Vibhuti Narain Rai
(The writer is a former Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh)
The battle against the threat from the COVID-19 pandemic deserves our undivided attention. This is a time to focus our attention and energies on that one common goal. The communal colour being given to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin must be avoided at all costs, particularly at this time. Delhi has just emerged from communal riots. We cannot afford to feed into what I call the pyramid of communal tension and descend into what can be another round of violence. Indeed, all rioting is preceded by the building of the pyramid. The trigger can be small. But the build-up is not as small.
A typical inquiry into communal violence starts with questions like how the riots began and which community made the first move. In India, where the two communities generally involved are the Hindus and the Muslims, both blame each other for initiating the riots and justify their respective responses to protect their respective communities.
Many years ago, while on a fellowship, I learnt an interesting fact about Indian society. Two cities can react differently to the same situation. A small incident can lead to major rioting in one city while the other city does not react to a bigger incident. This difference may sound strange but is not inexplicable; there are objective reasons behind the difference.
These objective reasons are responsible for either inciting violence or for maintaining peace.In my studies, I discovered that communal tension builds up in the form of a pyramid. And it must not be presumed that one incident of violence immediately descends into communal riots. The reality is that one group is preparing itself for violence over a period of time and violence explodes at one point in that journey.
In my study of ten communal riots in India, I found that riots did not start with the first incident of violence. Long before the riot began, rumours, police carelessness, hate speeches by politicians lead to a build-up of a pyramid of tension. The apex of the pyramid is the tipping point. At the tipping point, any action involving two competing communities can lead to communal violence on a large scale. If the pyramid of communal tension is absent,often a major incident does not lead to a communal flare up. If the pyramid of hatred has been built and kept burning, even a small incident can lead to large scale violence and rioting.
Justice D P Madan who probed the 1970 riots in Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad rightfully said that if one were to look superficially one would wonder how trivial issues led to arson, looting and killings.However, it does not require any great scholarship to realise that trivial incidents never trigger riots; there are underlying tensions that explode when a tipping point is reached.
One can see the same reason behind the recent riots in Delhi. The capital city was, in a way, preparing itself for riots for the past few months and hence I was not surprised at the turn in the situation. In fact, I would have been surprised if riots did not occur.The general air has been of deterioration of the Hindu-Muslim relationship and the creation of the pyramid of tension which could reach its apex point any moment.The incendiary speech by the defeated BJP MLA Kapil Mishra was merely a flash point.This was preceded by a series of important actions on issues like triple talaq, Article 370, the Supreme Court judgment on Babri Masjid, the complex issues around the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, the Citizens Amendment Act and the threat to implement NRC across the country. The government had bitten off more than it could chew. Whether or not these are in the national interest can be debated but in the social media these were being depicted as the victory of one community over the other. The fraying thread of communal harmony finally snapped on February 23-24.
The flashpoint was the threat given by Kapil Mishra to demonstrators staging a sit-in at the Jaffrabad metro station. For more than two months before this, there was a sit-in by women at Shaheen Bagh which blocked pedestrian traffic for the crucial Delhi-Noida corridor. Why did Kapil Mishra’s party or the police not evict the Shaheen Bagh protestors? Was it because Shaheen Bagh was needed topolarise voters before the Delhi assembly polls?
The Shaheen Bagh agitation will go down in history as a constructive and peaceful protest on a national issue. But it is also true that the prolonging of the protest led to communal tension. The way it became a symbol of resistance in the entire country, the delay of the Supreme Court decision on the sit-in and the lack of an exit strategy on the part of the protestors prolonged the agitation. It was then natural for it to be imitated in other places. Women tried to replicate Shaheen Bagh in Jaffrabad and eventually the pyramid reached its apex from where a small incident could have major repercussions.
Although Kapil Mishra gave the protestors three days to vacate the Jaffarabad sit-in, he forgot that having once made an incendiary speech the violent situation would not remain in his control. Hence, it is no wonder that immediately after he left, his supporters organised a sit-in to support the CAA. Soon there were clashes between the pro and anti-CAA protestors, something that can be classified as communal riots. President Trump was in the city when the riots began but it would be an oversimplification to assume that Kapil Mishra or his party did this on purpose. So would it be improper to assume that Muslims attacked the police to initiate the riots.
The recent Delhi riots were no doubt spontaneous but the pyramid of tension for it had been constructed and the tipping point came on February 23 when a single stone hurled from either side was enough to start a riot. My opinion is that if communal violence is to be prevented, we must destroy the pyramid of communal build-up in time. – The Billion Press