• Saturday, August 30, 2014

Communal or political violence?

Jyotirmoy Barua

It is impossible to answer the question in the title in one word. The nation is witnessing post-electoral violence against the Hindus across the country in the name of democracy.
The tenth national election was unique because it was an “election against each other” in those constituencies where elections were held. In most of the constituencies, the party candidate was from the ruling party AL and the independent candidate was also a leader of AL. So, whoever was defeated blamed the voters. Hindus were told to go to the polling centres by the Hon'ble prime minister herself and by leaders of AL, so they went.
At the same time, BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami threatened them with dire consequences if they cast their votes. So the reaction was three-fold; one from the defeated AL candidate who contested as an independent candidate, the second from BNP and the third from the Jamaat-e-Islami.
We have reason to believe that the Election Commission (EC) had information of possible violence in Hindu populated areas. Pre-election violence in many districts, starting from November 25, 2013, was an indication that there would be violence during and after the election. Yet, the EC had not taken any measure to protect the minority group. The first area attacked was Malo Para of Abhoynagar at Jessore, where about 400 Hindu villagers were forced to leave their homesteads, which were looted, torched and ransacked. Two women were gang raped on 9 January even though the law enforcing agency gave them assurance that nothing would happen if they came back to their village! The victims had nowhere to go when their attackers were those for whom some of them went to cast their votes!!
Yet the EC didn't bother to make its stand clear to the nation, and the temporary government during the election washed their hands off it by giving absolute power to EC to deal with matters relating to national election.
Is this violence purely political or communal? Violence has a long track record in our country and has become a chronic disease now. No one had ever tried to cure this disease, and it is apparent that the medicine used on it has not worked at all.
It is a tendency of politicians and common people to term organised crime as political violence. Every attack has politics behind it but every attack is not political. By terming an attack as political, we give legitimacy to the perpetrators to escape from the regular legal liability of facing prosecution. If Hindus, who are mainly supporters of AL, are attacked by any other political party then it is vehemently argued that it is political violence. The next thing we see is that the political leaders start protecting their followers/supporters. This way of tackling the violence has cost many lives since 1971.
The attacks on Hindus have always been one-sided and faced no retaliation. But people often use the word riot to describe communal violence, which is completely wrong.
What happens when we categorise violence as communal violence? The word 'communal' denotes a community. This community feeling should give strength to the minorities rather than exposing them to organised crime. The community's failure to protect them and the repeated failure of the State encouraged the perpetrators again and again. Communal violence is often said to be a “crime committed out of religious hatred.” This implies that the attackers were pious people, who became violent and launched the attack after being provoked. That means this was not a planned attack. Is that so? Was it really a sudden act of violence or a premeditated act of organised crime where only one group is attacked?
Both the approaches, in case of a violence committed against the religious minority people, are problematic. Whatever the reason, every violence against the religious minority, especially against Hindus and adibashis, was either to take away their property and valuables or to establish terror among them. And also to scare them so they leave the country and the attackers could grab their property.
We give the perpetrators the chance to get away without facing prosecution, thereby creating a culture of impunity. We have not seen a single perpetrator get punishment for his criminal act since independence. It is not that a person gets any additional punishment for committing a crime against a community; rather it is dealt with under the regular penal law, which finds no reason for giving it political colour. Unless there is a new law to handle the issue we cannot find a way out of this agonising situation. The secular people of the locality must come forward to save the diversity in their respective areas; no law will be able to replace this requirement to hold hands together, to save not only religious minorities but also the majority.

The writer is a Barrister.

Published: 12:01 am Sunday, January 12, 2014

Last modified: 10:12 pm Sunday, January 12, 2014

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