Communal Harmony

Mankind demands the realization of diverse values to ensure their individual and collective well being. It is also observed that certain communal forces in the society engage in exploitation, oppression, persecution, and other forms of deprivation resulting in disturbing communal harmony. Based on these observations are the beginnings of what today are called "human rights" and the legal processes, national and international, associated with them.

The principle of human rights has widespread acceptance domestically and internationally, however, there is no complete agreement on the nature of such rights or their substantive scope. Despite this lack of consensus, certain fundamental aspects are widely accepted. Regardless of their ultimate origin or justification, human rights are understood to represent individual and group demands for the shaping and sharing of power, wealth, spiritual pursuit, and other cherished values in community process. Most fundamental are the value of respect and its constituent elements of reciprocal tolerance and mutual forbearance in the pursuit of all other values. Consequently, they imply claims against persons and institutions that impede realization, and standards for judging the legitimacy of laws and traditions.

The Charter of the United Nations (1945) begins by reaffirming a "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small." It states that the purposes of the United Nations are, among other things, "to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples . . . [and] to achieve international co-operation . . . in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion . . . ." And, in two key articles, all members "pledge themselves to take joint and separate action in cooperation with the Organization" for the achievement of these and related purposes.

In our society, it is the responsibility of every individual to preserve harmony and protect individual rights. Recently Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu was rocked by bomb blasts on February 14th 1998, and since then the police in various parts of the state have discovered a huge quantity of explosives. These terrorist actions were blamed the police on Al-Umma, a Muslim fundamentalist organisation that has its base in Kottaimedu, a predominantly Muslim area in Coimbatore. Many looked with suspicion on their Muslim neighbors and men and women who had lived earlier in love and harmony now considered their neighbors as their enemies.

Over the years Tamil Nadu has been a place of peace and communal harmony. If so, why did some in a particular community suddenly take to terrorism? Mr. Prakash Karat in his article titled 'A Grim Warning' (Frontline, March 20, 98) writes,

The bomb blasts, which wrought havoc in the city on February 14, symbolize the senseless violence that threatens to disrupt the social fabric of the city. While it is true that these bomb attacks have been timed for the elections, they should not be seen in isolation from the chain of events set in motion by a deliberate plan of the communal elements.

He goes on to say,

While there is no doubt that this latest act of violence has been perpetrated by the extremist Muslim fundamentalist elements, it is necessary to expose the diabolical plan of the RSS and the Hindutva forces, which have also worked to bring about a communal polarization in Coimbatore and in other places in Tamil Nadu.

From the early 1980s, the RSS has been planning to penetrate Tamil Nadu, one of the few States which was free from the ideological and political influence of the Hindu communalists. Coimbatore was one of the prime targets selected by the RSS, just as Kanyakumari district and some other pockets in southern Tamil Nadu, where the composition of the population provides the opportunity for creating hatred against the minorities, were targeted.

The RSS set up the Hindu Munnani as its front for its political and communal activities in Tamil Nadu in 1980 and it became active in Coimbatore. For one-and-a-half decades now, the Hindu Munnani has been the platform of the RSS combine. As in many other urban industiral centres the pattern unfolded in a typical way. Religious processions were promoted - such as the Vinayaka Chathurthi procession, which was a new feature in Tamil Nadu. Just as the Ganesh Chathurthi processions in Maharashtra were used as a vehicle for communal mobilization and propaganda against minorities, these processions sharply escalated tensions. Clashes took place even in Chennai as a result of such processions. (Frontline, October 22, 1993) Significantly, another front organization set up by the RSS was the Tamil Nadu Hindu Merchants Association. This was used to rally Hindu merchants and to communalise commercial rivalries with Muslim traders.

Inflammatory propaganda from the Hindu Munnani platforms against the minorities and Islam soon led to a response. Muslim fundamentalist organizations, hitherto unheard of, sprang up to counter the RSS-sponsored activities. The Jihad Committee and Al-Umma were products of this communal competition.

In Coimbatore, in August 1989, a Hindu Munnani worker was killed; this was followed by another similar murder in September 1991. In retaliation a Muslim preacher was killed on the same day. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, violence erupted in Muslim-dominated areas marking the emergence of Al-Umma. It was after the demolition of the Babri Masjid that Muslim fundamentalist organizations grew in the State. One of the retaliatory acts was the explosion in the RSS office in Chennai in 1993 in which 11 people were killed.

Coimbatore became a centre for the attacks and counter-attacks of the RSS-led Hindu Munnani and Hindu Makkal Katchi and Muslim fundamentalist organizations like Al-Umma and the Jihad Committee. After the murder of Palani Baba, the leader of the Jihad Committtee, in January 1997, violence broke out in Coimbatore. This was a repetition of the events which took place after the murder of the Hindu Munnani president Rajagopalan in 1993. Once again in September 1997, communal incidents took place.

The culmination of the series of incidents was the unprecedented violence which hit the city for three days between November 29 and December 1, 1997 - just three months back. It was sparked of by the cold-blooded murder of a traffic constable Selvaraj by some extremist Muslim youth. In retaliation, with the police in a state of revolt, three days of murder, arson and loot took place. Eighteen Muslims and two Hindus died. A shocking incident, which occurred in the city General Hospital, reveals the depths of dehumanization and bestiality, which have been injected by the communal poison. Muslims wounded in the riots who were brought to the hospital were waylaid by a mob of Hindu fanatics and three of them were lynched and burnt alive in front of watching policemen. A People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) team, which visited the city at that time, has recorded a graphic account of these atrocities. Shops and business establishments belonging to the minority community were systematically looted and set ablaze.

Another scenario presents itself when we look at the sequence of events that occurred during late November and early December 1997. In the Hindu dated 28/11/97 the following appeared,

United Front ready to take the plunge
NEW DELHI, Nov. 27.

The Core Committee of the United Front here late tonight decided that the Prime Minister, Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral, should resign once the Congress(I) writes to the President, Mr. K. R. Narayanan, informing him about withdrawal of party's support to the Gujral Government to prevent formation of another government by any party or group of parties through manipulation in the Eleventh Lok Sabha.

Significantly, at the end of the two-and-half-hour meeting of the Core Committee, the Prime Minister sent a formal letter to the Congress(I) president, Mr. Sitaram Kesri, informing the inability of the Front to exclude the DMK Ministers from the Government. The four-page draft of the letter explaining why the Front was unable to concede the demand of the Congress(I) was finalised at the meeting.

The Front leaders are proceeding on the assumption that the Congress(I) Working Committee would meet here tomorrow morning to take a formal decision on withdrawal of support to the Gujral Government. The calculations of the Front leaders would be entirely dependent on the action of the President on receipt of the letter from the Congress(I).

The next day the Hindu (29/11/97) had the following,

Gujral Govt. resigns after Cong. withdraws support
NEW DELHI, Nov. 28

The seven-month-old United Front Government, headed by the Prime Minister, Mr. I.K. Gujral, bowed out of office tonight following the withdrawal of support by the Congress(I) in protest against the Government's refusal to accept its demand to expel the DMK from the Front. The President, Mr. K. R. Narayanan, has accepted the Prime Minister's resignation and asked him to continue until alternative arrangements are made

Events moved fast after the Congress(I) president, Mr. Sitaram Kesri, called on Mr. Narayanan late in the evening and communicated to him his party's decision. Minutes after it became official that the Congress(I) had pulled the plug, the Union Council of Ministers met and decided to submit its resignation to the President. The Prime Minister then drove to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and formally handed over his resignation and that of his Council of Ministers.

On November 29th in Coimbatore a police constable Selvaraj was murdered and three Muslims are the suspects in the murder. On November 30th the suspects in the murder of Selvaraj were handed over to the police,

Based on a few eyewitness accounts. Al-Umma located the three persons suspected in the killing of Selvaraj – Abbas (22), Shafi (22) and Azeez (20) – and handed them over to the police at 9 a.m. on November 30. While Abbas and Shafi were iron scrap traders, Azeez was a platform vadai vendor. The three belonged to Pothanur, N.H. Road and Karumbukadai respectively.

(PUCL Report)

If the murder of the police constables was the root cause for the agitation by the police, this prompt action of the Al-Umma should have quelled it, but it did not. What transpired next can only be termed an anti-Muslim pogrom. However, on the national scene certain interesting developments were taking place.

The Hindu (1/12/97)
NEW DELHI, Nov. 30

The Bharatiya Janata Party today staked a tentative claim to form the government at the Centre during the meeting its leaders had with the President, Mr. K.R. Narayanan.

While no claim was submitted to the President in writing, the party and its allies made it clear that they were in the race, and that ``a possible realignment of political forces'' - a euphemism for a split in the Congress (I) - could take place over the next few days. The BJP asked the President to allow time for ``this process of realignment'' before taking a decision. However, no specific time-frame was mentioned by the party. Mr. L.K. Advani, BJP President, told presspersons immediately after the 35-minute meeting that in the present political configuration in Parliament, the BJP and its allies were the ``best positioned'' group to form a government and that this had been conveyed to the President.

Also the government took prompt action in mobilizing the Army since the local police were also a part in the communal violence. Otherwise, many more Muslims would have been killed.

10 killed in Coimbatore, Army moves in

The Hindu, Date: 01-12-1997 :: Pg: 01 :: Col: a
By Our Staff Reporter

The Army was called out here today, when 10 persons were killed and 13 injured in the violence that erupted following the murder of a traffic constable on duty on Saturday.

Shops were closed and buses went off the road as tension gripped the city. Police opened fire on unruly mobs in which five persons were killed. At some places, it was the policemen who demonstrated and blocked roads in protest. At least four vehicles, including that of an MLA, were set on fire. Eyewitnesses said no move was made by police who were present nearby to stop the arson.

Six columns of the Army, now based in Madukkarai near here, were moved into the city late in the night following escalation of violence in the city. The Army personnel would assist the local police in maintaining law and order in the next few days, sources said.

Already, about 90 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force have been deployed in the city. The CRPF team arrived at Sulur late in the evening and have taken positions in the trouble hit areas.

Fire tenders have been putting out blazes in various parts of the city since evening as many shops were set ablaze. Some of the areas were Ukkadam, D.B. Road in R.S. Puram, Town Hall and Big Bazaar where shops had been ransacked or set on fire or both. Power supply was totally disrupted in these areas owing to the fire.

The trouble began on Saturday night when Selvaraj (35), a traffic constable, attached to the Bazaar Police Station, on duty at Ukkadam, was stabbed to death by a group of miscreants. He was rushed to the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital (CMCH), but he died of injuries.

After a night of uneasy calm, violence broke out this morning when a group of persons who had gathered at the CMC Hospital, assaulted Mr. C. T. Dhandapani (DMK), Coimbatore West MLA, his son Mr. C. T. D. Ravi, and two others, when they came to console the mourners.

Their car was smashed and set on fire inside the hospital premises. A fire engine which came to put out the fire was forced to return.

A large number of policemen in uniform, all wearing black badges, staged a road "roko", condemning the Government.

Even as the MLA's car was burning, some persons set up road blocks on Tiruchi Road and State Bank Road. Just outside the Coimbatore Railway Junction, some hoardings and posters that had been put up recently were pulled down and set on fire.

On Tiruchi Road outside the CMC Hospital, a group of persons chased an auto-rickshaw which capsized while trying to speed away. Three of the occupants, including the driver, were assaulted.

Our Special Correspondent adds from Chennai:
Expressing anguish over the killing of the grade-I constable, Selvaraj, by anti-social elements, the Chief Minister, Mr. Karunanidhi said that attempts of certain communal outfits to incite violence deserved to be strongly condemned.The Government would not hesitate to put down some communal outfits who were inciting their followers to carry weapons such as knives under the pretext of organising processions and rallies, he warned.

What is interesting is that DMK MLA's and partymen also bore the fury of the mobs. The Chief Minister immediately ordered a probe on the 1st of December, 1997.

Probe ordered into Coimbatore incidents

Date: 02-12-1997 :: Pg: 01 :: Col: a
By Our Special Correspondent
CHENNAI, Dec. 1.

The Chief Minister, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, today announced the constitution of a one-man Commission with Mr. P. R. Gokulakrishnan, former Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court, to enquire into the violence that rocked Coimbatore in which 14 persons had been killed.

Barring a couple of incidents, the situation in the industrial city which witnessed arson and looting on Sunday, was under control today.

The Chief Minister said that all steps had been taken to restore law and order by requisitioning the help of the army and also by bringing in CRPF men from Karnataka and Kerala to assist the local police.

The district Collector had been directed to form a peace committee consisting of leaders of all parties and also representatives of various religions including the Hindus and the Muslims.

A report from New Delhi said the Prime Minister, Mr. I. K. Gujral, had ordered the deployment of 400 personnel of the Rapid Action Force to assist the police to bring the situation under control in Coimbatore. The Prime Minister, who reviewed the situation in the troubled industrial city, spoke to the Chief Minister, Mr. Karunanidhi. The Home Minister, Mr. Indrajit Gupta, was present at the review meeting.

The one-man Commission, which has been asked to give its findings in three months, would go into the causes and circumstances leading to the murder of the traffic constable, Selvaraj, the subsequent demonstration by the police personnel, large scale destruction and looting of public and private property and the circumstances that led to the police firing. It would also assess the extent of damage to property and business establishments and suggest the quantum of compensation to be paid to the affected persons.

Responding to questions at a press conference, Mr. Karunanidhi held the "fundamental elements" responsible for the clashes and the resultant deaths. Tracing the genesis of the violence to Muslim fundamentalists after the killing of the traffic constable, the Chief Minister said instead of helping the authorities to apprehend the culprits, the fanatics in the Hindu community had indulged in retaliation, resulting in loss of more lives.

The communal elements among Hindus and Muslims sought to develop enmity between the two groups by resorting to violence and disturbing peace. They created terror among innocent elderly people, women and the business community. Condemning this, he said the Government was determined to put down firmly such disruptive anti-national forces.

The Chief Minister denied there was any police revolt at Coimbatore. To condemn the killing and to express their resentment, the policemen wore black badges. This was only for a while and later they went about their job as usual.

Mr. Karunanidhi was asked whether the police anger was against the failure to give them the orders to take action against the misdeeds of Muslim extremists. It was also pointed out that it was the third time in the last one year that such an incident had taken place in Coimbatore. The Chief Minister said all these aspects would be gone into by the enquiry commission and it would not be proper for him to say anything now. He would not agree with a suggestion that the incidents were a sequel to general dissatisfaction among the police with the DMK Government. "I have no reason to believe this,'' he said, pointing out how the DMK Government had appointed two Police Commissions to improve the lot of the force.

The Chief Minister rejected the contention of the Hindu Munnani that only they were targeted for action. "It is wrong'', he said and referred to the arrest yesterday of persons responsible for the killing of a BJP office-bearer at Uthamapalayam near Theni. He asserted that the Government was not partisan in taking action against various groups. Not only the DMK but almost all the parties were sympathetic to the cause of the Muslims, a minority community. This would not mean that the Government would tolerate violence by Muslims or the Hindus, he said.

Asked whether the Government would ban the fundamental groups which often disrupted peace, Mr. Karunanidhi said it was a good suggestion which could be examined.

When a reporter referred to the allegation of the BJP that ISI of Pakistan was active in Coimbatore, the Chief Minister said they should have brought this to the attention of the Government with evidence for necessary action. Instead, it was not proper for them to indulge in acts which affected public peace.

According to information from Coimbatore, three persons have been arrested in connection with the killing of Selvaraj. A special team has been constituted to investigate the cases relating to the violence and bring the culprits to book. Prohibitory rules under Sec. 144 Cr.P.C. have been clamped in the troubled areas.

Schools and colleges in Coimbatore, Madukkarai, Thondamuthur, Perianaickenpalayam and SS Kulam have been asked to be closed today and tomorrow. The IMFL shops had also been asked to be closed for two days.

A few days later, the former CM demanded the following

Jayalalitha demands resignation of CM

Date: 05-12-1997 :: Pg: 04 :: Col: e
By Our Special Correspondent
CHENNAI, Dec. 4.

The AIADMK has demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister, Mr. Karunanidhi, for "failing to maintain law and order in Coimbatore,'' and for not consoling the victims personally in the violence-affected areas.

In a statement today, the party general secretary, Ms. Jayalalitha, said the Chief Minister did not appear to have realised his responsibilities despite the Army having been asked to preserve law and order. Despite the Army moving in, normality was yet to return to Coimbatore. The Chief Minister did not seem to have realised the intensity of the violence.

Noting that law and order was a State subject, she said the Centre deployed the Army only after the State Government expressed its helplessness in the situation. The deployment of the Army in a State implied that the State Government had accepted its inability to preserve law and order, she said.

The situation in the State was such that the police force, which had the responsibility of providing security to people, was itself seeking protection, she said.

While reiterating the party's demand for removing the former Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court, Mr. P. R. Gokulakrishnan, from the Commission of Inquiry into the Coimbatore violence, she said Mr. Gokulakrishnan, who was a personal friend of the Chief Minister could not be expected to submit a "fair and impartial'' report on the violence.

Mr. Gokulakrishnan had, at a public function criticised the Jain Commission report and demanded the removal of Mr. Jain from the Commission, she pointed out.

Ms. Jayalalitha's demand is very superficial and her alliance with the BJP will only further open the door to communal forces. However, Mr. Karat best summarizes the events in November-December of 1997 and February of 1998.

This vicious pogrom on the Muslim community set the background for the bomb blasts, which have now come as an act of revenge. This is disturbingly similar to the events in Mumbai in 1993 when after the large-scale riots against the minority community and police atrocities, the bomb blasts came in retaliation.

To ignore all these developments and to harp only on one aspect of the situation, that Muslim fundamentalists are on the rampage, is what the BJP and the RSS combine finds convenient to project. Their culpability in creating the conditions for the horrific communal violence in Coimbatore is direct and has to be exposed.

There has been a general view that the prevalence of the Dravidian movement and its ideology will be able to prevent the growth of communalism in Tamil Nadu. But this is a mistaken understanding of the new situation both in Tamil Nadu and the rest of the country. The communal virus has already affected Tamil Nadu and it will require sustained and intensive efforts to eliminate it. The BJP's alliance with the AIADMK will provide it with further opportunities to spread the RSS ideology in the State. The RSS tactic of setting up front organizations which use religious festivals and other occasions to spew hatred against minorities and then engineer riots is a modus operandi which has been seen in many urban centres such as Hyderabad, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jamshedpur and Rourkela, time and again.

Christians, God will hold us responsible if we do not stand in the Gap for our nation (Ezekiel 22:23-31)

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