9. Socio-Political Violence and the Crisis of Governance in South Asia – Peace and Justice


Socio-Political Violence and the Crisis of Governance in South Asia

K. S. Subramanian

This chapter attempts a brief exploration of the phenomenon of socio-political violence in the South Asian region today, in the context of their implications for ‘humane governance’ as conceptualized by the Mahbub-ul-Haq Human Development Centre (MHDC 1999). Since Hindus and Muslims live together mainly in the three major countries of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the chapter pays special attention to Hindu—Muslim violence in India, which has implications for regional stability and security. Detailed attention is paid to the Gujarat genocide of 2002, throwing light on aspects of the administration and Government in India, which inhibit the creation of ‘humane governance’. Although a ‘secular’ government has been in power in India since 2004 bringing some sobriety to politics, the threat of Hindu—Muslim violence in the country is only just in the background and likely to flare up again with redoubled fury as has happened earlier. The chapter concludes that ‘humane governance’, as advanced by the human development community in South Asia, is the need of the hour.

The declining credibility and legitimacy of the nation-state in a globalizing world is the main socio-political feature of the current situation in South Asia. This is compounded by the crisis of governance and development, aggravated by sociopolitical conflict and violence in the region as a whole, especially after 9/11. The conflict situation between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear-armed neighbours of the region, has global implications (Bidwai and Vanaik 2000). In 1998, one of the two nuclear armed neighbours, India, spent about 2 per cent of its $ 469 billion GDP on defence, including an active armed force of more than 1.1 million personnel. In the same year, Pakistan, the other nuclear nation, spent about 5 per cent of its $ 61 billion GDP on defence, with an active armed force of only half the size of the former (Stern 2000). It is noteworthy here that military rule has re-emerged in Bangladesh recently.

Keeping the focus on India and Pakistan, this chapter begins with a review of the broader patterns of socio-political violence; the characteristics and sources of violence; and the nature of the crisis of governance in the region. Second, it looks at some aspects of the Indian and Pakistani scenarios of socio-political violence. Third, it examines the major issue of Hindu—Muslim violence in India, which is being actively fomented by some political forces and has even emerged as a central fault line in Indian society and politics (contrary to the perception of the UPA government that Naxalite violence is the major internal security problem in the country today). A review is made of the situation of communal violence during the last decade. Fourth, it looks critically at the role of the inherited district-magistratecentric administrative structure and basic characteristic of the countries in the region, using mainly Indian data. Finally, the study briefly explicates the concept of humane governance.

Characterizing Conflict

The concept of conflict is complex and multi-dimensional. It is often associated with physical violence but some have argued that violence occurs to any self-conscious structure when that structure is destroyed by an external agency (Rao 1988). Violence may be visible and overt, or invisible and covert. There is the ‘violence of politics’ and ‘the politics of violence’. Both kinds of violence are seen in South Asia. While visible and situational violence requires law and order solutions, invisible, structural violence calls for socio-structural changes. Conflict is often understood as ‘inherent conflict’, namely, conflict that is inherent in the relationships between men and women in everyday life (Welbourn 1998). In our context, we must define conflict in a rightsbased framework. We may look at it as an aggravated form of social tension, which prevents people from the full enjoyment of their human right to a long, healthy, and productive life.

Some characteristics of conflicts in South Asia are (a) complexity in terms of their multiple forms and levels which occur simultaneously (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan), nuclear conflict (India, Pakistan), communal, caste, and class violence and ‘low intensity conflict’ (India), cross-border terrorism (India—Pakistan), intraethnic tensions (India and Pakistan); (b) longevity of conflict; (c) neglect of the developmental impact of conflict; (d) ‘low intensity’ or ‘episodic’ nature of conflict (Sri Lanka, India); (e) continuity of conflict with other forms of violence, such as political, criminal, inter-personal, etc. (India); (f ) largely intra-state character of conflict (Pakistan, India); (g) open conflict confined within particular areas (India, Sri Lanka, and, till recently, Nepal); and (h) considerable physical destruction (all countries).

Sources of Conflict

Scholars have identified several factors, which aggravate conflict situations in South Asia. These include the project of nation-building, the failure of multiparty representative democracy, poor governance, the emergence of sectarian and fundamentalist ideologies, globalization, wide dispersal of arms, militarization and military expenditure, depletion of natural resources, development-induced displacement, and drug trafficking and associated phenomena.

Large parts of the region, which today consist of independent nation-states, were once part of the same imperial politico-administrative arrangement. Decades after decolonization, a situation of conflict, both inter-state and intra-state, pervades many of these states. The conflict in Afghanistan, with serious regional, political, ecological, social, and human security implications spilled over into the adjoining states of Iran and Pakistan with the movement of huge numbers of Afghan refugees across the frontiers. The recurrent conflict between Pakistan and India, which assumed a dangerous nuclear dimension arising from the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament by alleged terrorists from across the border, attracted super-power intervention. The internal conflict situation in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) has impacted the human development and the humane governance scenarios in the entire region.

Further, in India, a serious conflict situation (both covert and overt) prevails in the north-eastern region, the site of a historical confluence of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and China. The region is an ethnic and cultural melting pot and has witnessed, over the centuries, an interaction of indigenous communities, castes, races, and religions. Porous borders facilitate the easy movement of people across frontiers, facilitating cultural and social contact but also the movement of drugs, arms, money, and insurgent groups. These have a bearing on internal developments in the adjoining countries. The north-eastern states of India are to be viewed as a single conflict-prone unit with many ethnicities, risk factors and cross-border problems promoting the spread of HIV/AIDS (Subramanian 2002). Regional migration is a major issue in the north-eastern states involving India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar (Hazarika 1994, 2000).

The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has long had an impact on the delicate political and social balance in the adjoining Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The internal conflict situation in Nepal has implications for the migration of ethnic Nepalese into India and Bhutan. Finally, many forms of internal conflict, involving caste, class, community, religion, language, and region characterize the individual nations of this region (for India, see GOI 2001–02).

The conflict in Afghanistan and the violence in J & K have led to the growth of a number of terrorist organizations in the region. Sectarian conflict, tribal feuds, ethnic confrontations, and power politics in Pakistan and Afghanistan have led to the emergence of many networks of terrorists and drug traffickers in the Indian border states of J & K and Punjab. Similarly, in Sri Lanka, the terrorist organization, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is known to be involved in global networks of narcotics and arms trafficking.

In the north-eastern region of India, anti-state organizations such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur, and others are connected to networks of trans-border narcotics and weapons’ exchange. Intelligence sources indicate that the narcotics trade has been lucrative enough to give rise to a multitude of insurgent groups in Manipur. The large Tamil population of Moreh, a town in Manipur bordering Myanmar, is suspected to possess links with the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

An unprecedented spread of light weapons in the hands of non-state actors in South Asian countries has led to the aggravation of inter-state and intra-state tensions (Karta 1997a, 1997b and 1997c). The borderlines between inter-state tensions and rising crime, and armed intra-state conflict and the global proliferation of weapons are being rapidly obliterated.

In development terms, wide-ranging material and psychological deprivations are associated with conflict, including entitlement failures, health crises, physical violence, and forced displacements. Conflict also disrupts development prospects by destroying the productive infrastructure, public services, settlement patterns, environmental resources, social capital, and the institutions of governance.

The Crisis of Governance in South Asia

South Asia faces a crisis of governance which could halt the region’s democratic progress and the well-being of its millions (MHDC 1999). The signs of crisis are seen in nuclear rivalry and military expenditure, weak coalition governments, debilitating political demonstrations and strikes, urban chaos, and breakdown of mutual trust among communities. Recent developments include governmental instability and the rise of parties with exclusionary and extremist agendas, electoral uncertainty, reshuffling of political alliances, the spectre of insurgency, the persistence of military rule, the shutting down of daily life through crippling strikes, civil wars, corruption, social exclusion ,and inefficient civil services.

Formal institutions of governance have often bypassed the voiceless majority who suffer from multiple deprivations on account of their income, creed, gender, or religion. They have not only been excluded from the benefits of growth but have also not gained political empowerment. Some of the worst consequences of their exclusion are seen in the high rates of crime and violence throughout the region.

The bulk of public spending in South Asia is directed away from social and development expenditures towards providing non-merit subsidies, making up for losses of public corporations, maintaining a large army of civil servants, and providing for external defence. With the notable exception of Maldives, social-sector expenditures in South Asia remain low, at less then 5 per cent of GDP. This is at a time when a large proportion of expenditure is spent on low human priority areas.

Endemic deprivations become the breeding grounds for crime and violence in South Asian societies, which are increasingly polarized. The threat of crime and violence pervades South Asia. Besides being ravaged by a two-decade old civil war, Sri Lanka has the region’s highest rate of murders and armed robberies with nine murders and 20 armed robberies per 100,000 people. Similarly, Bangladesh recorded the region’s highest rate of car thefts, with 261 car thefts per 100,000 vehicles. The most vulnerable in South Asia remain the most abused. Bangladesh had the region’s highest rate of rapes with 10 rapes per 100,000 women (1996). Out of all the rape victims in Punjab (Pakistan), perhaps in the year 2006, more than half were minors. Since 1994, there have been 23,000 dowry deaths in India. Also, there are more than 100,000 child prostitutes in South Asia. Violence against women and children in selected conflict-affected states in India has shown disturbing features in the recent period. A report of the Government of India (Government of India 1993) indicates that crime syndicates and mafia organizations have established firm connections to government functionaries and political personalities at different levels.

Socio-Political Violence in India and Pakistan


The conflict situation in India extends to a variety of areas and contexts. We may briefly note the broad context and features. Inter-state conflict in India, overt and covert, is at present restricted to J & K. The state witnesses, however, a strong element of intrastate conflict as well. Overt intra-state conflicts are also to be seen at present in the four north-eastern states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Tripura. The remaining three states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh do not at present display overt and active conflict but are historically part of the conflict scenario in the region. For reasons of geography, demography, ethnicity, and politics, they share the impact of conflict in the other four states in various ways, also including being transit routes for militant groups. Poverty, inequality, perceived injustice, and so on are among the causes of conflict. Regional disparity and identity and ethnicity issues are also dominant in the region. In mainland India, there are often conflicts based on factors and causes such as religion, caste, class, language, and region (Chattopadhyay 2002; Chenoy et al. 2002; Communalism Combat 2002; Das 1990; Engineer 1989; Hameed et al. 2002; Hazarika 1994; Human Rights Watch 1998; Misra 2000; PUDR 2002; Schofield 2000; Swami 1999; Tambiah 1990).

Conflicts in India are generally seen as ‘low intensity’ warfare. This description, however, conceals serious ramifications of the violence for families, children, and communities. Not only are civilians and non-combatants killed in the fighting, their lives are marred by being caught between two opposite parties, by the virulent state security operations, the militarization of justice, the curbs on individual freedom, and the lack of trust among people living through violence. A large number of people are internally displaced as a result of conflict. Currently, according to one estimate about 500,000 people are permanently displaced as a result of conflict within India (USCR 2000). This is quite apart from the figure of those internally displaced as a result of development projects. A study by the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi, reveals that for every large dam (of which there are 3,300 in India), 44,182 people are displaced. A large proportion of the displaced (57.6 per cent in the case of the Sardar Sarovar Dam) are tribal people. When Dalits are included, the figure rises to 60 per cent. Tribals constitute about 8 per cent of the Indian population and the Dalits about 15 per cent. The disproportionate burden borne by the weaker sections of the Indian population is obvious. Different figures, from about 21 million to a staggering 50 million displaced people in India, are given (Roy 2001; Parasuraman and Unnikrishnan 2000).


Observers note that several socio-economic factors have contributed to the polarization of Pakistani society and the strengthening of violent elements. Political decisions by those in authority, the use of unemployed youth and others undergoing religious studies in madrasas for conflicts in Afghanistan and Kashmir, are seen to have promoted the growth of extremism, resulting in the jihadi culture. The armed jihadis are said to number 200,000, about one-third of the regular Pakistani army. Over a million young people, inclined towards jihad, are said to be behind the 200,000 strong jihadis. According to an Amnesty International report, there are at least 20,000 child soldiers in this group (International Centre for Peace Initiatives 2002), and Pakistani population has about 35 million in the age group of 15‒29 years. A little over a half of this section could be young men and almost 10 per cent of all young men are students or recent graduates of madrasas. The actions of this group will be determined by a variety of economic, social, political, and other factors. The group is restless, turbulent, and belligerent and would wish to capture power by force, bypassing the electoral path. In the long run, Pakistan’s modern institutions could come under the pressure created by the unemployed. However, in the short run, Pakistani elites are opting for modernity against orthodoxy, development over discord, peace over conflict, and friendship with neighbours over support for insurgency movements.

The religious extremist elements in Pakistan are not a homogeneous group. There are internal conflicts among them, which have taken a violent turn in the recent period. However, the influence of external forces over competing internal groups is said to have encouraged the growth of sectarian conflicts in Pakistan. The army is likely to remain a dominant institution in Pakistan, even while sharing power with the political forces in the country. India is Pakistan’s main security concern and the core issue of the conflict remains Kashmir. The creation of an enabling atmosphere for conflict resolution between the two countries will depend on the strength of political will displayed by both countries.

Further, the existence of ethnically-biased or sectarian entities vying for regional and national power has fostered conflict, such as in Sindh; local tensions are exacerbated by political parties that support particular factions as a means of gaining national legitimacy (Mohammed 1994). State control is severely limited in areas such as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and urban slums and ‘dacoit’ strongholds of the Sindh province, where clan spokesmen, criminal leaders, landlords, and local activists sometimes incite violence.

Pakistan has been referred to as the ‘arms bazaar’ of South Asia. There are 1,998,600 licensed weapons in NWFP alone. Any type of weapon can be purchased in NWFP. The sources of arms in Pakistan are domestic production, the Afghan pipeline, stocks from Afghanistan, and legal sources (Karta 2001).

Hindu–Muslim Violence in India

Scholars and others have gone into the nature, causes, patterns, and implications of socio-political violence and their cures in South Asia. In the context of India, it has been generally accepted that the country’s liberal democratic institutional arrangements are more adaptable and resilient than their counterparts in the other South Asian countries, and that India has in place institutional mechanisms of conflict resolution such that the existing socio-political set up is not disrupted. It has also been accepted that while there is no shortage of socio-political violence in India, the country’s social and political heterogeneity would ensure that pressures of social violence do not build up for far too long or to an intolerable degree along any single fault line.

Developments over the last few decades may have put paid to such hopes and expectations. Thanks to the emergence and consolidation of political and social forces of a ‘Hindu nationalist’ kind, it has become increasingly clear that the major fault line of socio-political violence in India today runs along the lines of the historically inherited divide and may even result in a de facto, if not de jure, transformation of the Indian polity in ‘Hindu nationalist’ direction, in contrast to the secular socialist, pluralist, and democratic arrangement made at independence.

According to official reports, in the aftermath of the Partition, the communal situation in the country remained relatively calm. During 1950–63, a total of 1,141 incidents of violence took place. In 1964, a significant year, there were a total of 2,115 incidents. From 1964 to 1970, there was an average of 1,025 a year, as against an average of 81.5 per year during the preceding 14 years. A substantial increase in the number of incidents took place during the 1960s and 1970s owing to a variety of factors such as material interests, inherited prejudices, and so on. During this period, an increasingly explicit anti-Muslim and pro-Hindu bias on the part of the administration and the police began to be manifested in these incidents. Further, a climate of business competition in riot-prone towns such as Meerut, Moradabad, Aligarh, and Jamshedpur was said to be one of the factors causing riots (Roy 1987). Cynical politicking by national leaders of the ruling Congress to woo their ‘vote banks’ led to many conflicts and tension between Hindus and Muslims. Several commissions of enquiry went into these incidents of violence (Ansari 1999).

From the mid-1980s to the 1990s and thereafter, an aggressive form of Hindu communalism has been at work in Indian politics, seeking to hijack the Indian polity in a direction opposed to that established at independence. An official report mentions that 40 major communal riots took place during 1990 in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Maharashtra (GOI 1990–91). Since then, communal violence has been one of the main features of internal disruption and disorder in Indian politics. The rise of ‘Hindu nationalist’ political forces under the rubric of the ‘Sangh Parivar’ (the BJP, VHP, RSS, and the Bajrang Dal) and their acquisition of state power in New Delhi in late 1990s appears to have strengthened the ‘institutionalized riot system’ in certain cities, noticed by a perceptive observer (Brass 1997). This system was clearly perfected in the Gujarat carnage of 2002.

The violent scenario in Gujarat during the period 1987–2002 needs to be taken note of. As noted by many scholars, communal polarization between Hindus and Muslims in the state has had a history and background. The rath yatra led by a ‘Hindu nationalist’ stalwart originated in Gujarat and culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh in December 1992, a defining moment. The demolition was also followed by large-scale communal violence in several states, including Gujarat. Statistics from the Gujarat police show that between 1987 and 1991, 106 major incidents took place in the state. From 1996 to 2000, 88 major and 125 lesser incidents took place. The year 2002 witnessed 17 major incidents and 18 other incidents. The final communal carnage of 27 February 2002 and thereafter has by now been documented in great detail.

In this context, a close linkage between anti-Muslim violence in India and the perception of Pakistan, as a ‘perfidious’ Muslim neighbour, by sections of the Indian public and politicians has been noted. In a communal movement, the government is thematized, but in an ethnic movement, the ‘ethnic other’ is thematized as an enemy of the nation-state. In the latter case, there is a clear majority and a clear minority, which is portrayed as anti-national. After the partition of India in 1947, the idea of the nation-state was etched clearly in the Indian consciousness (Gupta 2002a; 2002b) Pakistan as enemy state figures prominently in India in moments of ethnic strife. The tendency in ethnic movements is to pillory the minorities as traitors to the nation in response to the call of hostile countries.

Several reports, official and non-official, have brought out the basic malaise that afflicts Hindu–Muslim relations in India, which lead to violence between the two communities and remedial measures have been suggested (Ahmad 2002; Ansari 1997, 2002; Das 1990; Engineer 1984; Desai 2002; Manor 1988, 1996; Rai 1999; GOI Reports especially 1978–81, Government of Maharashtra 1998). The most recent instance of violence against the minority community in Gujarat in 2002 was also gone into by an eight-member Citizens’ Tribunal headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court of India, which has since submitted a three-volume report on the subject.

Hindu—Muslim violence in India is not only bad for governance from the Indian point of view but carries unhealthy portents and signals for the rest of South Asia, where Indian developments have important repercussions. This lends relevance to the present analysis.

In this context, observations and recommendations, with governance implications, with regard to Hindu–Muslim violence may be found in (a) reports by the National Police Commission (1978–81) of the Government of India; (b) the Srikrishna Commission Report, 1998; (c) Rai 1999; and (d) reports on the Gujarat violence, 2002. The Srikrishna Commission was appointed by the Government of Maharashtra to inquire into the Hindu–Muslim violence at Mumbai during December 1992 and January 1993. The report of the commission was published in 1998 in two volumes. The violence took place in the immediate aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in the state of Uttar Pradesh by Hindu nationalist forces. It is part of the governance crisis in India that neither the recommendations of the National Police Commission nor those of the Srikrishna Commission, both government-appointed commissions, have yet been implemented.

While there are a number of useful studies on Hindu–Muslim violence in India (see especially, Engineer 1984 and 1989), the report of Vibhuti Narain Rai is important, as the author is a serving senior police officer in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India with a record of persistent Hindu–Muslim violence. The author studied the following major instances of Hindu–Muslim violence in India during the pre-Independence and post-Independence periods: Kanpur (1931); Ranchi (1967); Ahmedabad (1969); Bhiwandi and Jalagaon (1970); Banaras (1977); Jamshedpur (1979); Meerut (1990); Bhagalpur (1989); Ayodhya (1992); Bombay (1992–93). His main findings have not received adequate attention.

Finally, a number of reports have been produced in connection with the major case of anti-minority violence in Gujarat in 2002 (Chenoy et al. 2002; Communalism Combat 2002; CPI (M) 2002; Hameed 2002; Press Institute of India 2002; PUCL 2002; PUDR 2002; Sondhi and Mukerji 2002; Varadarajan 2002). The following analysis draws on these reports. We give detailed attention to the Gujarat case as this has been the most serious such case in India since Independence and also because it symbolizes in a graphic manner the basic crisis of governance that has afflicted India, at least since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 (Subramanian 1999). The recommendations of the Citizens’ Tribunal on Gujarat (2002) have not received the attention they deserve.

The Gujarat genocide 2002 may be examined in some detail as illustrating clearly a sudden and forceful crisis of governance in a region. Sixteen of Gujarat’s 25 districts were engulfed in well-organized armed mob attacks on Muslims between 28 February and 2 March 2002, the period of the most concentrated attacks. The attacks continued till mid-March. Another three districts witnessed sporadic bouts of mob violence on Muslims. Nowhere were the mobs less than 2,000 to 3,000 strong; often they were more than 5,000 in number. This and the fact that the mobs were armed with lethal weapons and the fact that the manner of arson, hacking, and killing of human beings were chillingly similar indicated a carefully laid-out plan of action behind the attacks.

The state-wide violence, which commenced on 28 February 2002 was preceded by the mysterious arson attack on 27 February on one of the coaches of the Sabarmati Express train near the Godhra railway station in Panchmahal district, not far from Ahmedabad, the state capital. Nearly 60 passengers, many of them kar sevaks (volunteers), on their way back from the holy town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh perished in the fire. The controversy over the origin of the fire has not yet been resolved.

A lack of preparation on the part of the administration to prevent the Godhra incident and a wider lack of intent to act to prevent the subsequent violence across the whole state against the minority Muslim community was clearly brought out in the reports. Some of the features of the violence in Gujarat from 28 February were: (a) selective targeting of Muslims; (b) brutality and bestiality of the attacks; (c) unprecedented scale and degree of the violence; (d) loot and destruction of property on an unprecedented scale; (e) military precision and planning behind the attacks; (f ) use of hate speech and hate writing; (g) massive sexual violence against women and girls, and attacks on children; (h) colossal economic destruction; (i) religious and cultural desecration on a massive scale; (j) large-scale preparations for the violence; (k) state complicity; (l) serious violation of rules and regulations by the police, and their active connivance and participation in the violence; and so on.

Godhra is the district capital of Panchmahal district. Two key officials, the district magistrate (DM) and the superintendent of police (SP) operate from there and are responsible for maintaining law and order throughout the district. They are connected by telephone to the state and national capitals and to all the police stations in the district. They have numerous intelligence officers reporting to them. In disturbed times such as the present, they have to coordinate steps on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and even minute-to-minute basis. They must function as a team and provide leadership to their staff throughout the district. There is a police control room in the district, which monitors developments and provides information to these functionaries. The system of district administration, created and placed in position by the British has been the key to political stability in the country throughout the colonial and post-colonial period. In addition to these administrative arrangements, there are Central government institutions such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the railway police, and a major railway station, all located in Godhra. It is easy to remain in touch with these units and to get inputs to maintain law and order in the district. There is also a large Central government intelligence set-up and a state government agency as well, whose personnel are located in the district headquarters and often report to the DM and the SP.

During the last decade, Gujarat has been a major participant in the Ramjanmabhumi agitation, which has polarized society as never before. The state has contributed perhaps the largest number of volunteers (kar sevaks) for the VHP/BJP- sponsored temple construction programme at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. Considering the feverish activity in that town, there had been a large volume of traffic from Godhra railway station to Ayodhya and back throughout the period of heightened tension related to the construction of the temple, which was slated to start on 15 March 2002. The kar sevaks had been harassing Muslim vendors of tea and eatables in their journeys from Godhra to Ayodhya and back. Press reports indicate clashes between these two categories of people. Still, the district administration remained somnolent, neither collecting information nor taking any action on intelligence inputs, on activities which could pose a threat to law and order management in the district.

Even after the arson attack at the Godhra railway station, there were no serious steps taken by the district administration to avert the further disasters that occurredc in Godhra. No preventive arrests were made. No action under Section 144 of the CrPC was taken. In fact, the administration went out of the way to cooperate with the wishes of the political executive in their disastrous decision to take the dead bodies in procession from the Godhra railway station to Ahmedabad an act specifically prohibited according to the detailed instructions of the Government of India (Mullik 1966). The district authorities in Godhra were guilty of serious dereliction of duty.

A similar pattern of inactivity was seen subsequently in Ahmedabad where continuous anti-Muslim rioting took place for several weeks following the Godhra incident on 27 February. All known canons of administrative behaviour in relation to communal incidents established by the Government of India and regularly adopted by the administration in the country so far were totally ignored, except in isolated cases by a few district officials posted in a few field formations away from the state headquarters. Not only did mobs of rioters roam the streets freely attacking and destroying Muslim property and killing, raping, and maiming innocent Muslim men, women and children and terrorizing them, but large numbers of policemen actively took part in the violence and facilitated it.

Official information furnished to the Election Commission of India (2002), indicated that 20 out of 25 districts in the state were regarded as ‘affected areas’ for purposes of relief distribution. The additional director general of police (intelligence) of the state government further informed the Election Commission of India (2002) that 151 towns and 993 villages, covering 154 out of the 182 Assembly constituencies in the state and 284 police stations out of a total of 464, were affected by violence. The two metropolitan cities of Ahmedabad and Vadodara were among the worst affected areas. The failings and omissions of the administration in dealing with the violence as per existing law and procedure are clear from various reports, including those of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Apart from the Constitution of India and the UN Conventions and norms adopted by India, the criminal law and procedure to deal with violence of the kind perpetrated in Gujarat are quite detailed and clear. These are supplemented by statutory instructions and guidelines issued from time to time (Mullik 1966). The basic law is contained in the Police Act, the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act. The reports of the first-ever National Police Commission (1979–81) of India summarize the experience of implementation from Independence onwards.

Briefly, the Police Act, 1861 delineates the structure and duties of the Indian police. These include execution of lawful orders and warrants issued by the competent authority; collection and communication of intelligence affecting public order; prevention of crime and public nuisance; bringing offenders to justice and arresting persons liable to be arrested; independent performance of duties without the need for any clearance from above; liability for departmental action and punishment for any remissness; and so on. The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 provides powers to arrest without warrant 11 categories of persons even on suspicion; use of force in effecting arrests in case of resistance; search without warrant; use of force in the dispersal of unlawful assemblies; preventive arrests; and arrests on suspicion of commission of cognizable offences or injury to public property. Safeguards are provided in the Police Act, the CrPC, the IPC, and in the Constitution of India. The laws existed before the adoption of the Constitution of India.

Strictly speaking, the laws were not ‘constitutionalized’, when the Constitution came into existence but became part of the criminal law of the land. The reports of the National Police Commission (NPC) lists the tasks of the police such as investigation, prevention and service provision; and provides that the executive cannot interfere with the investigative process, though overall guidance and supervision by the executive is permitted with regard to prevention and service provision. The NPC notes that discretionary enforcement of law in dealing with public order situations is a typical instance of the exertion of pressure on the police by politicians. Potent weapons in the hands of politicians, in this connection, are incentives for career advancement, threats of drastic punishment, penal administrative action including transfers and suspensions from duty, and so on. In view of this, the NPC has recommended that the police chief of the state should be selected from a panel of officers to be prepared by a statutory commission composed of distinguished persons, including the leader of opposition in the state legislative assembly. In spite of this, the NPC notes that executive orders of doubtful validity are often passed and obeyed by pliant bureaucrats.

If a no-nonsense and non-partisan approach had been followed by the administration after the Godhra incident of 27 February and prompt arrests of potential troublemakers had been made, tension could have been contained. And the chances of a vengeful and organized spree of retaliatory killings would have been pre-empted. That this did not happen suggests a lack of intent on the part of those in government to take prompt preventive measures in order to de-escalate the situation. At Godhra, there is always one State Reserve Police (SRP) Company on duty. A Railway Protection Force (RPF) contingent is posted at Godhra railway station, with 42 policemen. Further, two constables per reserved compartment are normally posted in a running train. The fact that kar sevaks were expected on this route and the fact that Godhra has a fragile communal history should have been sufficient to institute additional precautionary deployment of force. Besides, Godhra, as district headquarters, has sufficient police deployment including armed police, a control room, a town police station with eight police posts, all equipped with telephones, plus a sub-divisional police station. It is also the headquarters of an SRP battalion and has a municipal fire brigade. All these factors are enough to make any responsible citizen feel that adequate preventive action was deliberately avoided before and after the Godhra arson attack.

Some features of police behaviour in this context are briefly (a) police participation in the violence; (b) illegal registration of FIRs; (c) omnibus FIRs; (d) FIRs without names of the accused; (e) deliberate obfuscation of the identity of the accused; (f) victimization of the minority community; (g) unprofessional investigations with real culprits not arrested; (h) no identification parades; (i) malicious combing operations in minority community areas; (j) no relief to rape victims; (k) no action against errant media publishing legally actionable reports; (l) no action against the VHP/Bajrang Dal activists behind the violence; (m) non-implementation of the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC); (n) non-use of the Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976; (o) non-use of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984; and so on.

Other Patterns of Violence in India

The following official data (Tables 9.1 to 9.4) on increasing violence against women and children in certain conflict-affected areas of India are unmistakable indicators of the ‘violence of development’ (Kapadia 2003).


Table 9.1 Selected Conflict-affected States in India: Incidents of Violence, 1997–2001

Source: Government of India, 2001–2.


Table 9.2 Selected Conflict-affected States in India: Strength of Police Forces, 2001–02

Source: Government of India, 2001–2.


Table 9.3 Selected Conflict-affected States in India: Offences against Women (Indian Penal Code), 1991 & 1998

Source: NHDR, 2001.


Table 9.4 Selected Conflict-affected States in India: Offences against Women and Children (Special and Local Laws), 1998 (per million population)

Source: NHDR, 2001.


Humane Governance in South Asia

‘Good governance’ came on the agenda of policy-makers in the early 1990s. The concept received impetus in the wake of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Good governance in South Asia has to enable the state, the civil society, and the private sector to broad-base economic growth and social development as a means to greater human development and increased human welfare. The governance debate must be expanded to capture the growing realization that people are moving to the centre stage in dialogues on political and economic change. It is to be related to the family of concepts emerging in the 1990s such as ‘human development’ (UNDP 1990), ‘human security’ (UNDP 1994), and ‘humane governance’ (MHDC 1999).

In South Asia, the role of formal and informal institutions is evolving from a colonial past but the progress is uneven, and not always positive. In some countries, there is increasing apprehension that progress towards democracy has not brought about an advance towards a rule-based society. Formal institutions have been in decline and informal rules, connections, and processes have gained ground and are impeding good governance. In discussing the role of the state, civil society, and the private sector, special attention must be given to institutional decline in police, judiciary, and civil service as well as to success stories in institutional development.

Government has to be accountable to people. Every branch of government’ executive, legislative, judiciary, bureaucracy, forces of law and order, employees of public services’have to be civil as well as provide service. While political democracy has taken root in the region, the distance between the rulers and the people remains vast. At all levels, those who have public authority, fail to meet the criteria of civility and service. The malaise is due to low levels of education, bias against women and minorities, the oppressive legacy of an imperial past, persistence of feudalism and superstition, and the weakness or absence of institutions which can interpose themselves between the people and their rulers.

In South Asia, the basics of good political governance are not enough to ensure effective delivery of public goods and services, stable law and order, and prompt and affordable justice. The problems of lawlessness in the region have grown in recent years, and the provision of speedy and inexpensive justice remains a dream. Furthermore, corruption is widespread, precluding the channelling of development resources to the intended beneficiaries. High population growth rates and constrained fiscal resources have compounded the problems of political governance. The chief sources of poor political governance in the region are over-centralization of state powers, limited transparency and accountability of elected representatives and bureaucrats, and deficiency in the means to articulate the needs and aspirations of the people.

The 1999 Mahbub-ul-Haq Report on Human Development in South Asia (MHDC 1999) defines humane governance as good governance dedicated to securing human development. It requires effective participation of people in state, civil society, and private-sector activities that are conducive to human development. The report argues that, in the context of South Asia, the concept of good governance has to be broadened and refined; it has to go beyond good politics or even good economic management. Humane governance, as defined, must lead to broad-based economic growth and social development as a means to greater human development. The people must see governance as operating in their own interests—transparent and accountable to all its constituents, and conducive to building a society in which all believe they are treated fairly and decently.

Humane governance is conceptualized in three interlocking dimensions’good political governance, good economic governance, and good civic governance. Good political governance emphasizes the rule of law, accountability, and transparency. It seeks to achieve these goals through a constitutional framework that is not easily amendable, free and fair multi-party elections, and a clear separation of powers among the executive, judiciary and legislative branches of the government. Good economic governance emphasizes the role of the state not only in securing macroeconomic stability, guaranteeing property rights, removing market distortions, and eliminating rent-seeking opportunities, but is also concerned with investment in people and basic infrastructure, protection of the natural environment, and a progressive and equitable fiscal system to promote economic growth with social justice. The third dimension of humane governance is good civic governance. The broader civil society groups, including households, media, professional groups, and business (both formal and informal), are increasingly seen as vital in securing fundamental human, political, and economic rights. These rights are implicit in good economic and political governance but are rarely available to those excluded from the formal structures of power. These are women, the poor and ethnic, and religious minorities.

South Asian states have to follow a new set of new policies to bring the people back into the process of humane governance as suggested in the South Asia Human Development Report (MHDC 1999).




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