Vantage point

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I read a feature in TOI last year after the Gujarat riots about the communal problems in India in recent years. They detailed the problems in various cities, and named the worst places in this regard. Among the worst was apparently Kanpur, where Hindu-Muslim violence is very common. However the article also noted that just 70 km away, Lucknow which has the highest concentration of Muslims in any non-Kashmiri city in India , has absolutely no history of rioting.

We can think of many reasons for this. The people are more cultured, the police are more efficient, the fundamentalists aren't that strong....but I think there is a different reason for this. And this reason can be spotted by observing the names of shops in Lucknow.

Now let me tell you some of my assumptions about rioting. Rioting is never, and I mean NEVER the fault of just one community. Both communities share the burden of this heinous stupidity. We can blame the politicians all we want, but the fact remains that riots have happened in India even before these politicians wielded any power, and even befgore the Britishers came, lest you would like to lay the blame at their door. A riot happens when a small spark, be it a local spark like some minor squabble, or a national spark, like the Babri Masjid demolition, gets enough fuel. Sure, there will be the goons hired by politicians to cause trouble, but basically people get compartmentalised and start thinking in the "us vs them" mentality. In most cities, there are "predominantly muslim" and "predominantly hindu" neighbourhoods. These "ghettos" serve easy fodder for such sentiments.

Suppose there is a Hindu neighbourhood which has heard of riots in the city. The people there, not trusting the police, will set up vigils of their own. These vigils will inevitably get a "hindu" shade and there will be a rise in the anti-muslim sentiment even though no muslims ahve attacked this neighbourhood.

Observe the shop signs in Lucknow. I challenge you to find me 5 shops in a row anywhere in the city, which all have names belonging to one community. It won't happen. There are no "Bhindi bazaars" in Lucknow, i e in Lucknow both communities are mixed together. This means even logistically it is very difficult to actually "conduct" a riot in the city.

Of course, this is not the only reason. As I said, it is difficult, not impossible. In Kashmir, Hindus and Muslims lived together in a similar non-ghettoised manner for year, and yet the KPs were efficiently removed. Tomorrow if VHP/BJP/RSS decide to do that, they can aim at kashmirising Lucknow. But they haven't done that. It means even the people here are more in harmony with each other.

Whatever the reasons behind this absence of communal turmoil in Lucknow are, let us hope this aspect of the city stays this way forever.