ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Meanings of Violence

Muzaffarnagar 2013

The issues of weak governance and the cynical communal politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party have been noted in the recent spate of violence in western Uttar Pradesh. This article looks at the social dynamics of caste assertions, new media technologies and the merging of the good governance and Hindutva narratives to try and understand how and why a commonplace incident of criminality transformed so quickly into such a major bout of communal violence.

The recent Muzaffarnagar violence, in which more than 50 people were killed, is described, explained, and even analysed in two different yet connected ways.1 There is an event-centric portrayal of this violence. We are told that the trouble began in the last week of August 2013, when a teenage Hindu/Jat girl was harassed by a Muslim boy in the Kanwal village of Muzaffarnagar district. Two brothers of this girl killed the Muslim boy; however, they were also lynched to death in retaliation.2 This is not a rare incident in this highly crime-prone district of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Media reports and even serious academic research show that family rivalries and community honour often lead to a series of murders in Muzaffarnagar area (Naqvi 2013). But, the subsequent events transformed this episode into a typical “communal” clash.

It is reported that although the local officials banned public meetings by imposing Section 144, a public meeting was held on 30 August 2013 in the city after the Juma congregational prayers. Many district and state-level Muslim leaders associated with the Congress, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) attended this meeting and delivered inflammatory speeches. Consequently, communal tension increased. In the meantime, a fake video, which claimed to capture the killing of the Jat boys, was posted on social media and led to further polarisation. In protest, a mahapanchayat of thousands of Jat farmers was called on 7 September near Kanwal village.3 The local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit, it is informed, was directly responsible for organising this rally. As expected, the mahapanchayat was addressed by local Hindu leaders, who delivered equally provocative speeches. After the scheduled programme when people were headed home, they were attacked by a mob and 12 people died in this wave of violence. To control the situation, the state government asked for the army to be deployed. However, the organised killings did not stop for next two days and the death toll went up to 39. Many people left homes and took shelter in the camps.

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