization.

In Mathura violence broke out on June 2 following a dispute over using drinking water kept outside a place of worship in the Kasi Kalan area. Then, on June 24, there was large-scale arson in Pratapgarh after a Muslim boy allegedly raped and murdered a minor dalit girl. This was followed by another communal clash in the same district when one person was killed following a dispute over paying richshaw fare. Next month, on July 23, three persons were killed in Bareilly following a dispute over removal of loudspeakers from places of worship. On August 12 once again curfew was imposed in parts of Bareilly following fresh violence over a dispute during a religious procession. After that, Ghaziabad suddenly erupted. On September 16, at least 6 persons were killed in clashes following reports of a sacred book found desecrated.

One thing stands out in all the cases. While there was always a trigger - be it a rumour or an act by some people - such large-scale violence along communal lines cannot be attributed to that immediate provocation alone. There are a whole host of factors combining to make a deadly communal cocktail and leading to a tinder-box situation where only a rumour is enough to start a blazing fire. Take the case of Faizabad. Both Hindus and Muslims there were apprehensive for months about what actually happened on Dussehra day.

"It started when the two communities came face to face over a place of worship in Mirzapur village of the district. The saffron brigade staged a series of protests accusing the district administration of favouring Muslims," says Dr Abdullah. A private medical practitioner in Faizabad, Dr Abdullah believes restlessness in the two communities had been palpable since the assembly elections. The general perception among Muslims is that the saffron brigade has been restless ever since it lost the Faizabad assembly seat to the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the 2012 assembly polls for the first time since 1991. "With the 20{+t}{+h} anniversary of the Babri demolition barely two months away, the idea possibly was to polarize the two communities for political gains in the future," said a professor at Saket University in Faizabad.

The theft of three ancient idols at Devkaali temple in Faizabad added to the communal polarization that had began after the Mirzapur mosque incident. Miscreants fled with ashtadhatu idols from the temple said to be the first place where Lord Rama was brought by his mother Kaushalya after his birth. "There was growing resentment among the Hindus as they felt that administration was not doing enough to recover the stolen idols," says a local businessman. The missing idols and resulting resentment among Hindus offered a perfect harvest for some hardliners, says an observer. Tension between the two communities grew after reports that Yogi Adityanath - the firebrand BJP MP from Gorakhpur - reportedly held a series of meetings in Faizabad warning the authorities of serious repercussions if the police failed to recover the idols and arrest the accused soon. During Navratra, the idols were recovered, but this did little to ward off the Dussehra clashes as by then things had already soured.

What the demolition of the disputed structure at Ram Janmabhoomi could not do in 1992, stray rumours did in Faizabad 20 years later on October 24 this year. It was Dussehra day and the processions carrying Durga idols for immersion were passing through the city at their usual pace. Then suddenly rumours of a stone being thrown at idols spread like wildfire. Within hours, it singed the temple town, and Faizabad, known for religious tolerance and amity, was in the grip of a full-blown riot. One person was killed and property worth crores was gutted. A week down, the temple town is limping back to normal with curfew being relaxed, but people are stunned that the place, which remained peaceful even when the whole country burned after the Babri demolition, should break into riots now.

And Faizabad is only the latest episode. Communal riots, unheard of during Maywati's five-year rule, have occurred in quick succession at Mathura, Pratapgarh, Bareilly and Ghaziabad too. Lucknow and Kanpur saw minor skirmishes as well. Since May, eight major cases were reported in UP in which at least 15 persons were killed. Clearly these are not stray incidents; instead they point to an alarming pattern of one communal clash after another, slowly spreading out across the state and making it vulnerable to the ugly politics of polarization.

In Mathura violence broke out on June 2 following a dispute over using drinking water kept outside a place of worship in the Kasi Kalan area. Then, on June 24, there was large-scale arson in Pratapgarh after a Muslim boy allegedly raped and murdered a minor dalit girl. This was followed by another communal clash in the same district when one person was killed following a dispute over paying richshaw fare. Next month, on July 23, three persons were killed in Bareilly following a dispute over removal of loudspeakers from places of worship. On August 12 once again curfew was imposed in parts of Bareilly following fresh violence over a dispute during a religious procession. After that, Ghaziabad suddenly erupted. On September 16, at least 6 persons were killed in clashes following reports of a sacred book found desecrated.

One thing stands out in all the cases. While there was always a trigger - be it a rumour or an act by some people - such large-scale violence along communal lines cannot be attributed to that immediate provocation alone. There are a whole host of factors combining to make a deadly communal cocktail and leading to a tinder-box situation where only a rumour is enough to start a blazing fire. Take the case of Faizabad. Both Hindus and Muslims there were apprehensive for months about what actually happened on Dussehra day.

"It started when the two communities came face to face over a place of worship in Mirzapur village of the district. The saffron brigade staged a series of protests accusing the district administration of favouring Muslims," says Dr Abdullah. A private medical practitioner in Faizabad, Dr Abdullah believes restlessness in the two communities had been palpable since the assembly elections. The general perception among Muslims is that the saffron brigade has been restless ever since it lost the Faizabad assembly seat to the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the 2012 assembly polls for the first time since 1991. "With the 20th anniversary of the Babri demolition barely two months away, the idea possibly was to polarize the two communities for political gains in the future," said a professor at Saket University in Faizabad.

The theft of three ancient idols at Devkaali temple in Faizabad added to the communal polarization that had began after the Mirzapur mosque incident. Miscreants fled with ashtadhatu idols from the temple said to be the first place where Lord Rama was brought by his mother Kaushalya after his birth. "There was growing resentment among the Hindus as they felt that administration was not doing enough to recover the stolen idols," says a local businessman. The missing idols and resulting resentment among Hindus offered a perfect harvest for some hardliners, says an observer. Tension between the two communities grew after reports that Yogi Adityanath - the firebrand BJP MP from Gorakhpur - reportedly held a series of meetings in Faizabad warning the authorities of serious repercussions if the police failed to recover the idols and arrest the accused soon. During Navratra, the idols were recovered, but this did little to ward off the Dussehra clashes as by then things had already soured.

(Courtesy: The Times of India)

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