There has been terrible violence in India’s Assam region recently and the violence has spread to other parts of India. Since this is a blog on China, not India, I am not going to dig too much into the cause or even meaning of the riots. But I do want to point out the relatively “favorable” coverage India is getting.
In almost all reports I see, India is cast as the force of stability (and humanity), with the forces of conniving politicians and ethnic-based politics the root of instability. By comparison, when ethnic violence occurs in China, the opposite story is told, with ethnic-based politics held in high regard (under the guise of “human rights”) and any efforts to stabilize the situation seen as somehow oppressive and barbaric.
You see this fairly uniformly across Western media in all Western countries, including even self-professed “independent” news sources such as the global post. Here is a recent article global post had on Tibetan self immolations – which place the blame squarely on China. The Tibetans who burned themselves – and by extension the Tibetans who rioted in 2008 – were seen as oppressed people who had a right to riot, to fight back and were cheered on for their presumptive courage. There was never a reference to the official Chinese perspective on what’s really going on.
By contrast, here is an excerpt of global post’s recent article on Assam.
As ethnically distinct Indians from the country’s northeastern states flee in panic from some of India’s most forward-looking metropolises, the ugly Indian phenomenon of “riot politics” looks poised for a comeback.
Too often in India’s history, whether in Gujarat in 2002, Ayodha in 1992 or New Delhi in 1984, political leaders of all stripes have encouraged or capitalized on inter-ethnic violence to polarize the electorate and distract voters from issues — like their failure to provide power, water and roads — that go beyond caste and creed. Academics like Ashutosh Varshney and Steven I Wilkinson have argued convincingly that India’s riots are rarely, if ever, the spontaneous eruptions of rage they may appear to be from outside. Rather, “parties that represent elites within ethnic groups” use anti-minority protests, demonstrations and physical attacks that precipitate riots in order to “encourage members of their wider ethnic category to identify with their party and the ‘majority’ identity to rather than a party that is identified with economic redistribution or some ideological agenda,” as Wilkinson once put it in an essay for The Economic and Political Weekly.
So it looks like that the real issues of politics – even of democratic discourse – should be on concrete matters – matters such as like the government’s ability to provide power, water and roads. It’s not on ethnic-based politics that polarize the populace and distract citizens from the goal of substantive development.
Why are basic truths such as this always missing in reports regarding ethnic violence in China?
So is that what we’re witnessing now?
This July, seemingly spontaneous violence erupted in the northeast Indian state of Assam, with members of the Bodo tribe clashing with Bengali-speaking Muslims. Local Bodo leaders and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwarts like L.K. Advani immediately argued that the cause of the conflict was illegal immigration from Bangladesh, a regular feature of the right wing fear campaign that proposes a (fictional)* Muslim horde is fast overwhelming India’s Hindu majority.** On social media, right-leaning tweeters and bloggers slammed Indian television channels for their tardiness in covering the attacks — arguing that a pro-Congress party bias prevented NDTV and CNN/IBN from publicizing riots in a Congress-ruled state, in contrast to the media frenzy that followed the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in BJP-ruled Gujarat.
In the end, around 80 people were reportedly killed (far fewer than in Gujarat, incidentally). But some 400,000 people were forced to flee from their homes. Rioters set fire to houses, schools and public buses. Eventually, the central government deployed para military troops and 13 columns of the army to the affected areas–issuing shoot-on-sight orders and enforcing a curfew in the district that was the epicenter of the violence.
This is where a legally-prescribed sense of professionalism need to be built into the media. You can call it censorship, or whatever. But influential constituents of society – especially media and influential bloggers – should never have a free rein to fan the public’s fears when the fears are palpable and can turn into violence that tear apart the basic fabric of a society.
Some people may think that the solution to the problem of free speech is more speech. That sounds good as a worthwhile goal, perhaps. Thus, as Justice Louis Brandeis said once, “Sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
But one must not be blind to reality; one should always take into account facts on the ground.
If you have a bunch of hateful racists – more speech by them is not going to reveal to them their hateful ways. More speech will only fan their hatred. If you allow drug manufacturers to make claims and counter claims about each other’s drugs to the public, misinformation and confusion, not the truth, will emerge. Free speech does not necessarily beget truth. In fact truth often can only derive from highly regulated discourse (think the scientific process, peer review, where truth requires rigorous processes and does not come about merely winning popular contest in the marketplace of information, or disinformation, as the case may be).
In any case, the proposition that we should let people have laissez faire right to do whatever they want – that over time they will come to their senses – that is absurd. Irresponsible speech must be regulated as any conduct with real consequences is.
Next the article goes into how rumorism and inciteful speech may be at the bottom of the recent spate of violence across India.
Various sources traced the start of the violence to the alleged murder of four Bengali-speaking Muslims, which the police failed to solve, or to the killing of four former Bodo Liberation Tigers on July 20, or to the death of two Bodo student leaders on July 4. Rumors spread that the state’s Muslims had planned the violence in advance, and that the Bodos had amassed weapons before the riots broke out in preparation for a pogrom. And, of course, everybody chose whichever version best suited his political views on Bangladeshi migrants, the Congress Party, and the supposed Muslim peril. (See “The Myth of the Bangladeshi and Violence in Assam” here).
This month, the violence has spread to other states, with Muslim groups apparently targeting ethnic minorities from the northeast (not only Bodos) in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune.
Mumbai police on Sunday arrested and charged 23 people with murder, following weekend riots that resulted in the death of two people and serious injuries to more than 50 others, according to News Live.
The police suspect that the violence was pre-meditated and allege that unspecified instigators spread the word through Facebook and text messages, News Live said.
Meanwhile, police in nearby Pune have claimed that attacks on people from the northeast in that city may have been linked to the Mumbai incident, as the same video clips (of killings in Myanmar) were used to incite violence there.
Senior police officials said it appears that the video clips were being circulated in a most systematic manner to threaten peace and engineer riots, India’s Daily News & Analysis newspaper reported.
Across the country, thousands of northeasterners living in Bangalore piled into trains for Guwahati (in Assam) on Wednesday night, after rumors spread that they, too, would soon be targeted for violent attacks, the Hindu reports.
I am truly surprised by how little sympathy the global post shows for the rioters. Their acts are described as murders, violence. I could find no word that gleefully roots for the oppressed to rise up for more.
The article goes on:
All that would be bad enough, but things promise to get worse, if India’s notoriously cynical politicians succeed in turning these riots into an election issue — thus guaranteeing that the bad feelings fester and eventually boil over again.
After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s lackluster Independence Day speech Wednesday, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi should have had plenty to criticize him for — given that the PM essentially repeated the excuses he’s been mouthing for the past two years. But in focusing on the riots, and Bangladeshi migrants, he hinted that the man who once called relief camps for Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots “breeding centers” has not undergone a complete transformation.
“The infiltration of Bangladeshis in India is becoming an issue of concern. Assam (violence) is just a small example of it becoming a major problem for the nation,” Modi said, according to the Daily Bhaskar.
“Why the Prime Minister has remained silent on the violence in Mumbai, while he expressed remorse on the violent protests in Assam? Why this dual standards? How can a Prime Minister of a country be mum on such a serious incident?”
The prime minister should, indeed, have taken the opportunity to speak on behalf of India’s long, beleaguered effort to keep the peace among its many disparate ethnic groups. But if the alternative is to whip up passions with dubious assertions, as Modi suggests, keeping mum wins hands down.
Finally, the article concludes by trying to cast India, despite the violence, in a good light. India – despite its gross incompetence (incompetency that really should be at the core of democratic discourse, as the article posited in the beginning) – is really the political victim. India may be incompetent; its leaders may harbor double standards, may even be hateful. But India is the light forward. It is the peace maker – the do gooder. India must overcome forces that will take advantage of people’s differences. People of different ethnicity in India must come together as one; they must work to live and work peacefully together. Violence is not the way forward.
Of course, you will never hear any of these reasoned narratives that promote peace, harmony and stability when it comes to reports about China. And by rare chance if you do, you will only hear it smeared as some sort of tired and oppressive government propaganda.
Some random images culled from the web on the riot in the last few weeks.