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Bulldozer action justified. Violence in UP no less than an act of terror

Acts of rioting are akin to anti-national activities that have an intent to terrorise the local population, and challenge the State and constitutional authorities.

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Houses and properties of some of the participants of the rioting mobs or the agent provocateurs of violence have been bulldozed by respective local authorities in Uttar Pradesh. It is being argued that such a punitive disproportionate reaction could have been avoided and the local law enforcing authorities should have ‘allowed the law to take its own course’. Nothing can be more clichéd than this argument.

In the wake of the former BJP spokesperson’s controversial remarks on the Prophet, the domestic situation has turned tense with instances of arson, violence, stone-pelting, vandalism, destruction of public property and mobs clashing with police forces. As many as 90 large scale street protests in almost 17 states and covering about fifty districts that erupted immediately after the Friday prayers do not appear to be sporadic or unexpected. None of them seem to be a spontaneous outburst of resentment at their religious feelings being hurt.

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The political overtone

The violence is no less serious than a terror attack or declaring a war on the State. The Naxal-Maoist attacks take place on the law enforcing authorities, individuals or at select locations. Acts of rioting are akin to such anti-national activities with an intent to terrorise the local population, intimidate the citizens, and challenge the State, police and the constitutional authorities.

All the violence in the preceding week seems to have taken place after the traditional Friday prayers. One cannot overlook the fact that these incidents had a political overtone. The trigger for the protests — the controversial statement in a television debate — is almost a month old now. The BJP, various governments and the courts of law have taken cognisance and initiated punitive and corrective actions. Then what justifies this violence?

One possibility is that there are certain political and anti-social or call them anti- national elements, who do not want the issue to be forgotten. They have an agenda in keeping the issue simmering and political axe to grind. They might be calculating to build a narrative that suits their political ends, no matter how violent, undemocratic, and criminal those means may be. Such leaders and outfits will have to be dealt in a manner which will hit them where it hurts the most.

The law enforcing authorities in general and the courts in India do not segregate criminals on the basis of their religion. There can be no two opinions that public discourse — religion or otherwise — needs to be kept within the confines of decency and civic norms. But it is also true that anarchy, arson, calls for beheading, posting derogatory and threatening messages and riotous misconduct cannot be tolerated by a mature democratic society like India’s. Terrorising the people in the name of religion is no different from terror perpetrated by organised criminal groups.

Also read: ‘Action begins’, ‘bulldozers roll’ – TV news treated razing of a family home like a film shoot

The duty of law enforcement

In April this year, there were similar incidents of violence during Ramnavami processions in several parts of India. Even in these incidents, rioting mobs indulged in vandalism and damaged public property. The police brought the situation under control, arrested and filed cases against some of the arsonists. The due process of law is underway and nothing much has been heard of the cases so far. Meanwhile, it is possible that some of the elements booked by the police then, could have been part of the recent riots too. Going by the political and religious influence exerted in such cases, the judgment might be inordinately delayed, allowing the criminals to roam around free. Such incidents affect the morale of the law enforcing authorities.

Anyone who has not been part of a team of handful of policemen holding just a stick and facing an irate mob armed with lethal weapons, burning tyres, hurling petrol bombs and stones will not understand the feeling of panic, contempt and retaliation.

Police high handedness and excesses are not unknown or unreported. In many instances in the recent violence, the police have maintained restraint and used tear gas shells and lathi charge to disperse the rioters. There have been deaths on both sides, which could have been avoided. It is one thing to pontificate that police are there to maintain law and order and not sit on judgment over culpability. But the fact that the police are also part of the social milieu and influenced by the circumstances and contemporary events cannot be overlooked.

Also read: UP Police’s brutality shows Indian law enforcement remains true to its colonial heritage

Sullying India’s image

Cases have been filed against hardened criminals in UP under the National Security Act and the Gangsters Act and their properties bulldozed. The task force against the land mafia has taken over huge chunk of land and made it available to industry and for low-cost housing. Therefore, if outfits and certain individuals are fanning hatred and organising mobs to indulge in riots, they should be treated no differently from criminals, and their properties and immovable assets dealt with in the same manner as that of criminals.

Another conjecture is that these recent incidents could be part of a larger game plan to project Muslims in India as victims of Islamophobia. While riots are not projected outside India, bulldozers in action are. This does send a wrong signal and sully the national image. The government will have to tackle this misinformation cautiously and not play into the hands of forces that are determined to paint India as another Islamophobic land when the truth is very different.

The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. He tweets @seshadrichari. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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