The new outburst of violence between Hindus and Muslims in India that began on 27th February with the burning to death of 58 Hindus on a train has now claimed the lives of at least 295 people. The true figure may be far higher. Men, women and even young children have been the victims of brutal massacres in several parts of the state of Gujarat, some of them being doused in petrol and set alight. The papers have been quick to describe this as the fruit of “deep-rooted sectarian grievances” (Guardian 1/3/02), explaining that the Hindus on the train were returning from a ceremony in Ayodha to dedicate the building of a new temple on a disputed religious site. In 1992, Hindu nationalists destroyed the Ayodha mosque and in the violence that followed some 3,000 people died.
The Indian Government and opposition parties issued a joint statement calling for peace, while troops were sent in to keep peace and a strict curfew was imposed. The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee has cancelled plans to attend the Commonwealth summit in Australia in order to deal with the situation. However, the Indian state is not quite the shocked onlooker it presents itself as. In the first place, many of the Muslims, who have been the principle target of the riots since the burning of the train, have had their pleas for help ignored by the police. In city of Ahmedabad, the centre of the violence, all of the inhabitants of one Muslim enclave were burnt to death. To date only 900 troops have arrived to police this city of some 5 million people. In the second place, the current government is dominated by the BJP, which came to power by provoking Hindu sectarianism against Muslims. While the leadership of the BJP today appeals for restraint, in 1992 many of them participated in the destruction of the Ayodha mosque.
However, the violence in India today is no more the simple reflection of ‘deep-rooted sectarian grievances’ than is the case in the former Yugoslavia or Northern Ireland. While such tensions are a historical reality, they are subordinate to the forces that shape the capitalist system that dominates the globe. Sectarian violence, wherever it appears and whatever its original causes, is always subsumed within the political and imperialist struggles of the ruling class. In the Indian sub-continent, one of the determining factors has been the rivalry between India and Pakistan which, since their independence from Britain in 1947, have remained in a state of open or covert war. This reached a new peak in the new year when it seemed that open war was possible, as India piled the pressure on Pakistan following the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13th. However, this situation itself was but a result of the global imperialist struggle which, since the USA’s declaration of the ‘war against terrorism’ has seen changes in the balance of political forces in many parts of the world, even when apparently unconnected with Afghanistan. In the sub-continent, as we showed in this paper last month (see WR 251, ‘Against capitalism’s war drive in India and Pakistan’), this has been expressed in a weakening of Pakistan’s position because of its support for the Taliban, a situation which the India government has sought to exploit.
The Indian and Pakistani governments may or may not have directly orchestrated the latest violence, but it is their imperialist rivalry that sets up the dynamic that produces such violence; meanwhile, behind these third rate powers stand those of the second and first ranks whose manoeuvrings determine the whole global situation.
And while the bourgeois factions and nations manoeuvre, it is the exploited and the oppressed who pay the price. The vast majority of those burnt and beaten to death are the poor, the slum-dwellers, the proletarians. What is more, every religious or racial slaughter is a blow against the ability of the working class to unite and fight back against growing poverty and war. Indeed, it is a prefiguration of the dark future that capitalism in its death agony offers humanity, a world where the exploited have lost all hope and plunge into hell with their hands round each others’ throats. But that future is not yet assured; and we who raise the flag of workers’ unity are not idle dreamers, but the only ones who point to an alternative future for mankind.