Vishnu Sahai Commission Report on Muzaffarnagar Riots Eludes Truth
A one man Judicial Commission of Inquiry chaired by Justice Vishnu Sahai was appointed to look into the Muzafarnagar riots that took place in September 2013. The UP Government tabled Sahai Commission Report in March 2016. The Report squarely blames the local intelligence unit of Muzaffarnagar for its negligence in preventing the violence. It holds the administrative officials responsible for their laxity. While this may be the case, the Report astoundingly exonerates all political parties and does not probe their culpability fully (The Hindu, 2016). The ruling Samajwadi Party is also given a clean chit and no strictures passed for not playing a pivotal role in preventing the riots. The Report has nothing to say about the BJP either. The BJP was expecting to benefit electorally during the 16th Lok Sabha elections from the religious polarization resulting from the communal violence and BJP leaders were raising communal passions. The Report has been criticized from many quarters albeit for different reasons. While the political parties are busy pointing fingers at each other (BJP feels Samajwadi Party was responsible for the violence and vice versa), the survivors of the violence are taken aback with no apportioning of responsibility on any party and truth still unknown.
Though the whole Report is not available to comment on or study all the findings, the media reports state that the report clearly outlines failure of administration including transfers of district magistrate and superintendent of police (SSP) Muzaffarnagar as the primary reason for the riots.
If one traces the events which led to the violence in Muzaffarnagar, it becomes clear that the Commission has overlooked the role played by political parties and their omissions and commissions that deserve mention in the Report if truth had to be unearthed. On 27th August 2013, in the village of Kawal, a youth called Shahnawaz was killed by two Jat youths, Sachin and Gaurav, the brothers of a girl Shahnawaz was supposedly interested in. Another version available is that a scuffle broke out between Sachin and Gaurav on one hand and Shahnawaz on the other over motorcycle accident. Shahnawaz was brutally attacked by the two brothers from Mallikpura. The two brothers were in turn killed by a Muslim mob that was witness to the attack on Shahnawaz. Infuriated by this, the Jats in the area attacked the Muslims in Kawal on their way back from the cremation of the two Jat boys (Frontline, 2013). A local mosque was attacked. The provocative slogans like Jao Pakistan, warna kabristan (Go to Pakistan or graveyard), Hindu ekta zindabad (Long live Hindu unity), and Ek ke badle ek 100 (For one life, we will claim 100 lives) rented the air. These are typical slogans raised by Hindu nationalists and the slogan point out their involvement during an impending Lok Sabha election. Muslim shops and houses were looted and vandalized. Many were injured. This was a clear indication that Hindu nationalists were working overtime and capitalizing on the death of Sachin and Gaurav. This was no longer a dispute between two families. The mobilization that was accomplished for this attack should have rung alarm bells and the UP state government should have acted in a decisive manner issuing firm directions to the administration to bring the situation under control.
On 29th August, a video clipping of two youth being lynched was widely circulated through social media allegedly by the BJP MLA Sangeet Som. The video was actually a two year old video shot in Taliban controlled Pakistan. However those circulating the video were insinuating that the clip was regarding Sachin and Gaurav being lynched. Though the Commission noted that this fake video was one of the important reasons of inciting violence amongst Jats, it suggests that no further action be taken against Sangeet Som. The reason cited for this was that an FIR is already filed against the BJP leader and the police are probing into the case. As per article 20 (2) of the Constitution of India, no person can be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once as it constitutes double jeopardy (Indian Express, 2016). That may be so, however, was it not evidence enough of involvement of Sangeet Som and his Party – the BJP? Sangeet Som is out on bail and one of the most vocal BJP politicians in BJP. In fact, he was also in news for provocative speeches he made in Dadri after the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq over the rumors of consumption and storage of beef. He was booked for violation of section 144 of IPC in the aftermath of the lynching when he was fanning communal sentiments in Dadri as the police and the administration were struggling to establish normalcy (Indian Express, 2015). The fact that the BJP MLAs who were charge sheeted for their involvement in riots were in fact felicitated by the Party shows that they acted on behalf of their Party or in any case, the Party approved of their actions.
On the speeches of Muslim leaders, the Commission noted that the leaders were giving “provocative speeches against Hindus, which were adversely affecting communal harmony and inciting the Muslims against the Hindus. Prima facie, it appears that the speeches of the aforesaid persons were one of the causes for the subsequent communal riots.” (Hindustan Times, 2015)
The media had widely reported highly provocative speeches made at the Mahapanchayat. While rightly condemning the Muslim leader for their hate speeches, The Commission made no efforts to secure video clippings of the speeches made during the Mahapanchayat. Hiding behind the specious ground that administration failed to record the provocative speeches made during the Mahapanchayat. Hence it lets off the Hindu nationalists and their role in organizing the Mahapanchayat and inciting the mob to communal violence.
On 30th August, a meeting was convened by some Muslim leaders in Muzaffarnagar where one version claimed inflammatory speeches were given by the Muslim leaders while other claims that Muslim leaders made appeals for peace. It was apparent that tension and distrust prevailed in the district and the administration which is headed by Samajwadi Party should have taken notice and tried to quell the tension (Kafila org, 2013). But its failure to check the tension led to a Mahapanchayat to be held in Nangla Mandaur on 7th September. This Mahapanchayat was convened over the concern of saving Jat girls by Bharitya Kisan Union (BKU) leaders Naresh and Tikait Tikait and other BJP leaders like Umesh Malik, Sadhvi Prachi, BJP MLAs Kunwar Bhartendu and Suresh Raja, former BJP MLAs Yograj Singh and Ashok Kansal called the killing of the two brothers an attack on Hindu samaj. The campaign was called Beti Bachao Sammelan by VHP. The emotions of the Jats were ignited citing the grave peril in which the honor of their women lies and the threat of Muslim community to the Jat women (patriarchy views women as embodying the honor of the family and the community at large). This plank worked and one estimate suggests that around 40,000 Jats assembled for the Mahapanchayat. Other estimates of a number upto a lakh are also available. The Jats were aggressive and armed. They came on tractors trollies yielding swords, lathis, Ballams, country made pistols and traditional weapons. Thus it was not an anonymous mob but a well mobilized and armed collective. The most common slogan chanted was “Musalmano ke do sthan, kabristan ya Pakistan” (there are only two places for the Muslims – either Pakistan or graveyard). Highly inflammatory speeches were made against Muslims. Dogs were dressed in burkhas and beaten up by slippers. On the dais were BKU leaders Naresh Tikait and Rakesh Tikait, all the Khap panchayats’ heads, BJP MLAs Suresh Raja, Sangeet Som, Kunwar Bhartendar Singh, former Lok Dal MP Harender Singh Malik, former BJP MP Sohanvir Singh, Chairman of the District Cooperative Bank Vandana Verma, Sangh Parivar’s Sadhavi Prachi and many more making hate speeches and egging on the Jats to extract vengence (First post, 2013). On the way back, it’s alleged that some Muslims attacked the Jats and a riot broke out claiming 60 lives and displacing over 100,000 thereby changing the demographic and cultural landscape of the region. The social ethos of the region prior to such polarization was characterized by composite culture and peaceful coexistence. Muslims are now in relief camps or in ghettos with appalling conditions of living and little if not complete lack of amenities. The displaced are hesitant to return citing the terror their attackers can unleash since they are still roaming free (EPW, 2014).
Not probing into the happenings of the Mahapanchayat or recording the hate speeches by prominent BJP leaders punches a hole in the Commission’s Report. It holds the then Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) Inspector Prabal Pratap Singh responsible, citing his failure to give correct intelligence inputs on the Mahapanchayat since he failed to estimate the number of participants correctly. The Mahapanchayat was attended by 40,000-50,000 people, while intelligence inputs claimed that 15,000-20,000 people would be in attendance. The local administration shouldn’t have permitted the Mahapanchayat to assemble in the first place knowing fully well the agitated mood of the Jats. The ruling Samajwadi Party can’t shirk away its responsibility on this aspect.
In western U.P, the BJP has milked the issue of “love jihad” to communally polarize the society efficiently deploying its rumor mongering machinery. This is proving very fruitful for them and paying rich electoral dividends. This has managed to change the riot patterns in India. Riots were mainly an urban phenomenon slowing spreading to rural areas. However, with this strategy, the rural areas are fast coming under the orbit of riots and riots are then spreading to other towns. The Commission instituted to probe into the riots of such staggering proportions missed out the crucial aspect of probing into the mobilization of the Jats on such a large scale, which reflects the process of polarization, by BJP. For instance the trigger point which was Shahnawaz liking a Jat girl and intervention of the brothers and the infectious “Beti Bahu Bachao” campaign has been exploited to the hilt in western UP and other parts of UP to incite communal violence. This campaign initiated by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) claims that Muslim boys lure Hindu women and marry them. They later convert the girls into Islam and increase Muslim population. This is an outrageous campaign attacking the right of an individual to marry a person from any community of his or her choice. Such unconstitutional and illiberal campaigns must be opposed and condemned. The Report doesn’t do so.
The primary aim of the campaign in this region is to demonize the Muslim community and create an imaginary enemy in them by pitting the Muslim community against the “honour” of the Jat community. This has resulted in curtailed interaction and traditional cordial and friendly relationships between the two communities and especially amongst the younger generations. Such a plank is used by the BJP to construct an overarching Hindu identity by rallying all castes including Valmikis in UP against one common enemy. Dalits have a sizeable population in UP and are inclined towards BSP electorally. By creating this Hindu identity, the BJP is trying to enlist the support of the Valmikis in order to cut into the electoral pie of the BSP. As is the case in other parts of the country, the Sangh Parivaar tries to pit the Dalits against the Muslims by distorting information or creating an illusion of inclusiveness in an essentially upper caste Sangh Parivar. This kind of polarization has particularly benefited BJP in UP during the general election in May 2014. With the release of this report, it stands to gain also in the upcoming 2017 State Assembly elections in UP. The Samajwadi Party which is a Yadav dominated party expected to benefit from the violence since it was eying to consolidate 40 percent if the Muslim votes in the region. In spite of the communal tensions on a high, the ruling dispensation did not take steps like establishing peace committees or Mohalla committees to reduce rumors and violence (NMC, 2013) .
Keeping the above in mind, an averment must be made to the state to bring out the truth about the riots by credible investigation. The investigation must include examination of the growing communalization of society and recommend ways to decommunalize the state apparatus. This is only possible when it names the responsible parties including the duty bearers in form of government officials and representatives of the people who swear to uphold the Constitution of India. The Samajwadi Party, which was the ruling party, should not be allowed to surreptitiously escape responsibility either. Administrative machinery is accountable to and subordinate to elected representatives. BJP, the most blatantly aggressive factor in the riots and its role has to be probed impartially. Political parties and elected representatives are accountable to the people of the country and inquiry commissions should ideally ensure this accountability.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism