RIOT AFTER RIOT
Earlier, I visited numerous riot- torn cities , towns and villages -Jamshedpur, Moradabad, Sarthupur, Meerut- to discover what lay behind the outbreaks of communal and caste violence that have taken place in India after Partition . In riot after riot, I pen down my findings that the basic cause for the communal frenzy is the same: poverty , economic deprivation and a history which has been perverted and misused by religious zealots.
Here is a chapter from Riot After Riot:
Have you ever heard the silence of a city? Curfew time is five o’ clock but long before that the silence has been building up. The city stopped roaring on 11 April 1979, but now as the sun enters the last quarter of its daily journey even the half-raised voices of the morning have hushed. The daylight is strong still. A cat drops quickly from a parapet onto Masjid Road and the eye, in reflex, catches the soundless movement for nothing else stirs, nothing else moves, there is no one on the street. Our car moves on, a window quickly shuts, soundlessly. Even the huge, squat, serried factory structures that fill the skyline of Jamshedpur seem afraid of making any noise. Dogs, scampering in the rubble of destruction, do not bark so much as whimper. The one sound that follows us is of the police; they are present at each street corner, neat and deadly guns in their hands, each picket with a plainclothes magistrate, and each picket stopping our car to check our curfew passes : the bold “Press” signs taped on the car are not sufficient proof of our innocence, and rightly so: stranger things are happening here than gun-running by fake journalists. A Muslim was nabbed carrying weapons in a Marwari’s car; traders have no religion, as we have all heard, particularly traders in illegal arms. Chickens, owned by nobody now, are wandering about busily in deserted, broken, burnt and looted homes. Jagged bricks pockmark both sides of the road, bricks which are witnesses, weapons and finally victims of battle. A single slipper lies in the middle of the street. A lone cyclist, a Sikh, passes us, stares at us; he is on his way from work. The street lights are on; they have been on for the last few days as no one, in fear, has gone to switch them off; they become a little more noticeable in the gradually weakening sunlight, as dusk seeps towards this silent city. From the boundary walls of Agrico factory, Rajesh Khanna and Rekha promise Prem Bandhan. A bunch of crows sits on a speedbreaker; as our car nears, the crows trot off together, literally trot off. Now to less deserted streets; or seemingly less deserted — the shops and signs on either side make this street less forlorn. But in the shadows there is movement; beggars, without a home, stuck against the drawn shutters of the shops, wearing black rags, staring at the empty roads. Beggars and guardians of the law and a handful of journalists; that is all that moves in a curfew.
There is curfew too in the narrower lanes of Jugsalai, the business centre of the city, but here there are signs of life. This is where the merchants live and earn, and they are spending these unproductive evenings chatting on the verandahs, looking at the streets. It is getting dark now, and our car winds through lanes and bylanes in search of mood and battlefields. At one turn a loud ‘Halt’ stops us abruptly. Police scamper down from a rooftop. We are on the border of a Muslim area. The officer of the law is sceptical about our verbal assurances. He demands to see our curfew passes, and is not totally convinced by them. S. P. Singh, the editor of Ravivar is in our car. The policeman looks hard at S. P. Singh who wears a beard; ‘Are you S. P. Singh?’ he asks, and his voice has disbelief in every syllable. The editor of Ravivar has to show his identity card with his photograph to prove his point, and then the policeman almost reluctantly gives us back our curfew passes. We are two Muslims and two Hindus (purely by chance) in the car, and the two Hindus both wear beards that would do a Muslim proud. The picket thinks we are carrying arms for the Muslims. And in case we have any doubt that their attentions are only routine, one of them calls out as we depart: ‘I hope there is nothing lethal in the boot’.
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. Lies are the staple of every communal disturbance. They are spread by people who have a stake in this stupid violence, who have something to gain out of impoverished Hindus and Muslims fighting each other. Businessmen, traders, politicians, goondas, leaders of ‘cultural organizations’(like the Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh —RSS) feed the people with lies, watch these lies become convictions in people’s hearts, watch the passions build up, and then these leaders actually set up the events which will provoke a conflagration. They simply stick a pin into the nerves of people, and it is only a matter of time before the people explode. Then, when the first round of violence is over, when the initial steam has been let oft the lies keep on circulating. The people must not realize that they have been fooled or they will tear down their false heroes. There is fuel already in the murky events that make up communal violence, and upon this more lies are heaped and spread. After all, if the Hindu and Muslim live in peace, how will the RSS find another convert? How will the trader sell arms? How will a shopkeeper have the pleasure of seeing a rival’s shop burn down? How will the goonda loot? How will the communalist kill a fellow human being? Keep the lies floating friends!
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