Violence continues unabated
“….as Gujarat model reaches Delhi” was the headline given by The Telegraph,Kolkata in a grim reminder that the violence of 2002 against Muslims under then Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s watch had travelled to Delhi in 2020. A second sub headline read “Rudraksha mala safer than pen” a report on the attacks on journalists trying to cover the violence, that led to many being beaten and one actually shot by rampaging mobs.
The numbers of dead and injured has been steadily rising as the government’s –central and Delhi—watch. The Delhi police are either bystanders, or absent, or participants in the violence as several videos released on the social media by eyewitnesses proclaim. The Opposition is not even willing to urge the government to call in the Army, three days after the violence has gone on unabated, with pleas by civil society delegations falling on deaf ears. Kejriwal, apart from praying at Rajghat, has made no move even though one of his own legislators has openly wondered why the Army is not being requisitioned.
As one writes reports come in from Mustafabad where at least two mosques have been vandalised and one set on fire.Little children were attacked by rod wielding mobs, and reports suggest that a madrasa was set ablaze with children inside. Casualties are still not known, although the figures have risen substantially from the official 16. Activists in the localities say that the figures have crossed 35, some insist the number of dead are over 65, with hundreds injured. Civil society individuals had to move the Delhi High Court to get an order to allow medical help to reach the injured, and to move out those who were too serious to be treated in local hospitals.
The violence has continued unabated since BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s clearly inflammatory remarks. It is well organised with well armed mobs patrolling targeted north east Delhi localities, attacking Muslim homes, setting Muslim owned properties on fire, abusing and physically assaulting Muslims on the streets.
Journalists too were asked to prove their religious identities, a first as even in 1984 when Delhi’s Sikhs were being massacred by similar mobs, the media was free to move around. Mobs did stop reporters, but more to check whether they represented the foreign media that was under attack those days rather than the individual religious status of the concerned scribe.
The similarities between1984 where hundreds of Sikhs were killed over just three days of violence that engulfed all of Delhi; and 2002 when hundreds were massacred in heinous violence all over Gujarat and now 2020 are striking. As the modus operandi is similar, and the images strikingly familiar.
1. Rumours spread like wildfire before the violence that was justified through versions of events that swept through the peoples without verification. It was Sikhs distributing sweets after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in Delhi; it was the Godhra train fires in Gujarat; and it was protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Delhi.
2. Hate speech. More so in 2002 and now in the run up the Assembly polls and this bout of violence in Delhi as amplified over the social media. In 1984 there was no television; in 2002 no social media; in 2020 citizens have the benefit of all and more for the vitriol to spread with alarming speed.
3. Armed mobs. This is the first time that guns have appeared, but lathis, iron rods, stones, swords, daggers have been in use. Arson has been resorted to in all the three big incidents of violence with transport, shops, residences being gutted. In 1984 this journalist saw bonfires with bodies being burnt inside by mobs, a series of bonfires. In 2002 Muslims were trapped in fires, and their properties gutted. In 2020 arson has been used all across the localities with latest reports of children trapped inside a burning madarsa adding fresh horror to the current trajectory of violence.
4. Specific targeting of the ‘other’. In 1984 where the violence had spread through Lutyens Delhi and South Delhi as well, the mobs had lists of addresses where the Sikhs lived. And a list of Sikh owned properties even in markets like Connaught place where their hotels and shops were set on fire. The same pattern of information was visible in both Gujarat and now in the Delhi violence, where the Muslim homes and properties are being singled out for attack while adjacent shops belonging to non-Muslims are left unscathed.
5. The Opposition in all cases was non existent. In 1984 the Congress leaders led the mobs supported by RSS cadres, as has been documented. In 2002, the BJP/RSS cadres led the attacks while the Congress party slumbered. And in fact even later was unable to pick up the pieces with party president Sonia Gandhi refusing to visit the widow of party leader Ehsan Jafri who had been brutally killed by mobs. In 2020, the Delhi government under Arvind Kejriwal has been unable to take a stand, holding a cabinet meeting only after two days of uninterrupted violence. He is finding it difficult to even ask the central government to deploy the Army in the impacted areas. The Congress party, of course, is only tweeting.
6. The administration has disappeared as has the police. In 1984 the police just vanished. In 2002 it was visible protecting the mobs in Gujarat and not the victims. In 2020 the Delhi police are either absent, or with armed mobs. It has been unable to restore order in a single instance.
The only difference is the level of awareness because of the social media which of course reflects the intense polarisation, or perhaps even more so, of the streets. Locals trapped in their homes have been tweeting for help, and every netizen seems to be well aware of the situation. However, despite these almost minute by minute updates the response pattern of the authorities is the same as it was in 1984. Despite the killings at the time Rajiv Gandhi moved in the Army only after three days, and later justified this in his first public address at the Boat Club lawns as Prime Minister when he said when a big tree falls, the ground is bound to shake a little. This after, hundreds of Sikhs had been killed and homes destroyed. In 2002 the government never really did react. In 2020 the government has held a meeting convened by Union Home Minister Amit Shah but the violence continues.
Tragic really that despite two big landmarks of violence from the past, and hundreds of others dotting the Indian landscape, the political response remains one of complicity or total indifference.