Sunday, January 05, 2014

Why Has Muzaffarnagar Failed to Prick the National Conscience?

File photo of a relief camp (Pic: IANS)
Describing a hospital scene in the aftermath of communal riots of Jamshedpur in 1979, M J Akbar wrote, “In the recesses of the hospital lie the dead, in hideous shapes, and each of them, each man, woman and child, has written a will in the presence of a hundred witnesses, and the will says that each member of the dead person’s family receives a legacy of hate, an equal share each; and this legacy has no limits, no boundaries, so each member of the deceased may take what he or she can carry away.”

Looking at the pictures of Muzaffarnagar relief camps, this frightening sentence came to mind as hundreds of families carrying bare necessities were evicted from the makeshift camps by the Uttar Pradesh government this week as the chief minister attended a lavish annual festival in Saifai, his home village.

If a victim’s family receives a “legacy of hate”, what kind of legacy will be inherited by those who survived Muzaffarnagar riots and who continue to be ignored by a communal state administration?

What kind of legacy will be inherited by Muslim women who were raped by the men they thought were their protectors? What kind of legacy will be inherited by the young children who saw their fathers hacked? The children who braved cold nights in relief camps over months?

What is more troubling in Muzaffarnagar is the absence of a national narrative by large stakeholders of the country. On the political front, Rahul Gandhi’s low-profile visit to the riot relief camps was meaningful but did Congress vice-President actually do anything except lecturing victims and state administration? Is there any political plan to convince the victims to return to their homes?

Swaminathan Aiyar, one of country’s topmost economists and commentators, argued that Muzaffarnagar offers an opportunity to Congress party to rejuvenate itself and win back the Muslims. Isn’t it time for the grand old party should devise a plan to offer social security and justice to the riot victims.

With few exceptions, India’s mainstream media took off Muzaffarnagar news from the front pages in a couple of days after the violence broke out on September 7. Once the violent phase of the communal riot fizzled out, chilling and harrowing narratives slowly began to emerge.

Stories of rape and abduction of young Muslim women appeared but there was clearly no national outrage as the ingrained communal bias overshadowed a major story of living and silent “Nirbhayas of Muzaffarnagar”.

India’s national conscience, which occasionally erupts like a long-simmering volcano, took a holiday the day Outlook magazine cover story on the mass rapes of Muslim women hit the stands. Is there any plausible explanation why there was no outrage over rapes in Muzaffarnagar? Why didn’t media organizations follow up the story to kick off a campaign similar to the December 2012 Delhi rape case?

Does the UP government believe that paying compensation to the riot victims is enough? The 40-year old chief minister Akhilesh Yadav probably has not heard the old saying that money can’t buy you everything. The external behavior of young Yadav towards riot victims can be summed up thus: You can pack your bags off now that we have paid you compensation!

Is the Rs. 5 lakh compensation like “hush-money” as Farah Naqvi, National Advisory Council member asked? “The result is that no witnesses will be found, and criminal justice will not be secured. Is that what’s really going on?” Naqvi wrote.

From displacement to disappearance, the state administration is working according to a well-orchestrated plan as the continuous presence of the riot victims in pathetic relief camps was a sure sign of getting a bad press.

On Monday December 30, Akhilesh Yadav refused to answer questions from an NDTV reporter as he was upset with the channel’s coverage of the grim condition of the relief camps. An upset Yadav told the reporter to go to the “rear of the room” where he “appears best”.

A communal riot is often understood in its physical and violent manifestation where people kill members of a different religious or linguistic or casteist affiliation in a supposed battle to retain and restore the beliefs and superiority of one community.

The first casualty of any communal riot is the truth as Akbar put it way back in 1979, “Law and order have two enemies: the Full Truth and the Complete Lie. When people realize the truth, they start revolutions. When they are fed lies they begin meaningless riots.”

The second phase of any communal riot, which is often overlooked, is the non-violent manifestation of communal bias which is aided and abetted by a conniving administration.

This second phase is more portent and dangerous than the first as survivors deal with a “living hell” in which state actors visit relief camps as the saviors when in fact they are villains and real culprits. The second-phase is more challenging in the sense that a riot victims has to deal with problems of livelihood, fear of permanent displacement, financial insecurity and lack of social justice.

Muzaffarnagar riots have raised a serious question of genuine political representation of Muslims in a state with sizable Muslim population. There are a total number of 69 Muslim MLAs in UP in a house of 403.  It is a complete shame that with 17% representation in state assembly, none of them seem to have raised the issue of relief camps appropriately.

As Juzar Bandukwala put it, “Muzaffarnagar is beginning to blacken our soul. So much suffering under an administration that was elected primarily on Muslim support. There are at least 40 (Muslim) SP MLAs. So far not one has even protested let alone threatening to resign in protest.

Can’t they open their mouths to say that at a minimum run the refugee relief camps in a clean, efficient way? Money flows like water as Mulayam and family watch dancing girls, but there is none for children dying of cold. Then what is the point of fighting for Muslim political representation?”

As communal forces are once again on the march and resurgent ahead of a national election, Gandhian virtues of mercy, compassion, responsible governance and non-violence are sourly missed. India needs to search for a new Gandhi to rediscover itself.

Is Arvind Kejriwal the new Gandhi of Indian politics?

Inquilab, January 5, 2014

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