Vantage point

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Have We Really Learnt a Lesson?

A friend of mine whom I really respect, a pucca Mumbaikar, wrote in an email recently -

but let me tell you that dark period taught mumbai that communal violence doesnt help anybody.. so when ppl were speculating the Gujarat carnage might spill over to mumbai, i was absolutely at peace that nothing of that sort was gonna happen.. mumbai has learnt a lesson; and learnt it really the hard way, by paying a very heavy price for the same.. i just hope other cities & citizens take lesson from mumbai and mend their ways..

His sentiment is shared uniformly across Mumbai. However, as valid as the sentiment might be, it is a bit naive. It assumes that riots are a spontaneous response by mobs. When hot-headed individuals get out of control, and spark off something ugly. In terms of those kind of riots, I agree that Mumbai has learnt a lesson. We have seen riots like those in recent years in Bhiwandi, Malegaon, Solapur, Lucknow, and so on. Some silly reason leads to an eruption of underlying resentment. Innocents are knifed or raped, the police comes in, there is a curfew for two or three days. Thins return to normal.

What we saw in Mumbai in 1992-93 was a different beast of a riot altogether. As bad as the law and order in our country is, it is capable and strong enough to quell riots within a few days. Especially the police and quasi-police forces in a city like Mumbai are certainly capable enough. The Mumbai riots or the Gujarat riots of 2002 or even the Delhi riots of 1984 are of much more vile nature. They are ruthlessly organized by political entities, often with several police elements complicit in their perpetuation. Blame can be specifically laid at the door of people.

And yet, there is no accountability. People who masterminded the 1984 riots became Ministers. And now, even though convictions have been handed out in the 1993 blasts case, there is no action against those responsible for the 1992-93 riots.

It would seem to me that if Mumbai had really learnt a lesson, the guilty might not be able to get away so easily. Yet, they have. We Mumbaikars are content to lead our lives with mass murderers in our midst, and in our legislatures and municipalities. What is to stop them from repeating the horror when it is politically tenable? Especially now that the perpetrators themselves, i.e. people like the Shiv Sena and Abu Azmi are battling for relevance and survival?

The utter neglect of the Srikrishna Commission report is a slap in the face, not just of our democracy and law and order, but also in the face of the common sense of the common Mumbaikar. Until punishing those guilty of the riots doesn't become as much of a political priority as punishing those guilty of the 1993 blasts, I refuse to believe that Mumbai has learnt a lesson.