Saturday, March 07, 2020

The history of communal riots in Aligarh, Hyderabad and Meerut: How violence stopped and intensity, frequency of killings came down

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

The recent horrific killings in Delhi have once again brought alive memories of the brutality during communal riots in several cities in India, in the past.

Historically, cities that saw communal riots had a similar pattern and the victim's grievances were also similar.

The police or provincial armed constabulary i.e. PAC (in case of UP) were accused of high-handedness and allegations of complicity with the right-wing leaders in the local towns.

The cities that were once most affected include Aligarh, Hyderabad and Meerut (apart from Kanpur and Ahmedabad). From the decade of 1960s till 1980s and even later, these cities remained vulnerable to such killings, though situation improved later.

In the case of Aligarh, there were several factors. The role of traders belonging to a small community (Baraseni Vaishya) has been the most significant factor and discussed in several studies. Unfortunately, it is not remembered or even talked about now.

No analysis or any serious understanding is possible unless this aspect is remembered. As this is a post, I would not delve into the detail and the readers can themselves get a fair idea. The intensity and frequency of riots came down after major changes in the town.

KK Navman, a right-wing leader, was known for his inflammatory speeches and statements. After the eighties, BSP emerged as a power in the district and the electoral alliances (the Muslim support for the party in civic election or assembly or parliament), also had its affect on the local society.

The rise of in Muslim population--from around 33% after independence, it crossed 40% (due to migration from rural areas and nearby villages) was also a factor in this change. The Dalit population too doubled in Aligarh in terms of percentage.

And, the result was that Aligarh was no longer a city that was witnessing riots (unlike past when it was a regular occurrence). Having suffered repeatedly, Muslims are aware of their vulnerability (due to hostile officials and police), hence, behave more maturely and act responsibly in areas where they are strong.

This is also reflected in the way that cities that are Muslim majority don't witness communal riots--either it is cities like Rampur or Burhanpur, or regions of West Bengal around Murshidabad or Mewat.

Ultimately, the issue is lack of representation of Muslims in police--a community that accounts for nearly 15% of population, is hardly visible in the forces. For more, read other posts on the issue viz. How communal killings can be stopped and Had Congress been tough on rioters in 1992-93, Gujarat pogrom won't have taken place.

[Image: Courtesy, Indian Express, screenshot of paper's front page]