Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti violence: Important lessons to be drawn from these ugly riots

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Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti are, comparatively, peaceful festivals, but this year was unusual and exceptional. It saw no fewer than a dozen incidents of extreme communal violence leading to disruption of normal life, vandalism, arson and looting across 10 states, including Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Goa. Surprisingly, a very communally sensitive state like Uttar Pradesh did not witness a single communal incident during this period.

The rioting, it seems, had a set pattern. Processions moved around with and without permission from authorities, resulting in severe brick-batting, ugly confrontation and a free for all as it happened at Karauli in Rajasthan and Khargone in Madhya Pradesh.

As for Delhi, it saw a repetition of communal violence after 2020. In Jahangirpuri, three processions were taken out: Two reportedly with police permission, and one without any permission, with a bizarre claim that the organisers had applied for permission but did not get any response from the police. They presumed that the permission had been granted (implied consent) and the procession was taken out, which led to serious incidents of rioting. Many vehicles were set on fire, a police sub-inspector was assaulted and sustained serious gunshot injuries, and two dozen people were arrested on the spot.

It was not just Jahangirpuri that saw these ugly incidents. The Jawaharlal Nehru University too witnessed unseemly clashes in the Kaveri Hostel where Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad students clashed with the students of Leftist ideology on something as trivial as the consumption of non-vegetarian food.

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A common feature that is discernible right across the disturbed areas is that there were processions which were largely unregulated and made inexplicable delays in front of mosques, where the namaz was allegedly disturbed by the loud music and sloganeering, leading to the confrontation between the two communities. The unusually thin presence of the police force made matters worse; the imposition of Section 144 CrPC came late. There were hardly any preventive arrests, which is customary in proactive policing; house-to-house and rooftop searches for illegal weapons, missiles, petrol bombs were not conducted; and, the all-important drill rehearsals like flag marches and other confidence-building measures were not very visible.

These clashes brought about vitriolic reactions from expected quarters like Pakistan and its communal maulanas. They saw this as a God-sent opportunity to lecture India on the virtues of human rights, respect for all religions! They went to the extent of preaching India equality, rule of law and upholding human dignity. Indeed, a classic case of the devil citing the scriptures! The United States, which itself has a dubious role when it comes to upholding the human rights of Afro-Americans, lost no opportunity to take high moral ground and lecture India on human rights, forgetting its own horrible track record of My Lai massacre, and prison horrors of Abu Ghraib, Guatemala and Guantanamo Bay. The waterboarding technique used by the CIA in interrogating accused and suspects is a classic case of human rights violations.

In Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi the bulldozer was used ostensibly to clear the encroachments but the allegations against the government was that this was used maliciously and vindictively to teach the rioters a lesson. It is believed that the due procedure must have been followed. Now the matter is sub judice, with the Supreme Court. Their observations are eagerly awaited.

The best legal brains of the country have and would be arguing on the legality of the anti-encroachment drive. Obviously, most of those who have been on the receiving end would claim that no advance notice was given, and the demolition drive took place without any warning and thus blatantly inhuman and illegal.

Jahangirpuri became the epicentre of political activity because it captured the attention of leading political parties who made a beeline there to exploit a political opportunity. Surprisingly, only the second-rung leadership undertook this journey; the top leadership maintained discreet distance. Amid this turmoil, not a single person raised the question as to how the priceless government land was usurped and plundered and the entire government machinery slept over this loot.

There are important lessons to be drawn from these ugly riots. The community policing experiment has to be practised and enforced on a regular basis, especially before such festivals to instil confidence between communities. The respectable and credible faces of all segments of society must be brought on a common platform and their appeal for peace and communal harmony should go to every household.

It is a matter of satisfaction that the Tiranga (Tricolour) rally was taken out in Jahangirpuri a few days back to restore communal harmony and peace. However, the police and the administration need to be extra vigilant because the smallest incident has the potential of initiating a full- and large-scale communal riot. Under these circumstances, the prescribed SOPs of rehearsing the Internal Security Scheme, the review of important documents like festival registers, dossiers of communal agitators, professional criminals need to be updated and suitable preventive arrests made. Actionable intelligence is of immense value to identify agent provocateurs and those stockpiling weapons, incendiary material and other objectionable items like petrol bombs, customised lethal catapults, etc.

Maintaining communal harmony would require a professional and unbiased police force, which has the professional competence of the highest order, displays unbiased conduct, has robust social sensitivity and unimpeachable integrity, without which maintaining communal peace would be an uphill task.

The writer is a former Director-General of Police, Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal.

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Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti violence: Important lessons to be drawn from these ugly riots
Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti violence: Important lessons to be drawn from these ugly riots
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