Mohalla committees can help riot-hit areas

Mohalla committees can help riot-hit areas

With violence in Northeast Delhi abating over the last couple of days, space has opened up for activities and initiatives to reconstruct lives and livelihoods and rebuild ties damaged and ruptured during the recent communal violence in the capital. While it is the state, with its command over enormous resources, that is best-positioned to undertake such activities on a large-scale, neither the BJP at the Centre nor the AAP government in Delhi or even other political parties seem to have the vision, empathy or courage to act in defence of the victims of violence. In the circumstances, it is civil society that must rise to the occasion. Sections of civil society that are not prejudiced by religion, caste or class need to mobilise immediately to extend support to the affected people. Thousands have lost family members and their homes and means of livelihood. They need help to get back on their feet. Civil society members should reach out to help them identify bodies lying in morgues and locate missing persons as these are not easy tasks. These steps need to be taken on a war footing as should reconstruction of houses and shops. Importantly, many have been traumatised. They need psychological support. The coming months will be extremely challenging as people living in Northeast Delhi and other mixed-community areas struggle to rebuild trust in their neighbours.

There is an urgent need for mohalla committees. These are mixed-community groups that include members of a neighbourhood, especially women, as well as respected members of civil society and local police. Scores of mohalla committees, which were set up in Mumbai’s community neighbourhoods in the wake of the communal violence following the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, are reported to have played a significant role in preventing communal conflagrations in Mumbai. Delhi needs to adopt Mumbai’s approach. During the recent violence in Delhi, some neighbourhoods like Seelampur were relative oases of peace. The residents of Seelampur—Hindu, Muslim and Sikh—came together to guard their homes and families against outsiders inciting violence. This co-operation prevented them from turning on each other as well.

Studies on why some neighbourhoods are calm even as others in the same city are convulsed in violence show that the former have robust inter-communal interaction. Setting up committees to ensure regular inter-community interaction will prove valuable in times of crisis. The recent violence in Delhi is a wake-up call. It should serve as a reminder that the state often does not act to protect minorities, the marginalised and other hapless sections. It underscores the importance of people acting to protect themselves. Setting up mohalla committees would be a positive step in this direction.

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