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Muzaffarnagar: cries from the cane fields.

India, Jan. 12 -- The Muzaffarnagar riots present us with another somber opportunity to reflect on the dangers that can easily weaken India's social fabric. Riots are often triggered by political patronage. They not only drive communities apart, but they also render victims vulnerable to further manipulation by sinister forces.

In the context of Muzaffarnagar, one is especially reminded of how communal violence is deliberately provoked and sustained.

The threats posed by communal clashes are greatly undermined. Governments tend to treat them as untoward incidents. The solution lies in zero-tolerance, rehabilitation, speedy justice and exemplary punishment. A bill to deal with these aspects, the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, is unfortunately caught in a communal conundrum despite overwhelming evidence than minorities are disproportionately adversely affected during riots and face a biased police.

A new academic book on Hindu-Muslim violence, like some earlier seminal works, finds that Hindutva politics remains one of the main causes of communal violence, not just because of the role it plays in society but also because it comes in the way of effective remedial action.

That the Gujarat riots of 2002 were stoked by political patronage goes without saying (ministers in the state have been formally convicted for this). The barbarity was the product of some astounding political planning, down to the mohalla level. But that Gujarat's grassroots Hindutva agents were an indispensable bridge between its people and its official institutions, making the riots possible, is the breakthrough author Ward Berenschot achieves with "Riot Politics".

One cannot possibly understand the politics behind India's frightful legacy of post-Partition riots if one has not read some pioneering, if only a handful, of works on the subject.

These include University of Washington professor emeritus Paul R Brass' The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India, 2003, (communal violence is deliberately provoked and sustained); Yale professor Steve Wilkinson's Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India, 2004, (some state governments in India prevent Hindu-Muslim riots while others do not) and Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India by Brown University's Ashutosh Varshney, 2002, (stronger social ties between Hindus and Muslims can prevent riots).

On this short list, Dutch scholar Berenschot could deservedly claim a place of his own. He explains the proximate advantage the 2002 rioters had, as they drilled through Ahmedabad's neighbourhoods, leaving terror in their wake. They had something akin to a handbook or a manual on rioting. A 'how-to' guide, if you like. But "Riot Politics" combines this with insights into socio-political structural arrangements of Gujarati society that lend themselves to mass violence of the sort witnessed in Gujarat.

The author, based on ethnographic study, argues that the way how citizens in Gujarat interacted with their political leaders in government ("state institutions") - through a web of Hindutva middlemen - made them easily amenable to manipulation by instigators. The positions these "actors" held, fostered by political patronage at the highest level, marked their capacities to perpetrate the violence.

Much is made of Gujarat's economic model: it's trumpeted as the Indian counterpart of southern China's high-growth Guangdong province. But India's shift towards a market-driven economy, which witnessed the "creative destruction" of obsolete firms, to borrow Schumpeter's phrase, produced in Gujarat a society of retrenched workers rendered completely dependent on Hindutva power brokers, the "foot soldiers of Hindu nationalism". Citizens depend on them for everyday municipal work, from procuring a birth certificate to a licence for new business. That may explain why neighbour turned against neighbour when they were asked to.

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Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 12, 2014
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