9 – Conflict and Violence – Social Development in Independent India

9

Conflict and Violence

S. N. Jha

 

 

 

Violence can occur in the public as well as the private domains. In the public domain, acts of violence have taken specific forms like caste and class violence, communal violence, criminal violence, sexual violence and ethnic violence. Violence in the private domain includes violence in marital life, criminal acts, instances of suicide and crimes of personal rivalry and jealousy, even by individuals without any criminal record. In this chapter, we will take a look at violence mainly in the public domain, and also, briefly, in the private one.

Indian society has witnessed a significant level of violence in the public sphere and there are indications that it has been on the rise over the years (see Figure 9.1). A 1998 report by the Home Secretary of the Government of India to the Standing Committee of the Parliament on Home Affairs pointed out that 210 out of the total of 535 districts in India were affected by insurgency, ethnic strife, extremist activities, caste clashes and other kinds of crises. The report further pointed out that while the situation in Uttar Pradesh was marked by communal violence, ‘Bihar was characterized by increasing growth of crime and activities of criminal groups…. in Tamil Nadu…influence of Muslim fundamentalist organizations and caste clashes’ were the factors that affected internal security.1 It also needs to be noted that there are volatile pockets affected by ‘Naxal violence’ which, according to a note of the Home Ministry, is ‘high in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra and Orissa while the states of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are marginally affected. Naxal outfits have also been trying to spread their activities in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Uttaranchal’.2

 

Figure 9.1
Trends of Rioting in India and Selected States 1955–1990. Source: Crime in India/ Statistical Abstracts, India. Government of India. Several issues.

CASTE VIOLENCE

Caste violence in recent times has taken the form of either violence perpetuated by the high castes against the low castes, or it has been low-caste initiated violence against the upper castes. We look first at instances of the former, which include the Bathani Tola massacre in the Bhojpur district of central Bihar in 1996, the killings of the Dalits by the Lingayats in Karnataka, and the killing of, according to one official estimate, 28 Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, in 1991, between July and January. The desire to hang on to the ‘old’ social order has been at the root of this type of violence. Various armies or senas of the landed castes have come into existence in support of the ‘feudal’ fabric. In this context, high-caste violence is often understood in terms of the refusal of the ‘traditionalists’ to come to terms with the realities of social change. The persistence of age old, discriminatory and oppressive caste relations in Indian society has to a certain extent been exacerbated by the police force, particularly their proximity to the higher castes. Cases of police torture of Dalits are not unheard of. In most cases, it is reported that the police and administration have links with the dominant castes.

Caste violence has been experienced also in areas where low castes (Dalits) have challenged the treatment meted out to them over the centuries. The assertiveness on the part of the low-caste communities have also been the result of their mobilization arising from economic upliftment of certain sections among them. The caste-based associations and movements of the pre-Independence period (19th and early 20th century), the economic gains of the Green Revolution, the advent of market economy and the growth of urban centres, had led to improvement in the economic status of some of the backward castes, who then aspired to improve their social standing and wanted a share in political power. The new forms of education, with an emphasis on rationalism and equality, gave a fillip to their cause. Assertions of caste identity, in this context, became a central issue. At times, it meant contestation and renunciation of the symbols and traditions of the dominant practices of Hinduism, which were claimed to be exploitative and oppressive. This led to several caste conflicts between the backward castes and Dalits on the one hand, and the upper castes on the other.

The demand for separate electorates for the Dalits in 1930s was based on the recognition of the caste issue as demanding a political solution. Some, like the upper caste non-Brahmins of Tamil Nadu, boycotted the National Movement, declaring that they could not be a part of the same nation as the Brahmins.3 Anti-caste movements spearheaded by Jyotiba Phule and Dr Ambedkar suggested an alternative way of living by rejecting Brahmanism and caste divisions of society, and talked of development based on liberty, equality, fraternity, social and cultural transformation, and political power. With the coming of Independence, the Constitution of India too lent its weight to the cause. The framers of the Constitution took into consideration the caste-based inequalities in the Indian society and several provisions were made for the political, social and economic empowerment of the socially backward classes, the scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs). Untouchability was abolished and its practice in any form was forbidden.

Yet, rejection of untouchability and mass conversions to Buddhism by the Dalits did not produce the desired results. As Gail Omvedt says, Buddhism itself became rather ‘untouchable’ in India.4 The 1960s saw the rise of Dalit Sahitya Movement whereby literature produced by the Dalits rejected all the forms of mainstream religion, culture and politics. The militant Dalit Panthers Movement of the 1970s, which spread to several parts of the country, became a symbol of revolt for the Dalits, fighting against the dominant forms of politics, be it help provided in the defeat of Congress or the street fights against the Shiv Sena, proclamation of the ideology of anti-caste Dalit self-respect (including gender concerns, especially that of love and sexuality), and enunciation of the economic issues of exploitation on caste lines. Such movements were for the assertion of the rights of the lower castes, their rights to a life of dignity, right to a share in development and their right to political power.

The constitutional provisions by themselves were however grossly insufficient. Exploitation continued, especially in the rural areas. Landholdings were unequally distributed in favour of the upper castes; and the abolition of zamindari and the Land Reforms Act did not provide much reprieve, as agrarian land stayed in the hands of the dominant castes, which used the loopholes in the system to continue with their traditional dominance. The nexus of the landlords with the politicians also is a factor explaining administrative indifference in such a situation. The lower castes, especially the Dalits, are often either marginal farmers with little land, or they are agricultural labourers.

Early instances of agrarian unrest took the form of confrontations between the landowning classes and the landless peasantry, and involved the forcible occupation of land, non-payment of rent and the looting of grains. Incidents such as these were reported from the states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam and Bihar. Later conflicts occurred in the middle and lower strata of the traditional caste hierarchy and/or between these groups and the SCs and the STs. Such incidents reported from Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have been more severe and intense, often with the involvement of groups of the extreme left and the private armies or senas, as in Bihar. Erosion of the traditional elite groups, resurgence of the ‘backward’ castes5 and the marginal gains of ‘reservations’ (real or perceived) for the SCs and the STs have been identified as underlying causes. Several studies on agrarian unrest have, in fact, gone into the underlying socio-economic roots.6

Lack of exposure to modern education, absence of adequate alternatives in the form of industrial development, and ineffective employment and welfare schemes have made the landless, most of whom are Dalits, dependent on the farms of the upper and the intermediate castes, often under exploitative conditions. Caste conflicts and violence began to surface when the oppressed began to organize themselves under the Naxalite groups to demand their rights, and the upper and intermediate castes armed themselves to resist such demands. Incidents such as those in Lakshamanpur Bathe and Shankarbigha, and the Bathani Tola massacre in Bihar, the Berumbadi, Devadurga, Honnehalli Kedaga Hebalu, Heggadagiri Hassan and Doddahalli in Karnataka, and the killings of 21 Dalits in Uttar Pradesh between January and July of 1991, exemplify caste conflicts.

Migration to less feudal set-ups for short periods by the Dalits also raised class consciousness amongst them. Conflict lines were drawn at two levels (a) upper castes versus the backward castes and Dalits and (b) Dalits versus backward castes. With the erosion of traditional elite, what with many upper castes migrating to cities in rural Karnataka, the conflicts are now between the Dalits and the resurgent backward castes. The laxity of the administration and the police in dealing with the socio-legal issues, mostly due to their proximity to the ‘dominant castes’, or due to the nexus of these castes with the political order, further complicates the issue.

COMMUNAL VIOLENCE

Time and again, communal violence in India has threatened to tear apart the social fabric. In one of the worst communal riots in the country, in Bhagalpur, in October-November, 1989, a thousand people were killed.7 A few years later, severe communal violence broke out in several parts of the country in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992.

Overall, the trend in communal incidents shows a pattern. Following the great convulsions which accompanied the Partition, the trend throughout the 1950s was one of steady decline. In the 1960s, there was first, a sharp spurt in 1964, followed by a dip, and then another upsurge which lasted from 1969 until about 1972. Thereafter, the rate remained at relatively low levels almost up to the end of the decade. In the 1980s, there was once again an increase, which accelerated sharply from 1986 until about 1994.8 According to one estimate, the number of people killed in the communal riots in the 1980s was almost four times higher than that of the 1970s.9 Among the 28 states in the country, some are more ‘communally sensitive’ than others: ‘during 2000–2004 communal violence occurred mostly in states like Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra’.10

While the Hindu-Muslim religious antagonism has a historical past, instances of Hindu-Muslim riots cannot be explained solely in terms of cultural and historical factors. A close look at the riots in Moradabad (1980), Bhiwandi (1984), Malegaon (1982), Biharsharif (1981), Belgaum (1984), and Ahmedabad (1985–1986) show distinctly varied reasons for tensions between the two communities.11 In Moradabad, for example, where brassware is the primary industry, the main underlying cause was the competition between Hindu and Muslim businessmen along economic lines. While the artisans in Moradabad are mostly Muslims, the Hindus primarily control the trade. Moreover, it was commonly believed that the Muslims who took to the export business were preferred by importing Muslim countries. This had become a source of much resentment in the area. It was also alleged that the Muslims were over-invoicing the exports and were being paid more than a legitimate price. In Bhiwandi, Maharashtra, again the Hindus and Muslims, who had resided together in harmony for centuries, turned against each other as a result of problems which may be traced to day-to-day living, civic amenities and economic relations.

The levels of employment of Hindus and the Muslims have also been a source of much contention between the two communities. Some striking differences that are emphasized are the microscopic representation of the Muslims in the elite professions of the country like the IAS, IPS, the public sector banks and the central government services.12 Factors believed to foster tension between the communities include insecurity among the Muslim owing to poor levels of education and socio-economic development. While the National Sample Survey (NSS) figures of per capita expenditure (Table 9.1) show a near parity between the Hindus and Muslims in the rural areas, studies indicate ‘a clear distinct concentration in the lower strata in the case of urban Muslims’. Studies also show that the Muslims are concentrated in lower-income occupations.

One analysis of communal riots concludes that they have been used as occasions to give expression to the inner unexpressed anger of individuals and groups. The primary cause of such anger is the ‘lack of work’ and socio-economic deprivation: ‘Every riot sharpens the separate identity of communal groups and particularly the identity of the minority groups’.13 Studies of Hindu-Muslim confrontations suggest that they have roots in situations where there is a decline in the economic condition of the ‘sizeable native’ Muslim population established in long-standing occupations in crafts and trades.14 Certain areas where Muslims have achieved ‘a measure of economic stability and improvement in living conditions’ (e.g., Ahmedabad, Meerut, Aligarh, Varanasi, Bhiwandi and Kanpur), have also experienced communal riots in a context where Hindu and Muslim groups in severe competition and sharing deprivations are involved in situations of conflict.15

 

Table 9.1
Sectoral classification of Hindus and Muslims on the basis of per capita expenditure, 1987–1988.

Source: Abusaleh Shariff, `Socio-Economic and Demographic Differentials between Hindus and Muslims in India’, Economic and Political Weekly, XXX (46) (1995): Tables 8 and 9. Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 because of responses in the category `No Response’.

POLITICAL FACTORS IN COMMUNAL VIOLENCE

While economic factors may be a source of antagonisms, it is contended, based on statistical analysis and qualitative data that ‘economic motivations may come into play once violence has begun, but they do not seem to be important in explaining the initiation of violence’.16 The logic of the ballot box, on the other hand, provides a powerful rationale for communal violence. This, typically, entails a deliberate, politically motivated provocation of the minority community, such as an anti-Muslim procession or anti-Muslim rhetoric at a public meeting, intended to provoke a minority counter-mobilization. This, in turn, it is calculated, will lead to ethnic polarization and mobilization of votes on the issue of providing security to the majority community. In this context, it is argued, the Hindu ‘swing vote’, fuelled by the fear factor, becomes critical in deciding the outcome of an election.17 Corroborating this explanation, data show that it was in riot-affected towns that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vote shot up dramatically in the 1990s. Similarly, violence triggered off by Hindu nationalist organizations in 1992 in Madhya Pradesh dramatically improved the electoral fortunes of the BJP.18

Consistent with the causality ascribed to political factors in explaining communal riots, a multivariate analysis of riots in the towns of Uttar Pradesh shows that proximity to an election increases the likelihood of communal rioting. This is expected since ‘it seems likely that polarizing events will occur disproportionately before elections as politicians try (to) use inflammatory issues to solidify their own ethnic community's support or intimidate their ethnic opponents’.19 Also significant is the issue of how closely an election is contested; ‘it seems likely that an ethnic party that expects, based on previous electoral results, to win handily or to loose massively a local electoral contest has less of an incentive to foment violence in that seat than in seats where the race is close’.20 This too is borne out by the multivariate analysis model, which shows that ‘a close race in the previous state legislative election has a clear substantive effect…(on the incidence of communal rioting)’.21 In this model, the strength of the Muslim population in the town was inversely related to riots, which too is what can be expected; ‘if we assume relatively cohesive Muslim and Hindu voting patterns, the incentives to polarize will increase as the relative sizes of the community approach parity and it becomes important to win over the small group of swing voters’.22 The intensity of anti-minority sentiment, as captured by the incidents of rioting in the past five years and the associated fears, hatreds, motives for vengeance, was found to have an independent effect in fostering riots, though, after accounting for these and other factors, politically motivated violence was still salient.23

So great are the political benefits from fanning the flames of communal violence that, ‘when one examines the actual dynamics of riots, one discovers that there are active, knowing subjects and organizations at work engaged in a continuous tending of the fires of communal divisions and animosities, who exercise by a combination of subtle means and confrontational tactics a form of control over the incidence and timing of riots’.24 In the ‘dynamics of riot production’, two distinct roles can be identified—that of the ‘fire tender’, who ‘keeps the embers of communal animosities alive…’ and the ‘conversion specialist’, whose job it is to incite a crowd to violence.25 Yet, the perpetuators of violence themselves do not acknowledge it to be legitimate. It is in this context that riots are made to appear spontaneous, so that the premeditated elements in the ‘production of riots’ are cunningly concealed. Thus, the interpretation of riots comes to be crucial. The search for underlying causes—'a preexisting history of communal antagonisms and a pervasive atmosphere of tension between Hindus and Muslims’, economic factors, conflagration of petty quarrels, rumours of atrocities committed by members of the other group or by the police, etc., then becomes a preoccupation of journalists, intellectuals, politicians and the general public. This phase ‘is marked by a process of blame displacement in which the social scientists themselves become implicated, a process that does not isolate effectively those most responsible for the production of violence, but diffuses blame widely, blurring responsibility, and thereby contributing to the perpetuation of violent productions in future’.26

We now turn to the role of the State in preventing or containing riots. There are two critical aspects to this, namely, ‘State autonomy’ and ‘State capacity’. The former, ‘defined as the ability of the police and local administration to take independent action to prevent Hindu-Muslim riots in accordance with established rules, procedures and law…’ gets undermined by political interference. Thus, because politicians can get the police to go easy on their allies in terms of prosecutions or investigations, the deterrent effect of police action on rioters will weaken as will police morale. The police, fearing political retribution, seek political approval for executing preventive measures, which also can render them ineffective. State capacity, on the other hand, refers to finance, logistics, manpower, organizational factors, judicial capability, etc.27 State capacity declined after Independence, with the deterioration more acute in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Subsequently, things got worse; for instance, illegal orders by Congress politicians during the Emergency to forge documents provide fake grounds for detentions, etc. were uncovered by the Shah Commission.

Moving on to the 1980s and 1990s, political interference was widespread. While State capacity too has deteriorated since the 1960s, this is believed to have not been the critical factor, as evidenced by the lack of a clear relationship between police strength, judicial capacity, and violence.28 On the other hand, the ‘sharp differences in levels of communal violence from one elected regime to the other suggests that the problem is not so much of State capacity—most states still seem to possess at least the limited capacity they need to prevent Hindu-Muslim riots—as the instructions given by politicians to state officials to protect or not to protect minorities’.29

The question then is: What are the sources of political will, or, to put it differently, why did some regimes have the political will to avert riots while others did not? The answer to this question, it is argued, rests on the weight of electoral incentives; when there are many political parties in the fray, the minorities’ ‘swing vote’ wields clout. Minority support becomes important under certain circumstances; for instance, when intra-ethnic political cleavages within the majority community drive politicians to seek the minority vote, as has been the case in India in the past few decades, with the formation of parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (representing the SCs), the Samajwadi Party (which draws support from the backward castes), and the Telugu Desam Party, which represents the middle and lower castes. Also critical to the leverage of the minority vote is that the ‘cost’ of providing support not be too high. On this issue, given the country's track record of communal riots, the Muslims place a high premium on security, so this becomes a key political demand, to the extent where they ‘bid low’ on other issues. The third factor critical to the clout of the minority vote, which is also satisfied in India, is that minority domination is not feared as a result of political support.30

Multivariate analysis bears out the salience of the minority vote and shows that as the number of parties in the fray goes up, the level of communal riots goes down.31 The evidence shows that when ‘party fragmentation’ is high, even when a Hindu Nationalist Party is part of the state government, as in Orissa, anti-Muslim mobilization is prevented. In other states like Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, when the ruling coalition depended on the minority vote, governments were highly effective in preventing violence.32

Another insightful study takes us beyond the institutional-state-centric ‘logic of the ballot’ argument to the ‘structure of civil society’ in those areas where communal riots do/do not take place.33 Based on a study of three pairs of cities, spread across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, it attempts ‘a comparison in each case of a violent and peaceful city…(with) roughly similar Hindu-Muslim proportion in population’.34 The first two pairs of cities (Aligarh-Calicut and Hyderabad–Lucknow) include two cities that were free of communal violence (Calicut and Hyderabad), and the other two (Aligarh and Lucknow) experienced communal violence, and the third pair includes cities (Ahmedabad and Surat) which remained peaceful for a particular period of time and then turned violent later. The study concludes that ‘the preexisting local networks of civic engagements between the…communities stand out as the single most proximate cause’35 accounts for the presence of violence in some areas and its absence in others.

ECONOMIC FACTORS

Indian society is affected by multi-layered economic deprivations that potentially present potent situations of violence and insurgency. In four, out of the 32 states and union territories, one-third of the population is below the poverty line (BPL). In two (Bihar and Orissa), the percentage of population in the BPL category is as much as 40. If we take 25 per cent as the BPL cut-off point, as many as 13 states are in the list.36 Within states, 200 districts have been identified as ‘most backward’ by the government (for purposes of the first phase of the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005).37 If we look at the location of these districts in different states, it is not surprising that 91 most backward districts are in the four most backward states, with the ranking of states in terms of their current ‘performance’ on different indicators including GDP growth.38 We find also that the top 10 states (Punjab, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Andhra Pradesh), account for 50 of the ‘most backward’ districts. Disaggregating the problem of economic deprivation further, there are social groups not only in backward areas but also in better-off areas that experience greater degree of deprivations. These enclaves of backwardness and deprivations present a fertile breeding ground for the emergence of violence and even insurgency.

While economic deprivation is a potent factor, it may not be the only, or the most salient, condition for violence: ‘While persistent poverty and the resulting deprivations could certainly contribute to the creation and/or the intensification of conflict, violent political conflict has hardly ever been an inevitable outcome of poverty’.39 There are examples that show absence of ‘mutual covariance’ between poverty and conflict. The Punjab was a case of ‘conflict with development’. In the North East, there is not much difference in the level of development in the states of Mizoram, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, but Arunachal Pradesh has been comparatively peaceful. There are variations in the incidence of violence also between regions within the states. The Naxalite ‘convulsions’ in West Bengal in the 1960s erupted in the Darjeeling District which is not very underdeveloped as compared to other districts in the state. Disturbances in Punjab in the 1980s were much more in Amritsar and Gurdaspur than in Ludhiana, Sangrur, Bhatinda and Patiala in the Malwa region. In Bihar, caste and Naxal violence has affected the districts of Bhojpur, Patna South, Gaya, Aurangabad, Jehanabad and Nawadah, while districts in north Bihar with more incidence and intensity of poverty, have been comparatively free of such violence.

Economic deprivation, in fact, becomes a salient factor when different kinds of deprivations (e.g., social, religious and cultural) coincide with it. Higher the coincidence of different factors in a region or in a social group, greater the possibilities of the feeling ‘exclusiveness’ in terms of deprivation and possibilities of emergence of a sense of revolt or rebellion.40 It is in such situations that the ‘political’ factors become important when potentially volatile situations are ‘used’ for political ends. In certain situations, economic factors remain in the background and violent incidents take apparently other forms. For example, in Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh and Bhiwandi in Maharashtra, as discussed earlier, riots that took communal form actually had strong underlying economic reasons.

CRIMINAL VIOLENCE

Criminal violence in general is on the rise in India, with reported crime itself showing a huge percentage increase. The increasing pressures of commercialization and urbanization and tensions of transforming social structures have decreased tolerance levels, and enhanced deviance. There has been an augmentation in the cases of suicides and road rages, apart from the cases of regular crimes. The criminalization of politics too is an important contributor. Electoral power play is a money game which uses force and violence. When parties lack well-knit organization and cadre, they resort to money power and muscle power, taking the help of criminals to mobilize the people. In fact, several of the elected members to the legislatures have criminal records. According to an analysis of the 14th Lok Sabha ‘nearly a quarter (23.2 per cent) of the MPs has either criminal case registered against them or pending in courts’.41

A review of the crime situation in India shows certain significant trends.42

  • Of the total crimes committed in India annually, a sizeable number includes cognizable crimes under IPC (including theft burglary, robbery, dacoity, murder, riot, and kidnapping, cheating, breach of trust,…). A still higher percentage of crimes occur in the form of offences under local and special laws (like Motor Vehicle Act, prohibition Act, Gambling Act, Excise Act Arms Act, Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act, Opium Act, Railway Act, Explosive Substance Act, and so on).
  • Out of the total cases handled by the police each year, about 30 per cent are cognizable crimes while 70 per cent are cases of offence under local and special laws.
  • Of the total cognizable crimes, about one-third are economic and property-related crimes of theft, burglary, robbery, and dacoity.
  • The crime rate is higher for males than females.
  • The ratio of urban offenders is much less than the rural offenders.
  • The crime rate is the highest for those in the lowest socio-economic group.
  • Organized crime is increasing with the growth of larger-scale Mafia organizations.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

Violence against women can assume various forms, ranging from the more overt forms of physical and psychological violence to the patriarchal marginalization of women, in which women themselves assume agency;43 it becomes all pervasive, at homes, in streets and at work. Fear of violence, by restricting women's mobility and participation (in economic, social and political activities), is a severe hindrance to the building up of women's capabilities and the attaining of their potential.

As per the annual officials crime figures released by the national Crime Records Bureau, crimes against women have been increasing over the years at a rate which is higher than that for overall crime in society. From 1993 to 1999, crimes against women increased from 123 to 127 cases per million persons. Between 2003 and 2004, crime rates (per lakh population) affecting women varied between 14.11 and 13.16.44 Crimes against women formed 6 per cent of the total crime, but the actual figures might be higher because often women did not report the violence perpetuated against them, and maybe were inhibited on account of the insensitivity with which such cases are handled by the police and the judiciary. Such crimes between the years 2002 and 2004 were concentrated in the five states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra which accounted for ‘around 50 per cent of the total crimes against women in the country’.45

Crimes identified under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) include the following: rape (Section 376, IPC); kidnapping and abduction for different purposes (Sections 363-373, IPC); homicide for dowry, dowry deaths or their attempts (Section 302/304-B, IPC); torture, both mental and physical (Section 498-A, IPC); molestation (Section 354, IPC); sexual harassment (Section 509, IPC); and importation of girls (up to 21years of age) (Section 366-B, IPC). Crimes identified under special laws are with reference to social customs and practices. They are identified as cognizable offences, punishable under the law. These special enactments to safeguard the interests of women are: Sati (Prevention) Act 1987; Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961; Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956; and Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act, 1986.46

The maximum cases are registered under Section 498 A—cruelty by husbands and his relatives, followed by molestation, and cruelty/torture. There has been an increase in the cases of cruelty at home and sexual harassment, whereas the cases of dowry deaths and kidnapping/abduction have seen a decline over 1998–1999.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Although technically, violence within the purview of relationships can be directed against both men and women, the worst sufferers are women, who are placed lower in the power hierarchy of relationships in a family. This form of violence against women is vastly prevalent across all classes, castes and communities. The National Family Health Survey II found that one in three women over the age of 15 years had experienced some form of violence. The official crime figures for 2001 show that cruelty within homes comprises 58 per cent of the registered crimes against women. The widespread prevalence of violence against women is supported by the societal attitude which considers violence within homes as the ‘private’ affair which does not require public intervention. This attitude is also prevalent amongst the police and the judiciary, which often burdens the victim with the guilt at having brought the private into the public and for having questioned the sanctity of marriage as an institution.

SUICIDE

While the suicide rate in India was 7-9 persons per 100,000 in 1971, it grew to 9.5 persons per 100,000 in 1996. This is a serious issue, especially with the suicide rate for men as high as 10.6 persons per 100,000. Disturbances in society caused by poverty, unemployment, lack of social justice and similar social evils, and frustration arising out of daily life conditions drives people to suicide and other kinds of violence.

 

Figure 9.2
Suicides per 1,00,000 population, India, 1971–2000. Source: Accidental deaths and suicides in India. National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs. Cited in Selected Socio-Economic Statistics in India 2002, Central Statistical Organization, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, Table 5.3: Suicide rate in India. Note: Figure for 2000 excludes data for Jharkhand.

SUMMING UP

A wide variety of reasons lie behind the conflicts that are exacerbated in different contexts and result in violence. Conflicts due to transforming identities, changing milieu, and economic exploitation and deprivation are exploited. Historical justifications are provided for the reconstructions of identities based on different cultural symbols, and violence is often chosen as the shortest means of conflict resolution. While all these are valid reasons, ‘politics of identity’ is more complex. Identities are often used as counters in ‘political games’ for various kinds of ‘gains’ in its interaction with different forces and processes in society. Salience of an identity depends on the situation where it is ‘used’.47

The resolution of conflicts has to be tackled at several levels. Effective implementations of the objectives of equitable development, is all too important from this point of view. There are wide inter- and intra-state gaps in development that often are in favour of a particular caste and community, which are also the dominant ones politically. Hence, in spite of the policies and programmes aimed at benefiting the deprived castes and communities, over time, the results have not always been encouraging. Greater sensitivity and willingness is required on the part of the administration, the judiciary and the law-enforcement bodies. Intercommunity civic engagements by various agencies have also been suggested to be an effective mechanism, especially in the context of communal violence. Media, with its substantial outreach, has a significant constructive role to play to transform attitudes, and also focus on the developmental concerns of the different sections and regions.