The fact that communal violence is rising in India is not hidden. Even the government acknowledges that there has been a steady uptick in communal incidents. In response to a question in parliament on Tuesday (February 6), minister of state Hansraj Ahir disclosed that as many as 111 people were killed and nearly 2,500 injured in 822 communal incidents in 2017, as compared to 751 incidents in 2016 that took the life of 97 people and 703 in 2016 when 86 were killed.
It is not surprising that this is happening , given the deliberate strategy of polarising the populace through a variety of means ranging from cow protection to tiranga yatras, where gangs of young men barge into Muslim localities armed with the national flag (and a sprinkling of saffron ones as well) and raise anti-Pakistan slogans to taunt Muslims.
Even foreign policy is being held hostage to this, in the manner that Pakistan is consciously conflated with Muslims and a drumbeat of hostility is being maintained towards Islamabad for what are clearly electoral purposes, as became evident during the recent Gujarat assembly elections or earlier through the so-called surgical strikes in the Uttar Pradesh poll.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this, what is striking is the common sensical and decent approach of the common man. This has come out most recently through two incidents.
In the Kasganj incident, a tiranga yatra clashed with a flag-hoisting ceremony in a Muslim neighbourhood on Republic Day, leading to the death of a young Hindu man, Chandan Gupta. Thereafter, Muslim houses and businesses were deliberately attacked and set on fire. The situation was so troubled that even the governor of UP, senior BJP functionary Ram Naik termed it a ‘blot’ on the state.
Whatever the Adityanath government may have said or done since to control the situation, what stands out is the steady refusal of the Gupta family to use the incident to promote communal hatred. Gupta’s bereaved sister Kirti told the Times of India that “there should be an end to ‘tiranga yatra’ if it’s leading to violence”. For her pains, Kirti said that her family had been threatened by unknown persons.
The other incident relates to an honour killing in Raghubir Nagar, New Delhi. A young Hindu man, Ankit Saxena was stabbed to death by the family of a Muslim girl he was in a relationship with. Once again, the bereaved family has gone out of its way to insist that the incident should not be given a communal tone. Efforts are being made by some communal elements to demand the expulsion of Muslims from the locality, but they are being stoutly resisted by residents.
What has been happening has been graphically brought about by two courageous district officials. In the first instance, a district magistrate in Bareilly Raghavendra Vikram Singh spoke of the “very strange trend” where people “take out processions by force through Muslim dominated localities and raise anti-Pakistan slogans” in a Facebook post. Subsequently the post was deleted.
Another young officer, Rashme Varun, posted on the provocative tactics of hiding behind the tricolour and the mask of nationalism to promote the “bhagwa (saffron)” agenda. No doubt, the officers exceeded their brief in posting on a political issue in this manner.