Communal Riots: Heads Muslims ‘lose’, Tails they are the ‘losers’

<b>In this second extract from a report on communal violence in 2016 prepared by CSSS, Muslims are found to be the worst victims of both rioting as well as subsequent police action</b>

Photo by Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Irfan Engineer, Neha Dabhade and Suraj Nair

In this second extract from the report on communal violence in 2016, prepared by the Centre for the Study of Society & Secularism, Mumbai, Muslims are found to be the worst victims of both rioting as well as subsequent police action. The report also highlights the role of the police and social media. You can read the first extract here.


Muslims suffered more in terms of deaths, injury and damage of property. They also suffered more in terms of coercive force used by the state as a riot control measure, post riot arrests, and launching of prosecutions.


Out of 62 incidents, in 12 incidents religion-wise disaggregated data of arrests was available. In these 12 incidents, 178 arrested were Muslims and 75 were Hindus.


In the case of injuries, religion-wise disaggregated data was available in 5 incidents. In these five incidents, 46 injured were Muslims and 11 were Hindus. In terms of deaths, religion-wise disaggregated data was available in 4 incidents. 7 deaths were those of Muslims.


In the case of damage to properties, disaggregated data was available in 3 incidents for vehicles, 6 belonged to Muslims and none to Hindus. In the cases of houses attacked, disaggregated data was available in 3 incidents—1 house belonged to Hindu and 67 belonged to Muslims.


Disaggregated data was available in 3 incidents for shops attacked—3 belonged to Hindus and 56 belonged to Muslims.

In Shahabad, Karnataka, one Shiva posted an inflammatory post on Facebook against the Muslim community and was arrested. The very next day a Dussehra cut-out was found desecrated. Rama Sene and VHP tried to exploit this incident to fan communal violence. Muslims were blamed for the desecration and hurting sentiments of the Hindus. This misinformation was spread to apparently secure the release of Shiva. Later police found that some Hindu youth had desecrated the Dussehra cut-out. The police arrested 5 Hindus and one Muslim in this case and prevented riots on a large scale


These figures strike one as odd since the arrests indicate that Muslims were the perpetrators. But if this was the case, then the victims ought to have been the Hindus which should have reflected in the figures related to the number of deaths, injuries, houses/ shops/ vehicles attacked etc.


But the figures tell a different story where major loss has been borne by the Muslims. Communal violence is a double whammy for the Muslim community as targets of violence as well as victims of the subsequent police actions. That is why there is no effective deterrence against communal violence.

Photo by Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
File Photo of Gulbarg Society, Ahmedabad, where 38 people including former Congress MP Ehsan Jaffri were killed in the post-Godhra riots in 2002

Festivals and Social Media provoke violence

In 2016 a number of communal incidents took place because of the clash of Muharram and Durga Puja falling on the same day. Stone pelting and tensions were experienced during the processions. Festivals and desecration of places of worship and sacred symbols were exploited to trigger communal violence.


In Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, people found vandalised idols in a temple on July 27, 2016. The suspect belonging to the Muslim community was caught and beaten up by locals before being handed over to the police. Police claimed Sadiq appeared to be mentally-challenged. Though the gates of a religious structure of the minority community was also found damaged late at night, police acted proactively and repaired the gates in the night itself and the situation was brought under control.

Festival processions and Social Media were increasingly being used as triggers [for communal violence], it was found. Social media posts triggered off 7 incidents of communal violence. Derogatory posts were circulated on social media like Facebook and Whatsapp which triggered violence


In Shahabad, Karnataka, one Shiva posted an inflammatory post on Facebook against the Muslim community and was arrested. The very next day a Dussehra cut out was found desecrated. Sri Ram Sene and VHP tried to exploit this incident to fan communal violence. Muslims were blamed for the desecration and hurting sentiments of the Hindus. This misinformation was spread to apparently secure the release of Shiva. Later police found that some Hindu youth had desecrated the Dussehra cut-out. The police arrested 5 Hindus and one Muslim in this case and prevented riots on a large scale.


Festival processions and Social Media were increasingly being used as triggers, it was found. Social media posts triggered off 7 incidents of communal violence. Derogatory posts about Prophet Mohammad or Hindu Gods/Goddesses or other community were circulated on social media like Facebook and Whatsapp which triggered violence.


In one such instance in Sagar (Madhya Pradesh), nephew of an RSS member was found guilty of posting an objectionable post. A Muslim youth lost his life and 3 were injured in Ilambazar in West Bengal. 21 incidents took place during festivals of Durga Puja, Muharrum, Ganpati procession, Hanuman Jayanti and Eid-e-Miladun. The highest number of festival-related incidents were reported from UP (8) followed by Bihar (4), Jharkhand (3), Maharashtra, West Bengal and Karnataka reporting two each.

How did the police deal with riots?

Ruling regimes are able to exert tight control on the state police as they determine postings/ transfers and promotions of the police personnel. There is little incentive for the police to act independently and uphold law and order even when it goes against the political interests of the ruling party.


The police action (or inaction) during riots is largely determined either by their own biases and prejudice or due to political pressure. It is important to examine the role of police at three different stages of communal violence—prevention, control during riots and post-riot actions. We here examine the role of police at all three stages in BJP, Congress and non-BJP/non-Congress ruled states.

The police were able to prevent only 3 incidents of communal violence and all three states were ruled by non-BJP governed states (Bihar, Karnataka and UP). At the stage of riot control, the action of police has been inadequate in all states except Karnataka


The police were able to prevent only 3 incidents of communal violence and all three states were ruled by non-BJP governed states (Bihar, Karnataka and UP).


At the stage of riot control, the action of police has been inadequate in all states except Karnataka. The observation is based on comparison of religion-wise arrests and victim community.


In BJP-ruled states, religion-wise disaggregated data is available in 5 incidents. Out of 189 people arrested in the BJP ruled stated for which religion wise disaggregated data is available, 18 arrested were Hindus and 171 arrested were Muslims even though the victims were by and large Muslims (see the graphs).

In BJP-ruled states, religion-wise disaggregated data is available in 5 incidents. Out of 189 people arrested in these incidents, 18 arrested were Hindus and 171 arrested were Muslims even though the victims were by and large Muslims. In case of states ruled by non-BJP and non-Congress governments, religion-wise disaggregated data is available in 6 incidents. There were 52 arrests of Hindus (51 from UP alone) and 6 arrests of Muslims. The victim community in these riots was Muslim.

In case of states ruled by non-BJP and non-Congress governments, religion-wise disaggregated data is available in 6 incidents. There were 52 arrests of Hindus (51 from UP alone) and 6 arrests of Muslims. The victim community in these riots was Muslim.


70 police personnel were also injured during the riots—12 each in Umerkhed and Nandurbar. In all, 27 police personnel were injured in Maharashtra. 14 police personnel were injured in Khodadadpur (UP). BJP-ruled Maharashtra thus reports highest number of injuries of the police.


Maharashtra police has also arrested the highest number of Muslims—156 (Badlapur 21, Umerkhed 63 and Malkapur 72) out of 179 Muslims arrested in all the communal riots. In Umerkhed, for which religion-wise disaggregated data is available, 25 Muslims were injured whereas no Hindus were killed or injured whereas 4 houses were attacked whose community is not specified.

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Published: 8 Jan 2017, 11:52 AM