Myth of the Hindu Backlash: When Bombay Burned

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: January 7, 2016

Image Courtesy: Hemant Shirodkar

December 1992-January 1993 was a bleak, dark time for Bombay, when the cosmopolitan myth around this city was truly shattered. The insidious politics of hate and division, propped up by rumour mongering and spinning of the stereotype saw December of 1992 and January 1993 severely test Bombay’s ethos.
 
On January 8, 1993 the Radhabai Chawl incident was malevolently used by the Shiv Sena (and its then junior partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party,BJP) to justify the targeted retaliation against the city’s Muslims. As this excerpt from the report shows,  long before the Radhabai Chawl incident, right from the night of December 20, 1992, Bombay’s communal pot had been kept boiling, Muslims under attack.  The Mahaartis, a politically targeted programme to justify attacks on Muslim neighbourhoods were formally launched on December 26, 1992. Thereafter sections of the underworld got into the act and Mathadi workers and others were targeted in stabbings.
 
 Two reports, The People’s Verdict (a citizens effort headed by two retired judges) and the official report of the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission recorded and analysed the situation. The Justice BN Srikrishna Commission report was completed in February 1998, by which time the Sena-BJP government was in power in the state.
 
Every attempt was made to conceal the report. Then, Sabrang Communications & Pulishing Private Limited, with the help of generous individual donations from citizens of Mumbai and India published the report, in full. Thanks to the donations we made it available at at low prices.
 
The entire text of the report is available at  https://www.sabrangindia.in/reports/damning-verdict and http://www.sabrang.com/srikrish/intro.htm  In the long introduction to the report the writer (Teesta Setalvad) had analysed its contents. We bring to you this analysis in parts, beginning with the ‘Myth of the Hindu Backlash;
 
     
The  third malicious element of communal propaganda visible in Mumbai during the relevant period has been the theory of “a Hindu backlash in retaliation” in response to heinous acts against Hindus, like the burning alive of a family in a Jogeshwari slum (Radhabai Chawl incident) preceded by the murder of Mathadi workers (also see later sections). This theory of  “Hindu retaliation”, led by “Hinduhriday-samrat” Bal Thackeray, that gained wide sway and currency during and after the violence in Mumbai is rooted in Hindu communal discourse of yore. An examination of all judicial Commission reports in post–Independence India since the first major riot in Jabalpur in 1961, shows that the perverted discourse around “Who cast the first stone?” has been maliciously used by Hindu communal organisations — be it the RSS, Jana Sangh, the Sena or the BJP — to justify their blatantly aggressive acts. In every communal riot situation, this discourse points to violent acts of Muslims as being the flashpoint for that violence. This selective discourse conceals the systematic and deliberate provocation of  the minority  community — through hate–writing, provocative slogans and incendiary and insulting allegations for weeks and sometimes even months preceding the outbreak of violence.

The reason why the spurious theory of a “backlash” gained such wide currency during Mumbai riots was simply because even a Congress(I) Chief Minister, Sudhakarrao Naik and Mumbai Police Commissioner, Srikant Bapat, bought this theory and responded to the violence based not on an appreciation of the ground reality but on a deliberately misinterpreted representation of events.

Justice Srikrishna, commenting on the second phase of riots in January 1993,  categorically rejects that it was merely a backlash of the Hindus because of the cases of stabbing, the murder of Mathadi workers and the Radhabai Chawl incident. He observes: “The events which took place between the period 12th December 1992 and 5th January 1993 indicate that there were attacks going on against the Muslims and their properties in different areas”. (Pg. 20, para 1.27–ii).
  • December 20, 1993, two Muslims were locked in a room and the room set alight within the Goregaon jurisdiction; due to the severe burns suffered one of the victims died.
  • On the night of December 24–25, 1992 one Mathadi worker was killed; though subsequent police investigations revealed the identity of the criminal to be an alchoholic, the communal atmosphere and communal outfits