Communal Violence in 2016
By CSSS team: Irfan Engineer, NehaDabhade and Suraj Nair
(Secular Perspective, January 1 to 31, 2017)
India continued to be confronted with the menace of communal violence in the year 2016. The Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) monitors communal violence tracking 5 newspapers in two languages – English and Urdu. Some newspaper reports were then cross checked with web portal TwoCircles.net. The newspapers monitored were Mumbai editions of The Times of India,The Indian Express, The Hindu, Inquilab and Sahafat.
Violence is a broad term which encompasses in its ambit communal attitudes or symbolic violence, structural violence and physical attacks resulting in injuries, deaths or loss of property. However, the present report is limited to physical violence wherein communal hatred motivates attacks on members of a community only on the basis of their religious identity. The report excludes primarily ethnic violence with communal overtones as, for instance, in Manipur. This report does not include inter-sect or inter denominational violence, for instance within the Muslim community in Kalyan between Barelvis and Salafis on 28th December.
Every year CSSS reports communal violence on basis of data and figures released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). However neither the NCRB nor the Ministry of Home Affairs has released data on communal violence for the year 2016.There is usually a huge gap between the communal violence reported by the media and the data of communal violence gathered by the NCRB and MHA. For instance, in the year 2015, according to the Home Ministry data, there were 751 incidents of communal violence in which 97 people died and 2264 were injured. Whereas the 5 newspapers mentioned above, reported only 47 incidents in the same year in which 15 lives were lost and 272 suffered injuries.
The MHA data for the year 2016 is available only till the month of May. According to MHA data, upto May 2016 there were 278 incidents of communal violence in which 38 lives were lost and 903 were injured. The state wise break of the MHA data on communal violence in the year 2016 till May is as under:
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Source: Statement referred to in reply to part (a to c) of Lok Sabha starred question N0. 35 for 19.07.2016. Showing number of communal incidents, persons killed/injured therein in 2016 (up to May)
For the sake of analysis in this study we refer only to the aforesaid newspapers and we compare it with newspaper reports of communal violence in 2015.
According to the data from the aforesaid newspapers, in the year 2016, there were 62 incidents of communal violence as compared to 47 incidents in 2015. In 2016, 8 deaths were reported in the newspapers against 15 deaths reported in the same newspapers in 2015. 435 injuries were reported in 2015 whereas the number of injuries reported in 2016 is 676. 323 arrests were reported in 2015 in comparison to 823 arrests reported in 2016.
Comparison between number of Communal Violence Incidents, Deaths, Injuries and Persons Arrested in 2015 and 2016
Communal violence 2016: Salient trends
Highest incidents of communal violence in 2016 were reported from the poll bound state of Uttar Pradesh (18 out of 62 incidents), followed by Bihar (10), Maharashtra (8), Jharkhand (6) and Madhya Pradesh (5). These five states made up for nearly 76% of total incidents of violence reported in 2016.
State wise break up of number of communal incidents:
Prominent scholars including Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer and Ashutosh Varshney described communal violence primarily as an urban phenomenon.We observe communal violence increasingly spreading to rural areas as well. The data in 2016 shows that out of 62 incidents of communal violence, 18 incidents took place in rural areas.
In 2016, Punjab witnessed communal violence for the first time after the Khalistan related extremism was neutralized. This time it was conflict between a section of Muslim and Hindu communities. The local Sikhs were in support of the Muslims.West Bengal is witnessing steady rise in communal violence after near riot free regime during the Left Front rule (24, 16 and 27 in the years 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively according to Home Ministry data for those years).
Regime wise analysis of the data shows that almost 40.3% of incidents of communal violence were reported from states ruled by BJP which made up for 50% of the states where communal violence took place. 4.8% incidents of communal violence were reported from Karnataka ruled by Congress. Congress rules 8% of the states where communal violence was reported. Lastly, 54.8% incidents were reported from states ruled by parties other than Congress and BJP and they ruled in 42% of states where incidents of communal violence were reported.
Regime wise comparison of number of incidents of communal violence
The major triggers of communal violence in 2016 have been festivals like Muharram and Durga Puja. The second major trigger of violence was social media. While posts in social media were used as triggers in 7 cases of incidents of communal violence, it was used as a platform and tool of mobilization in other incidents too like Peda in Bijnor, UP.
The response of the police during communal violence has been wanting. The police took preventiveaction only in 3 out of 62 incidents reported. The police failed to respond effectively in BJP as well as non BJP/Congress ruled states.
Growing incidents of communal violence is increasingly normalizing violence in the society.Citizens are becoming indifferent to communal violence. In such a scenario and taking into consideration the above trends, it can be gauged and predicted that communal violence as a phenomenon in the society will continue and there is no end to it in immediate future or short term.
Communal violence Analysis:
As mentioned earlier, the states that have reported the highest incidents of communal violence are UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Together they account for 47 out of 62 incidents of communal violence, constituting 75.81% of total incidents of communal violence.
Uttar Pradesh is slated for Assembly elections in 2017. It has been generally observed by many social scientists that impending elections and political mobilization strategies tend to be along caste and communal fault lines contributing to communal polarization and communal violence.
Bihar has witnessed increasing incidents of communal violence after coalition of JD(U) and BJP split in 2013. Maharashtra which falls in the West zone has been always prone to communal riots.
Communal violence in 2016 claimed 8 lives. 7 out of the 8 deceased were Muslims and the community of the remaining one deceased was not specified.
Zone wise analysis:
Zone wise analysis shows that the North zone of the country has reported highest incidents of violence– 42 incidents were reported in the North zone. West zone reported 12 incidents, while South and East zone each reported 4 incidents. North zone includes Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab and Rajasthan. The West zone consists of Maharashtra and Gujarat. The South zone comprises of states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka while the East zone comprises of the states of West Bengal and Chhattisgarh. The North and West zone which is generally referred to as the cow belt for higher reverence of cows has traditionally been the hot site of communal violence.
Zone wise breakup of incidents of communal violence:
Triggers of communal violence:
A number of communal incidents took place because of the clash of Muharram and Durga Puja being on the same day. Stone pelting and tensions were experienced during the processions. Festivals and desecration of places of worship and sacred symbols were exploited to trigger communal violence. In Deoband, UP, locals found vandalised idols in a temple on 27thJuly. Suspect belonging to the Muslim community was caught and beaten up by locals before he was handed over to the police. Officers claimed Sadik appeared to be mentally-challenged. Though the gates of a religious structure of his community was found damaged late at night, police acted proactively and repaired the gates in the night itself and the situation was under control. In Shahabad, Karnataka, a youth called Shiva posted an inflammatory post on facebook against the Muslim community and was arrested for the same. Next day a Dussehra cut out was found desecrated. Rama Sene and VHP tried to exploit this incident to fan communal violence. The Muslims were being blamed for desecration and hurting the sentiments of the Hindus. This misinformation was spread to apparently secure the release of Shiva. Later it was found that some Hindu youth had desecrated the Dussehra cut off. The police arrested 5 Hindus and one Muslim in this case and prevented riots on a large scale.
Festival processions and Social Media were used as trigger events of communal violence.Social media posts triggered off 7 incidents of communal violence. Derogatory posts about Prophet Mohammad or Hindu Gods/Goddesses or other community were circulated on social media like facebook and whatsapp which triggered off violence. In one such instance in Sagar situated in Madhya Pradesh, a nephew of an RSS member was found guilty of posting objectionable post. One Muslim youth lost his life and 3 were injured in the violence that ensued in Ilambazar in West Bengal. 21 incidents took place during festivals of Durga puja, Muharrum, Ganpati procession, Hanuman jayanti and Eid-e- Miladun. Festival related incidents were reported highest in UP (8) followed by Bihar (4), Jharkhand (3), Maharashtra, West Bengal and Karnataka reporting two each.
Losses and Damages suffered in communal violence:
Muslims suffered more in terms of deaths, injury and damage of property.They also suffered more in terms of coercive force used by the state as a riot control measure,post riot arrests, and launching of prosecutions. Out of 62 incidents, in 12 incidents religion wise disaggregated data of arrests was available. In these 12 incidents, 178 arrested were Muslims and 75 were Hindus.
In the case of injuries, religion wise dis-aggregated data was available in 5 incidents.In these five incidents, 46 injured were Muslims and 11 were Hindus. In terms of deaths, religion wise dis-aggregated data was available in 4 incidents. 7 deaths were those of Muslims. In the case of damage to properties, dis-aggregated data was available in 3 incidents for vehicles, 6 belonged to Muslims and none to Hindus. In the cases of houses attacked, aggregated data was available in 3 incidents – 1 house belonged to Hindu and 67 belonged to Muslims. Dis-aggregated data was available in 3 incidents for shops attacked – 3 houses belonged to Hindus and 56 belonged to Muslims. These figures strike one as odd since the arrests indicate that the Muslims are perpetrators in the communal violence. But if this was the case, then the victims ought to have been the Hindus which should have reflected in the figures related to the number of deaths, injuries, houses/ shops/ vehicles attacked. But the figures tell a different story where major loss has been borne by the Muslims. Communal violence is a double whammy for the Muslim community as targets of violence as well as the consequent police actions. That is why there is no effective deterrence against communal violence.
Regime wise comparison of arrests, injuries and deaths of Hindus and Muslims
Regime wise comparison of property – Vehicles, Houses and Shops attacked of Hindus and Muslims
Regime wise analysis:
6 out of 12 states where communal violence was reported are under BJP rule, one under Congress and 5 under other parties.
40.3% of incidents of communal violence were reported from states ruled by BJP comprising of 26% of the total population. 4.8% incidents of communal violence were reported in states ruled by Congress which constitute for 3% of the total population. 54.8% incidents were reported from states ruled by parties other than Congress and BJP comprising of 72% of the population.
Regime wise comparison of percentage of incidents and percentage of population of states:
No. of states ruled by BJP, Congress and Others where incidents of communal violence took place
It has been observed from the data and number of incidents reported that in BJP ruled states, there is low intensity communal violence.There are no deaths but higher number of injuries (446) in 25 incidents. The number of deaths is low so as to not attract undue media attention or criticism from international organizations but communal violence is allowed to brew sub radar. This sub radar communal violence is used to impress upon the Muslims that they are second class citizens. The higher number of incidents is also because that the perpetrators didn’t anticipate punitive action against them.
The Congress government in Karnataka was successful in preventing a riot in Shahabad where one Muslim and five Hindus were arrested (referred to above). In 2015, the media reported three incidents of communal violence in Karnataka and in 2016 also this number has remained the same suggesting no increase in the number of communal incidents.
The role of non BJP and non Congress governments has been distressing. The SamajwadiParty government in UP has failed to check communal violence though electoral calculations should require it to prevent communal violence.Communal violence benefits BJP as seen in 2014 general elections post Muzzafarnagar riots. However the role of the Hindu nationalist actors can’t be ruled out given the hate speeches. The Samajwadi party led governmentinspite of booking persons allegedly involved in communal violence under the National Security Act and giving compensation to survivors of communal violence has by and large failed to prevent or contain communal violence. It was able to avert one incident of communal violence in Shahjahanpur due to active intervention of the police.
The Mamta Banerjee led government in West Bengal has also failed to arrest communal violence which has undermined the secular Bengali identity and helped emergence of a stronger Hindu identity amongst the Hindus in West Bengal. The failure to check communal violence can be attributed to either the lack of intention to prevent or contain communal violence or the ability to prevent/ contain it. However the BJP stands to benefit from the communal violence in West Bengal due to the polarization it achieved. Bihar government prevented one riot in Bettiah.
How were riots dealt with?
Ruling regimesare able to exert tight control on the state police as they determine postings/ transfers and promotions of the police personnel. Thereis little incentive to the police to act independently and uphold law and order even when it goes against the political interests of the ruling party. The policeaction(or inaction) during riots is largely determined either by their own biases and prejudicial attitudes or due to political pressure exerted. It is important to examine the role of police at three different stages of communal violence – prevention, control during riots and post riot actions.We here examine the role of police at all three stages in BJP, Congress and non-BJP/non-Congress ruled states.
The police were able to prevent only 3 incidents of communal violence and all three states were ruled by non-BJP governed states (Bihar, Karnataka and UP).
At the stage of riot control, the action of police has been inadequate in all states except Karnataka. The observation is based on comparison of religion wise arrests and victim community. In BJP ruled states, religion wisedisaggregated data is available in 5 incidents.Out of 189 people arrested in the BJP ruled stated for which religion wise disaggregated data is available, 18 arrested were Hindus and 171 arrested were Muslims even though the victims were by and large Muslims (see the graphs). In case of states ruled by the non BJP and non Congress governments, religion wise disaggregated data is available in 6 incidents. There were 52 arrests of Hindus (51 from UP alone) and 6 arrests of Muslims.The victim community in these riots was Muslim.
70 police personnel were also injured during the riots – 12 each in Umerkhed and Nandurbar.In all, 27 police personnel were injured in Maharashtra. 14 police personnel were injured inKhodadadpur (UP). BJP ruled Maharashtra thus reports highest number of injuries of the police.
Maharashtra police has also arrested the highest number of Muslims – 156(Nandurbar 21, Umerkhed 63 and Malkapur 72)out of 179 Muslims arrested in all the communal riots.In Umerkhed for which religion wise disaggregated data is available, 25 Muslims were injured whereas no Hindus were killed or injured whereas 4 houses were attacked whose community is not specified.
Comparison between no. of arrested from Hindu and Muslim community from the three areas of Malkapur, Nandurbar and Umarkhed.
Comparison between no. of arrested and injured from Hindu and Muslim community in Umarkhed
In Peda in Bijnore, the police though didn’t respond in a timely manner which allowed the communal violence to take place, the police later arrested 23 Hindus. National Security Act was invoked against the accused 2 accused. In other incidents too,UP Government has invoked draconian law – NSA. However that has not proved to be a deterrent as high number of communal violence persists.