The Supreme Court had stated in Jul 2018 that it is the right of citizens to protest including in the heart of Delhi at Jantar Mantar and the Boat Club. However, the two-judge bench also ruled that protests could not obstruct traffic or put the lives of residents in danger. This was exactly what was ignored when protests began against the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) at Shaheen Bagh. This protest was the precursor to violence which subsequently followed.
Who was responsible for not implementing court orders and clearing protestors from blocking roads remains a mute question? Was it because women and children were involved? Was it a political decision with elections around the bend? With passage of time protestors increased in numbers and confidence,jeopardizing lives and restricting movement of common citizens. With protestors embedded into the region, even the apex court found it difficult to pass orders for forcible eviction leading to it nominating interlocutors.
The inaction of the government led to further spread of protests across parts of Delhi. The next stage where protestors suddenly appeared was Jaffrabad metro station. Here again security agencies were slow in acting. This was where violence commenced. The failure of intelligence of the local police was glaringly evident as such violence could never have been sporadic but planned.
The blame game of which community is responsible is secondary. The fact that violence occurred was itself poor reading of the situation by security and intelligence agencies. The violence spread over the next few days, peaking during the visit of President Trump to India.
There are theories of the protests and violence being a conspiracy by Pak, which was compelled to change its Kashmir policy post the Balakote strike. Presently, these remain theories unless proved with passage of time. It does appear that protests were aimed at projecting differences between religious communities and objections to CAA seeking to obtain negative comments from Trump, which failed.
In the heat of violence there were calls for army deployment. This was not to degrade the capabilities of the forces deployed but trust on an institution which has maintained its secular credentials and restored order in every environment of chaos.
The government began its serious act of curbing violence post Trump’s visit, with the NSA, AjitDoval, being made responsible for restoring order. The protests began to suddenly wane as the visit concluded, though sporadic violence continued, which was a fallout of planned violence.
Loss of innocent lives is always deplorable and more so due to mindless violence. Those who instigated the violence must be brought to justice, without considering religion or political affiliations. The damage to property and business can never be financially fully compensated. The fear and distrust which has engulfed communities would take a long time to heal. The psychological scars may take even longer. However, throughout the violence there were many who also saved lives by taking in those who were affected, even from other religions.
The government, NGOs and political leaders must reach out to society to rebuild trust and faith in the system. The secular fabric of the country must be brought back. The political blame game must cease, rather parties must work together. The question which plagues India is whether this will ever happen or those who have suffered be left to fend for themselves.
The protests led to anti-India comments from some quarters. Pakistan, which has a habit of criticizing every incident in India, ignoring its own actions against minorities, stated what was expected. The Indian government rightfully did not even bother to comment on Imran’s statement.
Western comments were largely based on biased writings, mostly by Indian journalists in the western press.
Bernie Sanders, the leading democratic contender for the forthcoming Presidential election stated in a tweet, post Trump refusing to comment on the same, ‘Widespread anti-Muslim mob violence has killed at least 27 and injured many more. Trump responds by saying, ‘That’s up to India. This is a failure of leadership on human rights.’
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom stated, ‘We urge the Indian government to make serious efforts to protect Muslims and others targeted by mob violence.’ India rightfully rejected the report and comments by Bernie Sanders, claiming them factually inaccurate and misleading. The belief that only one community was targeted is wrong. Casualties were from both major communities.
The office of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, whose role remains to comment on all such cases responded by stating, ‘Secretary-General is very saddened by the reports of casualties following the protests in Delhi. As he has done in similar circumstances, he calls for maximum restraint and for violence to be avoided.’ The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also commented, which was rebuked by the Indian government.
India is not the only country which faces criticism on account of internal violence. During racial violence in Charlottesville in US during August 2017, similar criticism flowed. Britain and Germany criticised the US on the way it contained the violence. The UN also jumped in. The UN Committee on the elimination of racial discrimination denounced the failure at the highest political level of the USA to unequivocally reject and condemn racist violence stating it was, ‘deeply concerned by the example this failure could set for the rest of the world.’
Similarly, the world has criticized China for its handling of the Hong Kong riots. Almost every international body and nation has commented on Chinese application of force. In Feb last year, the European Human Rights Commission criticized France for its handling of the Yellow Vest protests.
Any nation which impacts the globe economically, diplomatically and militarily is always under international scrutiny. Decisions and actions in these nations impact regions and other countries. It is this consideration which led to a cluster of global comments on the implementation of the CAA and abrogation of article 370. To a large extent, India tended to ignore these comments and only rarely explained to select nations the intentions behind its actions.
It is very probable that the intention of stoking the current riots was to draw global attention towards India on its decision to implement CAA. Violence levels as well as protests appeared to rise and peak just prior and during the visit of Trump to India. This was because world attention was focussed on India as also the country was hosting journalists from across the globe, which would enable international attention. India’s diplomatic handling of the case, with no comments from Trump, put paid to all such attempts.
However, while international criticism can be handled,more important is to recreate trust within the Indian society by acting against those behind the protests and those responsible for loss of innocent lives.The Delhi police has failed on multiple occasions and even had a near internal revolt post the Lawyer-Police violence at Tis Hazari courts recently. It needs a revamp including of its intelligence network.Finally, the entire sequence of events must be studied, and lessons drawn to prevent any reoccurrence.
(The author is Major General (Retd)