Is the communal fire from Assam spreading to other parts of India? The large-scale departure of Northeast migrants from Bangalore certainly doesn’t look like it’s going to be the last of the spillover from Bodoland. Last week, a Mumbai rally called to condemn the killings of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar ended in mob violence that left two dead and several injured. Police suspect that videos and pictures from the two restive regions were deliberately circulated beforehand to inflame tensions among the Muslim audience.
Similar propaganda material is also suspected to be behind the Pune attacks on students from the Northeast. The local police have arrested several Muslim men who, they say, were behind the attacks. But there’s also been another theory doing the rounds—that it is the RSS which is circulating some of these rumours to create an atmosphere of hatred which suits the politics they support.
Ahead of the two state elections this year (including Gujarat) and as many as nine next year (Karnataka, MP, Delhi and Rajasthan among them), Assam’s ethnic clashes come as a timely pretext for those out to engage in communal politics. Together with localised incidents in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, many fear the recent developments signal a return of communalism to replace corruption as the electoral agenda.
Promptly off the blocks was Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi, who’s seeking a fourth consecutive term a few months from now. On Janmashtami day, writing on his blog, he accused the UPA of “promoting” cow slaughter and exporting beef to bring in a ‘Pink Revolution’. Modi didn’t even spare the PM for failing to make a mention of the violence in Mumbai in his Independence Day speech (Manmohan had made a reference to the Assam clashes). “Something so serious...how can the PM be quiet about it?” the CM asked. Baroda-based retired professor and activist J.S. Bandukwala says, “Modi has no choice, especially since he is facing a split in his own ranks. Creating a communal atmosphere is the only way he can tide over it.”
When clashes first broke out in Assam in July, few imagined it would have such widespread communal repercussions. But developments have increasingly veered that way as entities, both Muslim and Hindu, seek to polarise and communalise the rhetoric. While the BJP has chosen to harp on illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Muslim political parties and their leaders (such as MP Asauddin Owaisi, who warned of a “third wave of radicalisation amongst Muslim youth”) have chosen to focus only on the plight of the Muslims in Bodoland.
Meanwhile, the police are investigating if the latest incidents in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad are all part of an organised attempt to provoke communal riots. An sms doing the rounds before the violence in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan asked, “Burma, Assam, Gujarat, Kashmir ke baad na jaane kahan? Burma mein Musalmano ke qatl-e-aam or zulm ke khilaf Azad Maidan may Sunday ko rally hai.” It went on to criticise the media for covering the gunning of Sikhs in the US in great detail but ignoring the killings of Muslims. “Is SMS ko Sunday se pehle Hindustan ki har Musalman or mantriyo or media tak pahunchao...,” it added. Worried, the central government has now asked states to keep track of social media, where most of this propaganda is being circulated.
Photograph by Amit Haralkar
In Mumbai, several people were seen climbing on to local trains with rods and petrol canisters, all of which were later used in the violence in and around Azad Maidan. While the obvious finger pointing has been at Muslim fundamentalists and the underworld, Mumbai-based Asghar Ali Engineer, who heads the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, says one can’t exclude the possibility of Hindu right-wing forces provoking the clash. “Hindu right-wing groups know very well now that they can’t have a repeat of Gujarat in 2002. They tried launching terror attacks, thinking Muslims will be blamed for them, but this too failed as the Hindu terror nexus was exposed. Now the new strategy is to focus on minor riots and identity-based isolation of groups and communities,” he says. Activist Harsh Mander adds that states and local officials must be made accountable to contain the communal violence.
In Bangalore, migrants from the Northeast have suddenly begun fleeing en masse, fearing reprisal attacks from Muslims. Even presuming that the Muslims are furious and ready to turn violent, the question is would they be so foolhardy to do so in a BJP-ruled state? Simultaneously, the RSS has promptly stepped into the limelight, as defenders of the terrified people. They have also claimed they are not behind the rumours which called on migrants to flee the city before Id-ul-Fitr (around August 20), after which Muslims will apparently go on the rampage. Vishwa Samvad Kendra, the RSS’s news agency, is already busy distributing pictures of khaki-clad activists crowding around railway stations in Bangalore and talking to people from the Northeast.
While nobody is sure who is behind the rumours, the fear among the Northeast migrants in Karnataka is palpable. Last week, a Tibetan youth was stabbed mistakenly in Mysore by unidentified miscreants. Home minister R. Ashoka said as many as 6,800 Northeast migrants had left the city on Wednesday and another 1,000 had fled on Thursday by the time this report was filed. (Reports also talked of around 1,000 people gathering at Pune station in Maharashtra. Reports of northeasterners fleeing have also come from Kerala and AP).
A communalised atmosphere is slowly building up, which has worrying consequences for states like Uttar Pradesh, already the scene for several localised riots this year. Shahid Siddiqui, recently expelled from the Samajwadi Party in UP, claims the state has deliberately chosen not to crack down to create a communal divide ahead of the 2014 LS elections. “Any polarisation is not just going to help the BJP, it’ll also help the SP and Congress. The so-called secular parties also benefit from keeping the Muslims jittery,” he says. Congress-ruled Rajasthan too has seen several communal incidents of late, including the violence in Gopalgarh in September 2011 that left 10 dead. The question India must confront as we head into several state and general elections is whether the communal cauldron is being stirred all over again.
By Debarshi Dasgupta and Panini Anand
Apropos Hate Story Revivals, if students and workers from the Northeast did not feel unsettled in Bangalore, and alert to the possible repercussions of the Assam violence, this panic would not have spread with such velocity. The fact that they reacted to that fear so viscerally, and felt that escape was the only option, speaks about the state’s inability to inspire trust. Some years ago, a Naga editor suggested that the Centre do away with the expression “Northeast” to collectively identify the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, his argument being that since each state had its own peculiarities and problems, calling them the “Northeast” collectively concealed the distinct identity of each state. In the late 1990s, the Union home ministry is said to have prohibited the use of “Northeast” in its official communications. In order to remove any future possibility of misunderstanding and also considering the needs of the moment, perhaps this issue deserves attention.
Vani A., Hyderabad
Your bias knows no bounds. Which is why when it’s RSS offering protection to northeasterners in Bangalore, you put ‘protection’ in inverted quotes in the caption. Again, every time there are Muslim suspects, you float an RSS theory alongside. And the same cast of characters—Asghar Ali Engineer, Harsh Mander, et al—give you quotes.
Vijayakumar A.P., Coimbatore
Labour migration to Assam is a historical process that started in the mid-19th century. The state then had vast tracts of land to be reclaimed by clearing forests. Besides, when the British introduced tea plantations, more labour force was needed. Except for the Muslims of Sylhet, the Assamese considered it demeaning to work in the tea gardens. Therefore, members of the tribal communities in then Chhota Nagpur and now Jharkhand—Santhal, Oraon, Munda, Ho etc—started moving towards Assam. They were later joined by the working classes from the bordering districts of East Bengal. The authorities too provided free residences and ration to encourage them. Outsiders, therefore, have always played a great role in the building of Assam’s economy. It’s unfair that their successors now should be so targeted,
Sanket Biswas, Calcutta
I denounce Outlook for portraying the Assam violence as a communal clash when it’s evidently a confrontation between Bodo tribals and Bangladeshi immigrants. Portraying it as a Hindu-Muslim or Bodo-Bengali-speaking minority issue has caused a backlash against northeasterners across the country. Assamese Muslims are an integral part of Assam and as safe as any other community. Whatever incidents that have occurred in btad are a clash against Bangladeshi immigrants rather than against the Muslim community.
Saranga Bordoloi, Guwahati
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Why should we protest at Azad Maidan?? Don’t know why a section of people in India are worried about those who had been killed in Burma. The Burmese Govt will look after them. Similarly the minority Hindus & Christians are being deliberately killed in Pakistan. Should the Christians and Hindus over here protest and destroy public properties attack media persons or attack police women for this?? Speaking about the Sikhs who were killed in Wisconsin, they are Indian citizens that’s why the media covered the gunning of Sikhs in US in great detail but not the other.
>> bogus Seculars can't deceive me.
They don't need to. You are quite capable of deceiving yourself.
"... concern for Muslims in Myanmar and Assam has been rising in India's Muslim community." - Faruki.
Naturally. Their concern will rise even for muslims living on south pole and they will kick the memorials of the martyrs of the country that gives them bread and butter!
[[GOI only said that they were posted by mostly Pakistani websites.]]
The GOI said no such thing. It only said that the origin of these malicious pictures (and perhaps even the SMSes, though I'm not entirely sure about it) was in Pakistan.
Are you genetically incapable of seeing more than one side of any story?" Faruki
Sir -I honestly agree that I am genetically incapable of missing the hidden meaning of any fraudulent mail of any bogus Secular with 'kahin pe nighein aur kahin pe nishana '.
And such fraudulent mails have only one side not many.
Can't help Sir , it is an manufacturing defect that bogus Seculars can't deceive me all the times .
My sincerest humble apologies sir.
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