Friday, July 7, 2017

On Riots in Basirhat

Suchetana Chattopadhyay 

The unfolding situation in Basirhat in North 24 Parganas, West Bengal, where communal tensions have surfaced and which is currently under para-military occupation, inexorably leads to certain grim observations. In a sense, this riot is a microcosm of a subcontinent historically torn by religious strife, a compressed zone of ideas, strategies, actions with echoes of the colonial past and bleak ramifications for the late imperialised present.
A brief ‘outline’ of events is useful in this context: Souvik Sarkar, a 17 year old student with rabid communal convictions, made face-book posts which swung the Jamatis into violent action. The boy’s exact connections with the old men in the Tree of Nagpur are yet to be investigated and may not be too hard to decipher. The Jamat on the other hand is fighting a war of position, to secure the status of a minor beneficiary in the area with TMC’s help. Having killed many in Bangladesh (secular muslims/ dissenters/ atheists/ leftists/hindu minorities/women) the Jamatis know how to mix the politics of neoliberal accumulation with the politics of hatred, utilising latent insecurities and anger among segments of the population.
When they began disrupting normal life in the area, several secular, left and Muslim organisations active among the local people appealed for peace and unity. This is not being reported in the mainstream media. The work done by the local MLA, Rafikul Islam and ordinary people ignored by ‘polite society’ has been crucial in resisting the communal forces. In the face of this counter-movement, the Jamat has withdrawn from Baduria and then re-surfaced in neighbouring areas which had so far remained peaceful. In the meantime, the RSS, having played the usual role of ‘agent provocateur’ has entered the scene. Indeed, they have been prepared for this. They realise their hour has come given the climate of world-wide Islamophobia launched by the United States and NATO, the daily stereotyping of all Muslims as terrorists and riot-prone fundamentalists. Having attacked Muslims, chiefly the poorest and the most vulnerable, in towns like Chandannagar during Ramnabami and Pakistan’s victory in the world cup, they are confident of emerging as major beneficiaries from any communal clash.
As an old fascist organisation of experienced pogrom-makers, the RSS knows the value of when to wait and when to strike. The state government has allowed the violence to escalate (disruption of life, road-blocks, setting fire to vehicles including police jeeps, destruction of public and private property). This is because the affected area has remained an opposition stronghold-carving out and transferring the Hindu vote to the BJP will help the TMC. This is the narrow calculations of its leaders, many of whom at the local level are actively engaged in violent disruption.
This brings us to some of the related issues: is this about free speech as many liberals claim? If the boy had attacked all religions, one could have considered him to be a militant atheist liberal, victimised by bigots for upholding free speech. Since he attacked only one religion it is impossible to dissociate him from a general pattern with past precedents-the strategy of the RSS in West Bengal to use young recruits for certain purposes on facebook and other social media in Muslim-majority areas to foment riots. Given the fact that such incidents have occurred before and many under-age young people are being mobilised by communal forces each day, his state of mind is not difficult to comprehend. Hate Speech is qualitatively different from Free Speech and this is recognised, one hopes, by the upholders of secular liberalism. Then there is the question of the safety of the ‘immature individual’ involved. It is being reported that his Muslim neighbours collectively protected him from a mob prior to his much-delayed arrest for promoting communal enmity. One must remember that the boy, who clearly carries the kind of communal baggage being handed around generously, has not been killed-he is safe in police custody. Given the current climate in India, had he carried nothing except an Arabic name, he could have been stabbed multiple times and thrown out of a train compartment.
Second, the character of the TMC: is it a secular party? While claiming to be secular, its rule has seen sponsorship, bracketing and division of people along religious lines through an avalanche of community-based festivals. The net result has been communal consolidation, a route which the TMC leaders believe will benefit them. It is clear from the rising communal incidents in West Bengal in the course of the last three years that communal identity-politics has only helped those who are major or minor beneficiaries of direct or refracted state-power and processes of exploitative accumulation in society: the TMC which operates through all communal organisations, the RSS and the Jamat (in pockets).
Just when democratic movements led by leftwing parties are again becoming visible, from Bhangar to College Street, addressing concrete questions of dispossession and democratic right of protest, and the College admission related corruption and Goods and Service Tax (GST) are respectively making the TMC and BJP unpopular, the Jamat-TMC action has diverted public attention in a different direction, enforcing and deepening the politics of communal identities inherited from the colonial era. This is the master-plan of civil-war, partition and genocide which benefits, as history shows, only the masters and never the people.
The Author Teaches History at Jadavpur University 

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