PUCL Bulletin, July 1999

Communalism: The Cancerous Evil
By R. M. Pal, June 1998

Communal violence and violations of human rights of Dalits, women, children, and other marginalised sections of our population have not been receiving due attention from the National Human Rights Commission and even human rights groups. Gandhiji had often said, in most unambiguous terms, that unless these two evils - communalism and untouchability-are done away with, India has no right - are done away with, India has no right to independence from British raj.

Ultimately he fell a victim to an intolerant cult - a heinous type of nationalism in our country which is heavily tainted to orthodoxy. This nationalism set off a chain reaction of Hindu and Muslim communalism. Gandhiji had staked his life for restoring communal harmony because, as he perceived it, breakdown of communal peace on account of rise of majority communalism even if in retaliation undermined the basic fabric of India's social life. Regrettably and to our ill luck is failed. The situation today is more serious and more dangerous, for we do not have another Gandhi on the horizon. Worse still, smaller men dominate the scene today. We cannot depend on them. It is, therefore, important that human rights activists imbibe the non-communal and humanist philosophy of Gandhiji - which so very urgently needed in our country today - and wage war on this cancerous evil.

Some of the recent happenings are indicative of the seriousness of the problem. There has been much media focus, justifiably, on the blasts in Coimbatore (now, renamed Kovai) in which a large number of innocent people were killed. But hardly any notice has been taken of the more atrocious communal frenzy and killings in Kovai in November 1997 in which the police played an active role (see the investigative report being serialised in the Bulletin since the April issue). Nobody raises the important question, which political formations/forces started/connived at the cycle of communal killings in Tamil Nadu where communal violence was unheard of earlier?

The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the communal riots that followed, reflecting political reaction and social/religious barbarism as well as utter contempt for the rule of law, are a blot on our culture. Work on building Ram temple at the Babari site, going on since 1993, even if outside Ayodhya, has sinister implications. There has been no explanation either from the Congress party on from the United Front as to why they did not take any notice of the work of prefabrication of the structure of the temple that was going on in Ayodhya and Rajasthan. While the opposition parties have been trying to make political capital out of it by implicating the present government in the prefabrication of temple parts (they are not addressing themselves to the larger question of the evil of communal violence), the mindset behind anticipating the judicial decision, if not prejudging it, is dangerous. It can touch off another round of communal violence when the court decides one way or another.

According to BJP/VHP plans if the verdict of the Supreme Court is delayed a 1992 situation/climate will be created - and organised violence will triumph over the rule of law. If, however, the Court verdict goes against the interests of BJP/VHP, that is, against temple construction at the Babri site, the BJP is likely to introduce a Bill to overcome the Court's verdict, something like what Rajiv Gandhi did with regard to the Shah Bano case. VHP's plan and approach is, however, plain, simple and straightforward: "The Constitution does not have any provision to punish the judiciary, but religious leaders have". There can be nothing more dangerous than this mindset which is regulated by the philosophy and practice of fascism. That is why there is scepticism regarding Prime Minister Vajpayee's assurance that no temple will be constructed at the Babri site unless sanctioned by the Court. A similar assurance by the Kalyan Singh government of UP and leaders of the government of UP and leaders of the BJP that the masjid would not be demolished had been overtaken by engineered events. We now know that having allowed tens of thousands of Kar Sevaks to swarm at Ayodhya, Kalyan Singh had never meant to respect his commitment to the highest court. So that the assurance given by the Prime Minister, in the light of the preparations for constructing the temple, may not mean anything. This is a frightening prospect.

Meanwhile, the Srikrishna Commission report on the communal riots in Mumbai in 1992 and 1993 has not yet been made public. The Hindutvavadis specially in Maharashtra have obviously read the report. It is no wonder, therefore, that they have started a campaign against the publication of the report on the ostensible plea that it might give rise to communal riots once again. Some of them have accused the Commission of bias against the Hindus and have denounced Justice Srikrishna. Their utterances make it obvious that many of them have been indicted by the Commission. To cite a few samples of Hindutvavadi utterances: "The report may be biased against the majority community, hence it should be scrapped. Pay attention to the rage of Hindus! It the report is published, the communal harmony of last three years in Maharashtra will be destroyed. If some minorities committed acts of bravery in the December 92 - Jan 93 riots, and if some Srikrishna has gone running to save them, then call him to Pakistan, honour him, give him also the Nishan-e-Pakistan. We are not afraid of any report. We did not start the riots, we only retaliated so as to protect our people. We are not ashamed of defending of our people. In fact, we will retaliate even harder if anybody tries to create trouble again. Let no one have any illusions about that".

There can be no more blatant appeal to communal passion and to violence. Human rights and civil liberties activists must act before it is too late.

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