Riots leave scars with their own stories. Despite the telling and retelling of these terrifying narratives, incidents of violence erupt regularly across India, particularly in North India. The lives of the riot-affected hardly ever recover from the violent disruption. Renewal of communal harmony continues to be as challenging as the task of transforming cynical politicians aiding and abetting the spiral of violence in 21st century India.
The depressing picture one year after the Muzaffarnagar riots, which left 65 people dead and over 60,000 displaced, is generic to all riots. The most tragic part of this oft-repeated narrative: not only do the protagonists not feel remorse or the urge to atone for their crimes, but the state’s continued failure to punish the guilty further emboldens the perpetrators to continue leveraging riots as an electoral project.
Muzaffarnagar is a good example. Most of the riot accused are still roaming free — some among them like the BJP MLA Sangeet Som — have even been given Z+ security cover. Their lives violently disrupted one year ago, the victims, still await justice and rehabilitation. Neither of the two, however, seems to be on the agenda of the political classes; whether in power or in opposition. The discourse around communal violence, then and now, remains sterile and yields little hope of a new beginning to break the cycle of cynical politics. Neither the past, nor the present has compelled politicians across the ideological spectrum to seriously introspect about the cost of indulging in electoral machinations centred on communal lines.
Taking place during the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the Muzaffarnagar riots drove a deep wedge between communities not just in Western Uttar Pradesh, but across the 82-member electorally lucrative state. Pitted against each other, the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) used the campaign to further deepen social polarisation. The BJP even fielded two of the riot-accused as party candidates. Three months down the line, political equations have drastically changed at the Centre but the parties on both sides continue to play the dangerous communal game of divide and rule. With a resurgent BJP at the helm of affairs, outfits of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are feeding subterranean tensions in the region.
In Muzaffarnagar’s Shamli area an increasing number of Muslims, fearful of further communal repercussions, are selling their properties to Jat neighbours at rates far below the market price. According to news reports, in the Kankra village, which saw eight murders and several riot-related cases, the majority of Muslims have sold their homes to Jats. A large number of Muslim families continue to stay in relief camps, close to Muslim-dominated villages. As always, the Muzaffarnagar riots have taken the heaviest toll on girls and women. Pulled out of schools by their anxious parents, these girls are now forced to while away their time at home.
But political parties — who can actually turn the situation around if they want to — are impervious to any such obligation. Even worse, the BJP and the SP are loath to jettison the communal card which they consider to be an effective electoral instrument. Nothing perhaps could be more revealing of this mindset than the BJP’s decision to field the communally controversial MP Yogi Adityanath as its speaker in the recent Lok Sabha debate on communal riots. The future ahead of us appears bleak unless the political class abandons divisive strategies, lock, stock and barrel.