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Well-established? Why now no one will mind suggestion of Hindu riots or Hindu terror

Ranjit Chautala with Prime Minister Narendra Mod i
By Aviral Anand*
Dange Hote Rahe Hain, It’s a Part of Life”, said Haryana Minister Ranjit Chautala on Delhi violence on February 27, 2020.
The now normalised, almost impersonal, term, “dange,” communal clashes, points to the tiresome predictability of so-called Hindu-Muslim confrontations, almost in the mock-exasperated tone of “boys will be boys.” Yes, it has come to that.
To our minds the pattern of such “dange” is also set. An initial incident acts as the trigger – maybe something relatively minor as “chhedkhani”, words exchanged during a religious procession, a petty quarrel; or something more serious such as a threat or a challenge. This trigger leads to some sort of an initial confrontation, which then quickly evolves into a conflagration, with both the Hindus and Muslims at each other with sticks and bricks and much worse.
The exact trigger is neither exactly known nor cleanly identified – or, maybe it does not matter, since it soon becomes subjective. Both sides have equally strong cases on who started the fire, as it were. Each side’s version is enough to launch into acts of retaliation. From trigger to trigger-happy, it seems, we always are.
Crucial to such imaginings and the dissemination of information, is the idea of a “clash” between two sides. Or as reported in the Hindi media, “do guton ke beech sampradayik muthbhed.”
The message is that there are always two sides to such clashes. They might be anonymised – “do guton” – but of course everyone knows who the two sides are. The unwritten, unspoken conclusion is that when there are the two communities involved then they both will suffer - in what proportion, is made immaterial.
Such is the normalization of such confrontations.
This is, of course, the charitable view on the “dange”. The non-charitable view, which probably hides behind the charitable view, is vindictive and self-righteous. It speaks the language of victimhood, justified retaliations and just desserts. It is not forgiving or understanding. Each “danga” is just one link in the seemingly endless chain of retribution and the process of exacting historical justice. It is a bloodlust that cannot be easily quenched.
Terms such as “dange” reduce the enormity of the events. They end up describing an almost well-natured, routine jousting rather than a bloodthirsty, rampaging slaughter. You can imagine one of those black-and-white Films Division animated films, with silhouetted figures going at each other, and an indiscernible cacophony all around, only to hug each other at the end of it all, something like the simplistic Tree of Unity short film.
But by now one should know only too well that there has always been only one side to all such “dange”, if you want to call them that, especially post-1947. The aggrieved side. The side that has been oppressed and marginalized, historically, at least in their understanding. The side with the acute sense of victimization. The side that claims to follow a path of peace and submission to the almighty’s cosmic design. The Hindu side.
Of course, one must be careful to make generalizations and create monolithic entities, such as “Hindus.” Certainly, one is aware that not all Hindus condone such acts. Yet, it would be hard to argue that a Hindu sensibility, however vaguely present, however recent, has not informed the confrontation with minority communities such as Dalits, Muslims and Sikhs. In recent history, we can take the examples of the 1984 Sikh riots, 1992 Mumbai riots, the 2002 Gujarat carnage or the 2013 Muzaffarnagar clashes.
There have always been two sides to the stories related to the trigger, but by the well-established method of “balance of probabilities” (used extensively during the Supreme Court’s recent judgement on Ayodhya) one can observe a preponderantly Hindu participation in the punitive violence that follows the trigger.
This is not to absolve the Muslims from also taking up violence and participating in destructive retaliation. But pointing to a role of, say, “Islamist leadership,” and “ghettoism,” as noted in the RSS newssite Organiser in relation to the recent Delhi violence, begs the question of the ability of the state itself to curb “Islamist leadership,” and tackle issues at the root of “ghettoism.”
As the evidence shows, the damages suffered by the minorities have been sharply greater and more horrific than that by the Hindus
The riots in Delhi in February seem to have had clear triggers -- the hate speech by a BJP MLA, Kapil Mishra, and the clash with anti-CAA protesters at Jafrabad. It also had clear “priming” or preparation for the events that followed: the northeast Delhi constituencies, a majority of which were won by the BJP in the Delhi elections, had seen vicious polarization before the elections, with temples displaying pro-CAA banners.
As the evidence shows, as it has in all such cases, the damages suffered by the minorities have been sharply greater and more horrific than that by the Hindus. One can cite example after example, but one recent on-the-ground report from northeast Delhi should suffice. As this report notes:
“Perhaps the traumatic experience of the pitched battle framed the narrative that the Hindus has [sic] suffered inordinately more than the Muslims. With TV channels adding their own flourishes, the Hindus will prefer to adopt this narrative as an incontrovertible truth, so that neither guilt nor remorse will torment them.”
As admitted by former IPS officer VN Rai, who had conducted research on police bias:
“I was stunned to discover that in most major communal riots in the country, Muslims were the worst sufferers, both in terms of loss of life and property. Often, the percentage of Muslim casualties was more than 60% of the total. Their losses in terms of property were in similar proportion.”
Under the current dispensation, with its record of a chillingly dispassionate silence in such matters, whether in Gujarat in 2002 or over the suffering of the Kashmiri people since August last year, it is probably even likely that no one will actually mind the suggestion of Hindu riots and Hindu terror – it is all so well established now.
The official silence – more like a sadistic voyeurism – has acted as unofficial blessing to all those that contemplate “dange” and worse. In addition, the regular felicitation of rioters and murderers and the implicit condoning of inflammatory remarks and actions have created a nurturing environment for all kinds of crazies to find space, patronage and encouragement.
Whether this is a Hindu Rashtra or not is still debatable -- not because the Sangh Parivar has suddenly changed its mind but because the Indian public has not caved in to accepting some new “Hindutvawadi” overlords. The BJP is by-and-by trying to actualize pieces of its Hindutva ideology, but to say that the entire country is sold on their ideology is still far from the truth.
As can be seen on repeated instances, Hindu majoritarianism has informed several crucial incidents in the country’s history which have had bearing communal relations, regardless of the political party at the center. Prominent examples are ones connected with the Babri Masjid issue, such as the installation of the Ramlalla idols in 1949 and the opening of the gate locks (1986) during Congress rule.
So, anti-minority actions – overtly violent or leading to violence – have been condoned by various political formations. Using labels such as ‘fascism,’ or ‘Hindu Rashtra’ for such actions, especially the latest in Delhi, as is the knee jerk reaction of left-liberals, does not capture the more complex history of such communal confrontations.
One would probably have to agree with Dr BR Ambedkar who worried about discriminatory and violent Hindu majoritarian attitudes taking over after Independence to the detriment of the Dalits, over whom the Hindus would have untrammeled dominion. In that sense, a ‘Hindu fascism,’ or a ‘Hindu Rashtra,’ has been in the works right after India’s Independence.
The Hindu society has yet not felt it necessary to examine its own caste discrimination and work towards eradicating it
What, then, one has to be wary and alert about is the strain of majoritarianism which seems to be held and condoned, in one way or another, by all political parties in India. One cannot forget that the Muzaffarnagar riots were carried out during the Samajwadi Party’s rule in UP -- and in every way, in terms of official response, the SP was as apathetic and lackadaisical as BJP and AAP during the Delhi riots.
The ruling political dispensations and the police are almost always seen to be slow - and unwilling - to act in communal incidents. That seems to be a given, almost. Police inaction and bias have been studied in depth by Rai, above, and people like Omar Khalidi. Without major effort and political will not much is about to change in police attitudes, especially when they respond to majoritarian leanings of the state.
Journalist Dilip Mandal argues that political will is key to ensuring the control of communal, sectarian and casteist violence. He points to the near impossibility for every neighborhood or cluster of neighborhoods to be effectively shielded, administratively at least: “After all, no administration or government has the capacity to ensure permanent peace at the mohalla level and only people can exercise that agency to co-exist peacefully.”
This does not mean that citizen-managed mohalla-committees cannot be set up. However, such steps are only taken, if at all, after an unfortunate incident occurs -- few neighbourhoods would proactively set up peace or harmony councils if there is no danger sensed. However, community peace committees have been tried out, especially in places like Calicut and Aligarh, with mixed results, as detailed by Ashutosh Varshney. We’ll consider them further in the article.
Considering the example of Bihar, Mandal points to the coming to power of backward castes as the deterrent to communal flare-ups. These “backward classes allied with Muslims in Bihar – which was the genesis of M-Y-D (Muslim, Yadav, Dalit) combination cobbled together by Lalu Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)...The natural corollary to this socio-political coalition was that the state government ensured that no communal violence took place.”
While this seems to be a plausible explanation, Mandal seems to paint it a little too instrumentally, using a language of benefit and interest: “Because the ruling political class in Bihar found communal harmony beneficial to its interest, it ensured that the administration acts tough on communal forces.” This does not seem guarantee enough to ensure continued policy of “no tolerance” for communal riots.
Also, it is also essential to extend the conversation to the violence on Dalits which seems to be left out in considerations of communal confrontations. Scholar Dilip Menon posits a “displacement of caste hostilities onto the register of religious hostilities or communalism” – that is, upper caste Hindus, in order to avoid lower-caste assertion, somehow convinced the lower-castes that the enemy is really in the form of Muslims, and not the upper-castes. In his view, communal violence is a red herring, proffered by upper-caste Hindus to avoid the “internal violence” of caste.
To dismiss communal conflict out of hand in that manner seems a bit hasty. In India, violence against Dalits and minorities, especially Muslims, has occurred in parallel, almost. There is no letup in animosity and violence against Dalits even with Muslims being painted as the Other for at least a century now. But can a cessation of the “internal violence” against the internal Other somehow lead to a cessation of the “external violence” against the external Other? That is a tantalizing possibility but one has nothing to go on right now in terms of evidence and data.
Ambedkar was worried about discriminatory, violent Hindu majoritarianism taking over post-Independence to the detriment of Dalits
What is certain is that both the internal and the external Other are constructions of “savarna” Hindus. It is primarily their identification with Hinduism (however defined and consolidated) which constructed an internal and an external Other. It is their beliefs and interpretations - scriptural and historical – which have led them to inflicting violence in one case and seeking historical justice in the other.
Can a hope of self-reform by the "savarna" Hindus be entertained? Since, there is scant admission of any issue with the continued presence of an internal Other, it is highly unlikely that a voluntary course of action will ever be taken up in any meaningful manner. This is a shame since the Hindu society has yet not felt it necessary to examine its own caste discrimination and work towards eradicating it.
But in the context of this piece and the recent violence in northeast Delhi, an effort to stave off any future occurrence of this nature will have to be multi-pronged and multi-faceted. As long as it is initiated, composed of and led by members of civil society, it will have some semblance of effectiveness.
Such ‘peace and justice committees' could also be inter-faith in nature, using the vast reach and semblance of authority many faith groups and leaders yield. This is of course tricky but it is necessary to not allow any further co-option of religion; and in the case of Hinduism, to have strong Hindu voices condemn such violence outright, adding any moral weight that such voices can command. As Varshney observes about the failings of Aligarh’s civil society’s peace efforts:
“Peace committees in Aligarh have often tended to be intrareligious, not interreligious. They are formed at the neighborhood level to protect the coreligionists from a possible attack from the other communities. They don’t facilitate communication with the other communities; they simply raise the perception of risk and harden those who participate in them.”
The said committees will have to act in various modes: trust-building, anticipatory, rapid-response, liaison (between state-agencies) etc. These efforts at maintaining and deepening bonds of good-will among communities will have to be a constant and ongoing effort, beyond the inconstancy and shifting priorities of political parties, since the endeavors of those who seek to create fissures is quite unstinted.
We cannot hope for some further artificial configuration of our villages, towns and cities to separate people and keep them out of harm’s way -- the ghettoisation that exists, whether marked by religious and/or economic marginalization is artificial enough. For a country as vast and densely populated as India with fairly diverse demographics, we have to find ways to live together in the geographical configurations as they exist while carrying out our everyday lives.
As the philosopher DR Nagaraj observed in his book “Listening to the Loom”:
“It is the unheroic quality of everyday life that sustains the extraordinary heroes of pluralism. In fact, the everyday life approach to the process of pluralism, or in the case of India its specific expression at the site of communal harmony, has been one of the sustaining forces of pluriversalism.”
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*Socially-concerned citizen based in Delhi, believes in solidarity with global struggles of working class, indigenous and other marginalized peoples

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