The Truth of Communal Violence

Book Reviewed: Sampradayik Dangon ka Sach
Written and Compiled by L.S. Hardenia
Publisher: Bhartiya Gyan Vigyan Samiti, Delhi,
Year: 2012
Pages: 200
Price: Rs 200
Ram Puniyani

Communal violence has been the bane of South Asian countries in general and India in particular. There are many a scholarly work and analysis of this painful phenomenon. The book under review is a mix of journalistic accounts of various communal riots by the author, supplemented by essays by him and other authorities on the subject, which help us understand the nature of this phenomenon. In a way it is a total window to the phenomenon of communal violence and takes into account the changing profile of the communal strife through his own observations and through analytic essays by people like Asghar Ali Engineer, Vibhuti Narain Rai and Rajendra Sharma amongst others. It is a comprehensive volume giving good insight into this tragic fact of our society.

 The author is very perceptive about the changing nature of communal violence. Before independence, it was a clash between two religious communities with Police as the neutral intervener.  Later gradually the riots started being one-sided and Police started openly siding with Hindus. One can add to this that lately, e.g., in Dhule in Maharashtra last year, it was more an attack by the police on the hapless Muslim minority.

The author has made the book broad-based by incorporating the anti-Sikh and anti-Christian violence also. He does point out that it is the poor of the community who suffer most in the violence, but one can add to this that lately even the middle class and the rich have been brought into the ambit of violence with death and destruction of their properties being a prominent observation in the violence since last two decades.

The author very aptly points out that violence is brought about on purpose -- it gets engineered due to economic and political reasons. This is a matter of big confusion, as many think that communal violence is based on religious reasons, while the real fact is that religion is used as an instrument in the whole process. The author recalls a very touching incident of Hindu-Muslim unity during the 1857 war of Independence. During this, an appeal was issued that during Bakar Id the cows or even buffaloes should not be slaughtered. Later, with the Muslim and Hindu communal organizations coming up, British played their “divide and rule” policy and encouraged the communal organizations of both the communities. The author does well to give a chronological account of the history of communal violence going through the period of freedom movement, era of Nehru, to the present day and elaborates the role which agitations like Ram temple movement initiated by BJP played in the whole tragedy.

The high point of the book is an analysis of inquiry commission reports presented by commissions instituted by the Government. What comes out from this is that the recommendations of most of the commission reports were put in the cold storage. Also the role of communal organizations in instigating the violence becomes clear from the analysis of these reports.  An interesting observation about Mumbai violence 1992-93 and later Mumbai blast 1993 is that while the guilty of communal violence are still roaming free, those who were part of the blasts have been punished as per the law! The reason is that during violence State officials and Hindus were involved and while in the bomb blasts only Muslims were involved.  

The analysis of the role of police and media is very insightful. Hardenia has been part of many riot investigations, which were done with great amount of meticulousness. One observation from his investigations is that by now the minority community is losing faith in the police machinery.  

The author also takes pains to analyze two major carnages, the one of Mumbai 1992-93 and the other of Gujarat 2002. Srikrishna report, which has been a sort of landmark in riot investigation, is very well summarized for the readers. One knows that despite these truths available in the public domain many a misconception prevails and people are unaware of these facts.

The strength of this book is to present these investigations to the society in a simple and lucid style.  

While describing these events, what comes forth is the worsening condition of the Muslim minorities in the country. At the same time the weaknesses in law while dealing with the violence are brought forward. This latter point has become very important currently as the present Government has promised a new law for curbing communal violence, but that’s nowhere in sight. The real issue is the lack of accountability and those not performing their duties are getting away without any punishment. What is needed is a law to punish the guilty and those aiding and abetting the crime and not controlling the violence when possible.

 The book also includes the classic findings of Dr. V.N. Rai’s research on communal violence. Dr. Rai for his doctoral work points out that there is heavy bias against Muslims amongst the police personnel. The study of Rai, though old, is relevant even now, as things have worsened as far as police bias is concerned.

There are chapters on communal violence of 2005 and 2006 by Asghar Ali Engineer. Dr. Engineer has been producing reports about  the communal violence every year. The Author/Compiler would have done better by including two latest articles by Dr Engineer -- the ones pertaining to the last two years for example.

 In addition, the book also needed an update for the year 2012, and a brief summary of the trends on communal violence during the last couple of years, which would have enhanced its worth.

In general, it is a very good compilation to apprise the reader about the nature of violence, the attitude of police, the role of media, the lacunas of law and the need to curb the violence for the sake of a better society. Mr. Hardenia needs to be complimented for this contribution. It will surely be an eye-opener to many and will act as a myth buster about communal violence to most of us.