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Muzaffarnagar: A blot on the Samajwadi Patry and the Nation

January 22, 2014, By George Abraham, Chairman, Indian National Overseas Congress (I), USA

70192_muzzafer2The Ruling Party Chief, MulayamSingh said that there are no victims of riots there. Those living in camps, now, are the hired conspirators of the BJP and the Congress, planted to defame the government of UP. The top bureaucrat of the State went a step further. He denied any deaths due to cold weather by saying: “Nobody dies of cold. If it were correct, all Siberians would have died of cold by now.” He was responding to the criticism that 34 infants died due to severe cold weather at the relief camps in just over two months.  A cold-hearted Narad Rai, Uttar Pradesh’s sports Minister was even blunter in his assessment when he said, “Deaths of children, adults and elderly are inevitable. It isn’t necessary that only those living in camps are dying. People die in palaces too!” In the meantime, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was holding a grand festival in his ancestral village Saifai when thousands at relief Camps in riot-hit Muzaffarnagar were struggling to survive in near freezing temperatures.

Why do these riots still happen in a democratic India where the Government is constitutionally bound to protect the lives and properties of every citizen?  Muzaffarnagar proves that these communal riots seem to occur primarily due to lack of preventive mechanisms in place, and the failure to punish the guilty in a timely fashion as a future deterrent. There is also the failure on the part of law enforcement to contain it quickly and provide relief to the victims. Akhilesh Yadav’s administration’s callous statements and indifferent attitude to the plight of its victims are clearly evident all throughout this crisis. As many as 60 people lost their lives and thousands were displaced from their homes. Stories are told of torched houses and barren streets by those who visited the area, which stretches about nine villages that were hit the worst in the September 8 communal clashes that shook western Uttar Pradesh. It made 50,000 Muslims refugees in their own homeland. This riot hasn’t garnered much attention within the Pravasi community and there was little media focus on this issue as well.

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As per the interview given to Economic Times by Akhilesh Yadav, he squarely has placed the blame on the BJP for the spate of riots since he took over as Chief Minister of the state. He said the following, “you must be aware that there was a large scale conspiracy to communalize the atmosphere. There was a concerted attempt to divide people and create riots. BJP leaders circulated a fake video to fan violence. Bulk SMSs sent to create rumors. Social media was used to spread misinformation and raise tensions between communities”.

Despite his posturing, a picture emerges of an administration that showed no sense of urgency to contain the riots or provide immediate relief to the victims especially many of the women who were subjected to rape and the subsequently mistreated and ridiculed by Doctors appointed to provide medical care. There was every indication that there could be violence, the government appeared to remain unperturbed as the Panchayat and then Mahapanchayat of the Jats were held, fanning communal fires. In the village of Fugana in Muzaffarnagar, sixteen people were killed, six gang raped and 24 accused – but not a single arrest hasn’t taken place for two months despite the fact that the supreme Court has even mandated the arrest if the culprits, even before the medical tests of the gang rape victims were conducted. The riot victims fear injustice and are scared of returning to their homes despite the exhortation by the officials. It is quite obvious that as Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the State of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav has miserably failed to discharge his responsibilities to its citizens.

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A BJP Member of the UP legislative Assembly Sangeet Som who uploaded a fake video that allegedly played in provoking the communal tension and making inflammatory speeches was arrested, but yet given VIP treatment in the jail. Reacting to the report that the jailer was seen saluting Mr. Som, former DGP of Uttar Pradesh Prakash Singh said, “It shows where the sympathy of policeman lies…it also shows the politicization of police force”.

Stung by all the bad publicity, Yadav’s administration is making a new push to clear camps. However, Muslims in the camps are reluctant to go back to their burned homes and ransacked belongings. It is also quite disturbing for them to know that the culprits were their own neighbors, many of them they had known for years! Human Rights Watch asked the UP Government ‘to stop the evictions from the camp immediately and provide aid to the displaced and their safe return or resettlement’

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar termed the communal violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar as a blot on the country. “The Muzaffarnagar riots were a blot on the country just as the 1989 Bhagalpur riots (Bihar) and 2002 Gujarat riots were,” Nitish Kumar, said. “India’s unity in diversity is the idea of India and anything against it would defy that idea. What good is the claim of good governance if it creates communal barriers and divides society?” he asked.

India has still a lot to learn from the oldest democracy, the United States in guaranteeing civil liberties to all its citizens regardless of color, nationality or religion. There is difference between a liberty and a right. Although both words appear in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, they do provide different guaranteed protections. Civil liberties are protections against government actions. Civil rights, in contrast refer to positive actions of that government should take to create equal conditions for all Americans. The term Civil Rights is often associated with the protection of minority groups such as Asian Americans or Hispanics. The Government thereby counterbalances the ‘majority rule’ tendency in a democracy that often finds minorities without a voice or protection. Muzaffarnagar is once again a reminder that India has quite a way to go in this regard.

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If India is ever to succeed in quelling this ever repeating communal riots, the anti-communalism bill that is before the Parliament ought to be taken up and passed into law. It has to include strong preventive measures by the Law enforcement sector and fairness and justice on a fast track in the judicial system. India needs to take action on a level similar to anti-terrorism measures in order to prevent any future violence. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde recently stated that the bill was approved by the Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, BJP and other regional parties have come out very strongly opposing its passage in the Parliament. According to the draft bill, communal violence includes” any act or series of acts, whether spontaneous or planned, resulting in injury or harm to the person and property, knowingly directed against any person by virtue of his or her religious or linguistic identity”.  The bill proposes to punish organized communal violence with life imprisonment; hate propaganda with up to three years’ imprisonment of fine or both; funding communal violence with three years or fine or both; dereliction of duty with imprisonment ranging from two years to five years; and breach of command with imprisonment of up to 10 years. The bill seeks to provide compensation of RS 7 lakh to the next of kin of those killed in communal violence, Rs 5 Lakh for disability, and Rs 2 lakh for grievous injury.

It is incumbent upon the Indian Diaspora to support the bill as we constitute a vibrant minority in several countries where we would require civil rights protection and often affirmative actions. To not do so will be hypocritical on our part.  It is only consistent with India’s aspiration to become an economic super power that calls for,  political tranquility and communal harmony as  prerequisites, to achieving such a dream!

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