New Delhi, Dec. 12: The violence that shook Assam in July this year was not communal, the government has told Parliament.
In a statewise list of communal riots across the country, Assam emerges as one of the most communally peaceful states alongside other northeastern states, Union territories and hill states like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. The columns showing the number of incidents and persons killed this year in Assam show “zero”.
According to officially figures, 105 people have been killed since July 20 in the violence between Bodos and mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD).
Earlier, it seemed to be a case of miscommunication within the ministry of home affairs that the answer to MP Mohammed Adeeb’s question in Rajya Sabha last week did not include Assam’s violence in that category.
However, sources in the ministry today said its human rights division had sent to Parliament figures that the state government had forwarded.
“It is not communal violence but ethnic violence,” Assam director-general of police J.N. Choudhury said over phone today, on the premise that communal violence is between different religious communities. He said the violence in BTAD was between Bodos and another community. Other ethnic communities like the Koch Rajbongshis and Bengalis were not involved. “Therefore, it was noted under the category ethnic violence.”
The Assam government’s stand may vindicate that of Bodo organisations that the violence was against illegal immigrants and not against a particular community. It is incidental that on one side are the Bodos and on the other are Muslims residing in the region bordering Bangladesh.
Contrary to Assam’s implicit definition of communal violence as violence between different religious communities, the Indian Penal Code takes a more holistic view. Sections 153A and 153B of the IPC relate to “promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”.
Former Union home secretary Madhukar Gupta said an attempt has been made to define “communal violence” in a bill pending in Parliament.
However, even within the definitions of the pending “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Act, 2011 a group means “a religious or linguistic minority, in any state in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”.
“It may not be proper to term communal violence as only between two religious communities,” said Gupta.
However, West Bengal has seen a rise in communal clashes, the incidents increasing from 15 last year to 22 till October this year and casualties rising from three to eight. Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat also saw a worsening of the communal situation.
It was Assam, though, that triggered a debate on the communal situation in the country with sparks through rumours and protests disturbing faraway Maharashtra and Karnataka too.