‘Muzaffarnagar’ an identity of exclusion

January 14, 2014

By S. Mohammed Irshad

Amartya Sen once defined the question of identity[1]; he explained that “a sense of belonging to a community is thus seen as a resource -like capital. That understanding is important, but it has to be supplemented by a further recognition that a sense of identity can firmly exclude many people even as it warmly embraces other”. Sen’s view on the multicultural identity of Indian muslims is very valid with reference to the community position in the mainstream life. He further explained that, “muslims, like all other people in the world, have many different pursuits, and not all of their priorities and values need be placed within their singular identity of being Islamic”. He was trying to contextualise the global perception towards the Islamic identity of muslims, so, a reading of violence and identity in the context of recent Muzaffarnagar violence and news reports on relief camps of Muslim victims becomes a reality check of the theoretical position of Sen towards violence and identity.

Nobody, especially those who are living in the boundaries of parliamentary democracy like India wish to embrace a violent identity, being one of the largest poor sections of the population, no Muslim dares to embrace such an identity, however, an identity has been imposed on the community in certain contexts. In principle, identity building is not equally applicable to every community, it exists and evolves out of fight with the power of the state. The survivors of Muzaffarnagar violence Uttar Pradesh prove that the identity of victims of violence can turn into a an identity of trouble makers i.e. an identity to be avoided, hence not a part of larger social concern. It is a well established fact that it was violence by design and the major beneficiary of the violence is BJP. The Samajwadi Party and Congress also benefited. The BJP perpetrates the violence for consolidating majority vote banks and it is its long term investment in Jat Vote banks, however, for other parties it would help to make a claim on the majority vote bank. Muzaffarnagar violence exposed the Samajwadi party’s claim of a musliam party, Muslims may have supported the party, or it may continue in future, however, it is fact that SP does not want to claim it in the long run.

The media report of the malnutrition death of 34 children in the relief camps and cases of rapes have not posed any threat to the SP government’s nor does the opposition trouble the government for its failure. In principle the opposition parties should take up the issue and fight the government, however in case of Muzaffarnagar violence, the opposition parties were silent on 34 child deaths and rape. Apart from that, the prime minister candidate of congress Mr Rahul Gandhi also made humiliating comments on victims at the beginning. Other prince and the Chief Minister of UP, Mr Akhilesh Yadav also did the same. Ironically a couple of months ago Mr Akhilesh Yadav had suspended an IAS officer for demolishing an illegal boundary wall of the Mosque. It is strange to compare an illegal wall of mosque with 34 children and lives of women. The Mosque authorities had violated the building rules of UP, however, the chief minister immediately suspended the office and showed his commitment towards the Muslim community’s religious practice. It is difficult to understand the approach of UP chief minister on Muslim religion and the Muslim community. In a secular democracy religion always has a secondary or third preference in public life. Even though it is not always like that, however, it should be a norm that government act for the right to life first rather than right to worship. In the case of the Mosque the UP administration was so active in taking quick decision, and the same administration is very slow in providing at least basic needs to the people who live in the relief camps. This creates an identity that religious practice is the most crucial requirement of Muslims and it sets aside all other rights as citizens. It reinstates the popular imagination of otherness of the Muslim community in the Indian society.

The fact finding team led by Prof Mohan Rao (JNU), Prof Ish Mishra (DU), Ms Pragya Singh (Journalist) & Dr Vikas Bajpai (JNU)[2], reported that 52 people died in the communal disturbances of which 37 were Muslims and 15 were Hindus. The committee further explained that Muslim deaths have taken place in different villages over a period of time in much more planned attacks.

Displacement as political tool
According to the fact finding report, as per unofficial sources as many as 100,000 Muslims had been displaced from their homes while by the time of our visit the government acknowledged that 50,955 persons had been displaced who were accommodated in 11 relief camps. It’s huge number because of the reason of displacement. Noted Journalist Ms Meena Menon[3], in her study on victims of Mumbai riot 1993, explained that,

“for those affected by the riots, reconciliation has come without the truth being acknowledged. Moreover, there is no attempt to understand the factors that drove the violence and redress those issues which are splintering communities. Ordinary people are sharp to realise that there is an enormous political stake in all this. As more than one person has pointed out, the ruling class encourages this policy of divide and rule and the segregation of communities helps their vote banks”.

The notorious Mumbai riot of 1993 had led the ghettoisation of Muslim community to the periphery of city. She further explain that, “ a mere Rs 5000 was provided for the loss of property or houses. There was very little community support to get back on track. However, many have tried to come back and have succeeded, but these cases do not make up for the bulk of what has happened to the community- they have been shown their place as second-class citizens, neither liable for support nor justice. And being poor, many of them may not even be part of Mumbai’s dream to be world-class city”. She explains the problems and challenges of the Muslim community to overcome the impact of the 1993 communal violence. In terms of casualty and death the Mumbai violence no way comparable to Muzaffarnagar, however, the attitude of ruling class over the victims is the same and unique. Perpetrators of Mumbai violence became ruler of the state, the reference of the Sri Krishna Commission on the Late Shive Sena leader was just on paper, similarly the BJP gives warm reception to the alleged perpetrators of Muzaffarnagar violence.

This is not the question of religion of the victims, it is question of neglecting the democratic rights of the citizen. The fact finding report, showed that, “there is a near total absence of state agencies in the relief efforts mounted for the riot victims. On the face of it the relief camps are being organized by religious / communal (as belonging to a religious community) organizations of the Muslims among which the Jamait Ulema-e-Hind was the most prominent. Whatever, little relief was provided by the state agencies earlier were also routed through the communal organizations of the minority community”. The earlier report on Muzaffarnagar riots brought out by the Center for Policy Analysis‘ quotes the district magistrate as saying that the “administration was providing relief to the victims through the religious organizations of the minority community as they were better positioned to provide support and comfort the victims”. This is really a shame on Indian democracy, why religious organizations ? and why not start? Why UP government is channelling the support which is being funded by tax payer’s money through religious organizations? This creates more division between the victims and the state. The victims will be forced to trust their own religious organizations rather than state and they will no longer trust the government as a democratic agency.

As per the fact finding team’s report, the victims have to sign an agreement to get the Rs 5 lakh compensation, according to the report, the following are the conditions;

a) That myself and members of my family have come leaving our village and home being terrorized due to violent incidents in ……… village and we will not now return to our original village and home under any circumstances.
b) That the lumpsum financial help being given for my family by the government will only be used by me to rehabilitate my family. By this money I will live with my family voluntarily arranging for residence at appropriate place elsewhere.
c) That in the condition of receiving lumpsum financial help amount, myself or members of my family will not demand compensation relating to any damage to any immovable property in my village or elsewhere.

These conditions are anti-democratic in nature; it restricts the victims from having further engagement with the state. There is absolutely no guarantee that, this money is enough to survive from the loss, it also strengthens the popular imagination of Muslim identity: that it is the mercy of the UP government towards the Muslims. UP government’s decision on compensation and inhuman treatment towards people in the relief camps have not questioned by any political parties in India. This silence never helps any community to get out of the trauma and taboo of communal violence. The political forces both congresses, SP and BJP wanted a dominating ‘Islamic identity’ of the Muslims at the mainstream to design the otherness to secure the political interests. This is an identity crisis which the victims of Muzaffarnagar are passing through. SP prefers a secluded identity of Muslims to get maximum Muslim votes and help BJP to secure a certain amount of Hindu votes.

The violence and its aftermaths of the Muslim reinstates that fact the political parties in India have not been able to understand the heterogeneous identity of the Muslims. This is reflected in the considerable silence in general public towards the Muzaffarnagar cause. This silence is equally applicable in the case of Dalits and Tribes.

Author is a faculty at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, contact at mohammedirshad31@gmail.com

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