Vancouver: The police looked the other way when Hindu mobs wanted to vent out their anger following the burning of a train at Godhra in Gujarat carrying Hindu pilgrims in 2002 when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister.
The train was allegedly torched by the Muslim fundamentalists killing more than 50 passengers. The Bhartiya Janata Party that was in power had blamed the Pakistan-based extremists for the incident that culminated into a well-organized anti- Muslim pogrom throughout the state.
What followed has become a history. Thousands of Muslims were lynched, burnt alive and their women were raped by mobs belonging to the Hindu right wing groups. The police not only looked away in most cases, but also helped the mobs in killing Muslims. Though Modi was never criminally charged, he continues to face criticism for allowing the pogrom of the minority community.
For the past several days, Kashmir has witnessed angry protests against the killing of a popular militant leader Burhan Wani by the army. Some allege he was killed in a staged shootout; others are claiming it was a genuine encounter. As a result of his death, people came out on streets to vent out their anger, but the security forces instead of looking the other way have killed 30 of them.
This is not the first time that protesters were killed by the Indian forces in Kashmir for exercising their democratic right to assemble and show their anger against state violence. Kashmir where the struggle for right to self-determination has been going on since India gained its independence in 1947 has become a permanent theater of state repression. Protests over tortures, forced disappearances, unmarked graves and rapes have been responded by more state sponsored violence.
Notably, Modi’s party is sharing power with People’s Democratic Party in the state, yet the protesters in Kashmir were not given a privilege to be overlooked by the state machinery during the course of demonstrations.
But Kashmir is not an exception. Not very long ago two Sikh protesters were killed in a police shooting in Punjab when they were demonstrating against the alleged sacrilege of their holy scriptures in October 2015.
What emerges out of these episodes is the noticeable difference in the state response to protests and demonstrations by those associated with majority community and two minority groups.
Hindus form 80 percent of the Indian population, whereas Muslims 14 and Sikhs merely two percent. One needs to look at these numbers to understand the psychology behind such violent state response when it comes to deal with dissent. Dalits or so called untouchables who form 16 percent of the population continue to suffer structural violence. In 1997, ten of them were killed in the police action when they were protesting against the desecration of the statue of a towering Dalit icon Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in Bombay. The BJP was sharing power with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra state of which Bombay is a part at that time, but the police decided not to look the other way.
This has been going on in spite of the fact that the police can use various other means to control a mob without causing death, such as using water cannons, sticks or if need be firing on non- vital organs of those resorting to violence. But when teaching minority groups a lesson to send across a message to win the support of majority community pays dividend in elections, why won’t opportunistic political leadership allow such high handedness? Modi came to back to power with a brute majority in Gujarat following the 2002 massacre of Muslims. Earlier, the so called secularist Congress party won the general election in India in December 1984 in the aftermath of anti-Sikh pogrom that followed the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards that year. The Congress leaders instigated the mobs to kill innocent Sikhs and subsequently the election was fought on the slogan of national unity.
Whether Wani was killed in a staged shootout or not is irrelevant. The real issue is how the state is responding to the people’s reaction in Kashmir.