Age-old procedure and inaction

The land of Bapu has tragically never abjured ‘ahimsa’ though he fought and won Independence from British imperial regime through non-violent protests.  

But, never before has ethnic violence in the North-East set off aftershocks across the country as it did this time in less than a month’s time after Bodos and Muslims clashed in Assam.

Maharashtra was the first to suffer violence. Thanks to rumours spreading fast through social networking sites, MMS and SMS, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and now Uttar Pradesh have fallen into the dangerous communal violence trap, with people from the North-East being allegedly threatened revenge for what  happened in Assam.

According to 2001 census, 39 million people belonging to 200 ethnic communities populate the North-East region. Though it is hard to find precise data on communal or ethnic violence, the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) latest report states that 68,500 riot cases were reported last year. Since 1953, when the bureau started compiling figures, there has been an increase of 233.7 per cent in riot cases. This was calculated on the basis of cases registered in 1953, as the figure then was 20,529.  

Govt failure

Though the figures are shocking and also in tune with growing intolerance globally, it still does not reveal whether riots mean communal violence since regional and caste-based conflicts can also qualify for that definition.

The lack of principled stand on the part of the Centre and states that the entire community cannot be blamed for crimes committed by an individual led to the flaring up of complex ethnic violence. The governments’ failure to take prompt action only added to the vindictive killings.  

First, the local police slept when Bodos took on themselves to teach illegal immigrants a lesson by overlooking two incidents of murders that happened between July 6 and July 19 in the Bodo districts. In both, the Bodos and Muslims were killed by each other.

But, when the state administration woke up sensing that this could lead to an organised backlash, the ministry of defence went into the bureaucratic mode to deny army support in the troubled areas to ensure peace.

Had the Army top brass agreed to send troops on the request of the deputy collector of Kokrajhar, who approached the local commanding officer on July 20 itself, the situation would have been brought under control. The DC was well within his right under Section 130 of the Cr.PC to convene Army personnel for restoring public order. The ministry of home affairs (MHA) also realised the gravity of the situation and took up the matter with defence ministry for instant action.

Experts’ view

Instead of containing the bloodbath in Assam, the defence ministry resorted to age-old standard operating procedure of state sending request to the ministry of home affairs, which in turn would forward it to the defence for giving final marching orders to jawans.

As more lives were lost, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chair person Sonia Gandhi and previous and present home ministers P Chidambaram and Sushilkumar Shinde paid a visit to pay lip sympathy.

Experts insist that the administration and politicians have botched up the emotive issue by being indifferent and insensitive to the problems of the North-Easterners.

Legal activist Vrinda Grover did not spare words to say that “the genocide carried out by chief minister of a state and a Prime Minister in the past has yielded political dividend. And that is why Assam violence continues unabated till date, posing a serious challenge to the plural society of our democratic nation”.

Former Delhi police commissioner and internal security expert Ajay Raj Sharma was also of the view that the government and administration had failed to take prompt action or explain the other side of the story to the minority community and pre-empt the violent propaganda and rumours from spreading.

Three ways such riots can be contained are: First, by appealing to and assuring both the parties of immediate, just and unbiased action. Second, deploying of anti-riot forces in sensitive areas of states. Third, detention of leaders and arrests of culprits and rumour mongers if these measures don’t work, Sharma said.  

The National Advisory Council headed by the UPA chairperson drafted Prevention of Communal and Targetted Violence Bill for the government’s consideration. But, it got mired in strong opposition from the political parties and social and legal activists.

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