KANPUR RIOTS - A WAKE UP CALL
May 1-15, 2001
by Asghar Ali Engineer
Communal riots in Kanpur should not be taken lightly. These riots, in fact, should be treated as a wake up call by all sincerely committed secularists. After the Coimbatore riots in 1998 the Kanpur riots are major riots in the post-Babri demolition period. There is no doubt that after demolition of Babri Masjid and consequent Bombay riots, communal violence had gone down considerably for various reasons not to be analysed here. Babri Masjid demolition and Bombay riots were, as if, a watershed for communal violence in India. Thus the Coimbatore riots and Kanpur riots, it seems, are once again changing the contours of communal violence.
As we have pointed out earlier too the decade of eighties was the worst decade from the perspective of communal violence. Several major riots from Moradabad in 1980 to the Bombay-Surat riots in 1992-93 took place during this decade. These riots had shaken the nation. The lull in between made people complacent again. The decade of eighties became so much violence - prone for mainly politics of communalism adopted aggressively by the BJP initially in response to Mrs. Indira Gandhi's limited communal manoeuvres and later to discredit the Congress politics among the middle and upper class Hindus in which it succeeded considerably.
It was during this decade that the BJP began to describe the Nehruvian secularism as pseudo-secularism (though it avowed to pursue the same kind of secularism after coming to power in March 1998) and also accused the Congress of pursuing the policy of appeasement towards minorities (the BJP of course continued same policies towards minorities). This aggressive propaganda greatly appealed to the upper caste upper class Hindus and they became BJP's votaries in ever-greater numbers.
It was as a result of all this that communal violence erupted in several communally sensitive towns, particularly in U.P. and Bihar. The Ramjanambhoomi issue also incited communal passions as never before. The BJP while described itself as a party with a difference, it resorted to all such communal controversies most unscrupulously for its quest for power.
After coming to power at the Centre at the head of a coalition in 1997 it began to pursue apparently same secular policies as those of the Congress but - and it is important to note - with a difference. Though apparently there were no major planned communal riots as BJP in power had no use for communal violence, it continued to pursue its hidden communal agenda quite aggressively. It handed over very sensitive ministries like the Human Resources ministry and Home Ministry to those very close to the RSS so as to pursue this hidden agenda. All educational and research bodies since then have been stuffed with die hard RSS and VHP elements who are openly communalising and saffronising the educational institutions.
The minorities have been living under sense of insecurity due to such openly pursued communal policies. This has to manifest itself in some or the other communal incidents specially where the BJP is in power. Kanpur, being communal flash pot, erupted this time again. Kanpur has a long history of communal violence beginning right from early twentieth century. It had witnessed major communal riots in the British period too, particularly in 1914 and 1932. It witnessed major rioting after demolition of Babri Masjid too.
Kanpur has large population of Brahmins on one hand and of Muslims, on the other. It is also one of the main centres of criminal gangs in U.P. It was in this city that Kalabachcha, a known criminal allied to the BJP operated. He was quite active in various communal riots in Kanpur including in communal riots following demolition of Babri Masjid.
Kanpur is an industrial area and Muslims are mainly engaged in leather industry and most of them are poor and illiterate and these days facing great deal of unemployment due to industrial recession. All this makes a fatal combination as far as communal violence is concerned. Muslims being poor and backward are under influence of orthodoxy. Those who are poor and backward are also easily excitable on sensitive religious issues as they hardly have any stake in life. They have nothing to lose except their lives. This factor also makes Kanpur communally extra sensitive.
The demolition of Buddha Statues in Afghanistan became a flashpoint as far as the Kanpur and other riots in Maharshtra like Aurangabad, Pune and other places are concerned. Though all Indian Muslims unanimously had condemned breaking of these statues in Bamiyan the fanatics of VHP and Bajrang Dal burnt the copies of Holy Qur'an in Delhi and later in Amritsar and Patiala though they denied having done so when Muslims took strong objection. But there are eyewitnesses to the incident and a photograph setting fire to the Islamic scripture was put on Internet from which it was down loaded by some Muslims. What is surprising is that while the Buddhists protested against demolition of Buddha statues with a sense of dignity the Hindu fanatics of VHP and Bajrang Dal resorted to burning of the Holy Qur'an. It is Buddhists who should have been more outraged than Hindus.
SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) which was founded after Emergency in 1977 to fill the void created by the arrests of Jamat-e-Islami leaders is an organisation of young fanatical students. It admits students of 15 to 30 years of age. These students are quite closed minded, fanatical in their approach and very easily excitable. Naturally being very young they have no vision or fear of consequences.
The Kanpur riots as well as riots in Maharashtra began after the SIMI members organised demonstrations against the burning of the Qur'an. The administration in Kanpur alleged that the members of SIMI were carrying sophisticated weapons which leaders of SIMI deny. An additional city magistrate accompanying the protest procession was shot dead. It is alleged by the police authorities that the shots were fired from inside a mosque and that SIMI has an ISI connection and that these sophisticated weapons like the assault rifle from which the shots were allegedly fired were supplied by the ISI of Pakistan.
It is, however, very difficult to verify these allegations. Only a full-fledged judicial inquiry can probably establish the truth. The truth perhaps may never be known as in case of many similar riots earlier. It has also been alleged that the riots were further aggravated due to in fight within the police force, particularly between the I.G Police and his deputy who were not even on talking terms. The I.G. Police was playing badminton when the riots erupted and he ignored the pleas to reach the trouble spot on time. Meanwhile the riots erupted.
The PAC which is notorious for its anti-Muslim bias and trigger-happy role was called to control the situation. The result was known. It began to fire on Muslims indiscriminately which ultimately resulted in loss of 12 lives and many more injured. The PAC is invariably called to control riots in U.P. despite its well- known anti-Muslim bias. This force had killed several young Muslims in Hashimpura and Malyana in Meerut riots in 1987. No action was taken by any Government including the Mulayamsingh Yadav Government for these killings until today. Nor it will ever be taken. The Rajnath Singh Government in U.P. refused the call army and instead deployed PAC and PAC killed many innocent people including bystanders by aiming at them deliberately.
The SIMI leaders point out that they are not responsible for these riots and that they were totally unarmed. It is the police, which ignited the situation by firing on unarmed protesters. There may be partial truth in this. But the SIMI cannot disown the responsibility for the riots. It should have known the consequences of leading such protest processions. In fact in view of communally sensitive situation, there was no need for such demonstrations. They could have achieved same objective by submitting a memorandum peacefully to the collector or they could have met the Governor of the State. The young highly excitable students, however, preferred street demonstration triggering events beyond their control.
One does not expect the SIMI leaders to have wisdom but the senior Muslim leaders should know better and do every thing possible to restrain these excitable youngsters in time and if they do not listen to them they should publicly disown their unwise action. If few fanatics burn the Holy Scripture of Islam it is not going to reduce its greatness any way. These fanatics burnt the Qur'an to provoke Muslims and by getting provoked they played into their hands.
The secular forces should treat the recent bout of communal violence in Kanpur in U.P. and in Aurangabad and Pune in Maharashtra (though in Maharashtra violence was ns serious as in Kanpur) as a wake up call and be pro-active rather than reactive in fighting re-emerging communal monster. The expose of corruption by Tehelka tapes will also, in all probability, give further spur to it. The desperate politicians may resort to communal violence to divert the attention. And even if it does not happen, the communal situation in the country should not be treated lightly in any case. Communal poison is actively being spread by some members of the Sangh Parivar making the whole country communally combustible. It is not merely an alarmist view. All those who are interested in strengthening the unity and integrity of the country should actively work for promotion of secular values and to meet communal challenge.