Prevention is key

For the fourth day in a row, communal violence is tearing apart Hyderabad’s Old City. At least two people have been killed so far and scores injured. It appears that flags and buntings of one religious community were brought down by another. This led to Hindu and Muslim mobs attacking each other’s sacred symbols and places of worship. And before long, the communal cauldron was overflowing. Hyderabad was free of communal disturbances for several years.  The current conflagration has shattered a long period of peace. The mass violence in Hyderabad is not spontaneous. Neither is the bunting burning the cause. Reports indicate that it has been engineered by political parties with vested interests in polarising society. It is important to probe and punish those who planned it.

People succumb to the machinations of others because trust between various religious groups has broken down. They are willing to believe the worst of the other; hence their willingness to accept even the most implausible of rumours. This is what has been evident in Hyderabad in recent days and visible in countless other instances of communal violence in various parts of the country.  It is ordinary people who suffer the most in communal violence. Their kith and kin get killed and their businesses, which often depend on cross-community co-operation, suffer grievously. Thus it is they who should actively resist falling prey to incendiary speeches and malicious rumours.

Authorities and civil society groups tend to respond to communal violence after it has erupted. In Hyderabad, the government has deployed paramilitary forces and declared curfew to control the rioting. Civil society groups are providing relief to those hit by the violence. But this is not enough. We need to act to prevent violence, to put in place mechanisms that will identify early warning signs and alert society to intervene in a timely and effective manner. Following the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai, police and civil society groups put in place peace committees in communally-sensitive neighbourhoods. The Mumbai experiment has achieved some success and it could be replicated in other cities and towns as well.  The law deals sternly with those who carry out terrorist attacks. Communal violence that is engineered is no less serious a crime. Those ordering or planning it should be awarded serious punishment.

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