How Gujarat Carnage of 2002 was a Product of Institutionalised Riot Systems

Published on: March 3, 2018
The Gujarat genocide of 2002 had been preceded by continuing series of violence against Muslims in several states. Gujarat police had reported earlier that between 1987 and 1991, 106 major incidents of communal violence had taken place in the state. From 1996 to 2000, 88 major and 125 relatively minor incidents of communal violence had occurred. The year 2002 alone witnessed 17 major incidents and 18 other incidents.

Gujarat Riots
 
In Gujarat pogrom, over 2000 persons were killed, 150,000 people displaced and property worth over Rs. 11,000 crores destroyed. Political, police and administrative complicity, facilitation and participation by them, were prominent features of the pogrom. The story of how chief minister Modi remained indifferent during the Gujarat pogrom 2002 failing to discharge his Constitutional responsibilities, has been recorded by journalist Manoj Mitta (‘The fiction of fact finding: Modi and Godhra, 2014).
 
The elements of preparation, planning and execution, documented by Paul Brassin his case studies in Uttar Pradesh (UP) were conspicuously seen in the 2002 pogrom. Paul Brass has noted that the whole political order in north India and its leading as well as local actors were implicated in the persistence of Hindu-Muslim riots, which have had concrete benefits for particular political organisations and larger political uses. British census definitions imposed on a diverse population were ultimately converted into social categories, who were fighting it out in electoral politics of an increasingly divided polity and society.
 
Both central and state governments in India, who share a responsibility, have failed to prevent and control communal riots. One of the main failures has been in the sphere of reforming and professionalizing the police force. Control over the civil and police administrations is at the heart of the broader struggle for power, since police are seen as instruments of the party in power, which uses them to harass their opponents, protect their supporters and deny protection to their rivals. Brass noted an overall decline in Muslim representation in UP police from 48 percent in 1938 to 7 percent in 1981.    
 
Institutionalised Riot Systems
The BJP, now the sole ruling party of India, has made enormous political and electoral gain from the massive religious mass mobilisation and violence during the 1990s and after. Since the 1980s incidents of Hindu-Muslim communal violence have been pogroms and organised massacres with large groups attacking the houses, properties and lives of small, isolated and previously identified members of the ‘other’ community, that is the minorities, mostly Muslims (Gyan Pandey, in Ranajit Guha, Subaltern Studies 1986-95).
 
Paul Brass, long-time student of Hindu-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh has expounded at length the ‘institutionalized riot systems’ that exist in communally sensitive Aligarh and other places. A large number of studies by other scholars exist. Brass however, changed the terms of discourse on the subject by evolving the thesis of ‘the institutionalized riot system’, which was relevant to the study by the Concerned Citizens Tribunal on Gujarat, 2002.
 
Several studies help us understand the role of the police and the administration in major incidents of communal violence such as the Srikrishna Commission Report, 1998, which examined the Hindu-Muslim violence in Mumbai during December 1992-January 1993; the Vibhuti Narain Rai study on ‘Combating Communalism: The role of the police, 1999 and the several important Commission reports on Gujarat Carnage, 2002.  
 
Paul Brass (2003) argues that the partition of India in 1947 arose out of a political struggle, a part of which was about the past, combined with a fear of a future in which two cultures, perceived to be historically distinct would not be able to live together. Militant Hindus of Uttar Pradesh perceived that the Muslim past of India had to be rectified and that a major step in that direction would be the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.
 
Brass has held that even the most carefully planned and well-organized acts of violence are designed to appear spontaneous by the perpetrators. Capturing the meaning of Hindu-Muslim riots in a particular way helps legitimate illegitimate violence, cancel the extent of pre-planning and organisation, and maintain intact the persons, groups and organisations implicated in the violence, by preventing punishment of the principal perpetrators. 
 
The eight-member Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal on Gujarat 2002 noted serious deficiencies in the role performance of politicians, civil servants and the police. 20 of the 26 districts in the state were engulfed in well organised and armed mass attacks on Muslims between February 28 and March 2, 2002. During the period of the most concentrated attacks, the attacking mobs were 2000 to 3000 strong; often they were more than 5000 in number. The mobs were armed with lethal weapons and carried out chillingly similar manner of attacks hacking and killing human beings apparently in a carefully laid out plan of action behind them. The speed with which the violence spread and its intensity and brutality suggested that it could not have happened without government support.
 
Features of violence
The main features of violence were: i) selective targeting of Muslims; ii) brutality and bestiality of the attacks; iii) unprecedented degree and scale of violence; iv) loot and destruction of property on an unprecedented scale; v) military precision and  planning behind the attacks; vi) use of hate speech and hate writing; vii) massive sexual violence against women and children; viii) colossal economic destruction; ix) religious and cultural desecration on a massive scale; x) large scale preparations behind the violence; xi) state complicity; xii) serious violation of rules and procedures by the police and their active connivance and participation in the violence.
 
Other features of police behaviour included: i) participation in the violence; ii) illegal registration of FIRs; iii) omnibus FIRs; iv) FIRs without the names of the accused; v) deliberate obfuscation of the identity of the accused; vi) victimisation of the minority community; vii) unprofessional investigation; viii) malicious combing operations; ix) no relief to rape victims; x) no action against errant media; xi) no action against political activists behind the violence; xii) real culprits not arrested; xiii) non-implementation of the NHRC recommendations; xiv) non-use of special laws to stop violence; and so on (Source: KS Subramanian, ‘Political Violence and the Police in India’, 2007, chapter 7, p.170).
 
((This is an excerpt from KS Subramanian’s essay ‘Babri Masjid 1992 - Gujarat 2002 - Kashmir 2016: How the Sangh Parivar has wrecked India’s secular social fabric by sustained anti-minority violence’. For more excerpts, watch this space.))