The use of social media to trigger communal violence and the spread of violence to rural areas were marked features in 2016, reports a study by the Centre for the Study of Society & Secularism, Mumbai. Here follows the first of two extracts from the report.
Neither the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) nor the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has released data on communal violence for the year 2016. The MHA data for the year 2016 is available only till the month of May.
Even when such records are available, there is usually a huge gap between the numbers reported by the media and the data of communal violence gathered by the NCRB and MHA.
For the year 2015, for example, according to MHA data, there were 751 incidents of communal violence in which 97 people died and 2,264 were injured.
Whereas the five newspapers monitored by the Centre for the Study of Society & Secularism (CSSS) reported only 47 incidents in 2015, 15 lives lost and 272 injuries.
According to MHA data, up to May, 2016 there were 278 incidents of communal violence in which 38 lives were lost and 903 were injured. The state-wise break of the MHA data on communal violence in 2016 till May is the following:
The five newspapers, however, have reported 62 incidents of communal violence, 8 deaths and 435 injuries in 2016. Newspapers also reported 323 arrests in 2015 in comparison to 823 arrests in 2016.
Prominent scholars including [late] Dr Asghar Ali Engineer and Ashutosh Varshney have in the past described communal violence primarily as an urban phenomenon. But we observe communal violence increasingly spreading to rural areas as well. The data for 2016, for example, shows that out of 62 incidents of communal violence, 18 incidents took place in rural areas.
In 2016, Punjab also witnessed communal violence for the first time after Khalistan-related extremism was neutralised. This time it was a conflict between a section of Muslim and Hindu communities. The local Sikhs were in support of the Muslims.
Meanwhile West Bengal is witnessing steady rise in communal violence (24, 16 and 27 in the years 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively according to Home Ministry data for those years) after near riot-free regime during the Left Front rule.
The major triggers of communal violence in 2016 have been festivals like Muharram and Durga Puja. The second major trigger of violence was social media. While posts in social media were used as triggers in 7 cases of incidents of communal violence, it was used as a platform and tool of mobilisation in other incidents too like Peda in Bijnor, UP.
The response of the police during communal violence has been wanting. The police took preventive action in only 3 out of 62 incidents reported. The police failed to respond effectively in BJP-ruled as well as non-BJP/Congress-ruled states.
As mentioned earlier, the states that have reported the highest incidents of communal violence are UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Together they account for 47 out of 62 incidents of communal violence, constituting 75.81% of total incidents of communal violence.
Uttar Pradesh is slated for assembly elections in 2017. It has been generally observed by many social scientists that impending elections and political mobilisation tend to be along caste and communal fault lines contributing to communal polarisation and communal violence.
Bihar has witnessed increasing incidents of communal violence after coalition of JD(U) and BJP split in 2013. Maharashtra which falls in the West zone has been always prone to communal riots.
Communal violence in 2016 claimed 8 lives. 7 out of the 8 deceased were Muslims and the community of the remaining one deceased was not specified.
(Newspapers monitored were the Mumbai editions of The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Hindu, Inquilab and Sahafat)
To be concluded.