One after another, Indian states are burning in the fire of communal violence while we sit in our homes, unaware that these flames can reach our doors at any time. While data highlights a decreasing trend in communal violence, the washed-away ash and walls of half-burnt houses convey a rather different image.
For the past 5 months, the north-eastern state of Manipur has been constantly burning in the flames of communal violence. According to the official data, the violence killed around 200 people and displaced more than 70,000 people. The north-eastern state continued to burn while the majority of Indians were occupied watching the live telecast of the G20 summit. Not just Manipur, but numerous Indian states experienced communal clashes in 2023, with major incidents recorded during the Ram Navami festival. Nevertheless, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there has been a constant decline in violence in India. So, is there really a steady decline, or are we reading the graph upside-down?
According to the data by the NCRB, during 2014-2017, 3508 incidents of communal violence were reported in the country, which claimed the lives of 75 people. However, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) answers in the Lok Sabha, India saw 2920 instances of intercommunal violence, which resulted in the deaths of 389 people. This significant discrepancy between the NCRB and MHA statistics is one of the main causes of scepticism about the decline in incidences of communal violence. The government claims that the primary cause of the data mismatch is the grouping of the data. NCRB gathers police-registered (FIR) incidents of communal violence from states, and numerous FIRs might be filed in the same occurrence, but MHA data is not dependent on FIR.
This argument appears logical, yet the government’s own data pulls it into doubt. NCRB data, according to this theory, should be greater than MHA figures. However, according to 2017 data, the NCRB documented 723 incidents and 16 deaths, whereas MHA data shows 823 cases and 111 deaths due to communal violence in India. Factly writes,
For 2014, there was a discrepancy between the numbers reported by the NCRB and MHA for as many as 23 states/UTs. Strangely, in states such as Haryana, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, the numbers reported by the NCRB were way higher than the ones reported by the MHA, whereas in states such as Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh, the MHA numbers were higher than those reported by the NCRB.
This trend was repeated in 2015 and 2016, where the discrepancy was observed in as many as 24 and 25 states/UTs respectively.
Another substantial reason to question the reliability of the data is that the NCRB does not collect disaggregated data on attacks against certain communities. This results in the formation of a hazy image of communal violence in India. According to data from the United Christian Forum (UCF), 525 attacks on Christians took place in India during the first eight months of 2023. This data on attacks on only one community in 8 months outnumbers NCRB data on communal violence incidents in the year 2021.
What’s concerning here is not just the reliability of the data but also the government’s refutation of communal violence in the country. Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, stated that no riots occurred in the state between 2017 and 2021. However, according to NCRB data, there were 35,040 incidents of rioting between 2017 and 2021.In the last two to three years, there has been not only rebuttal but also systematic planned action against a specific community in the aftermath of communal conflicts. Since the 2020 Delhi riots, there has been a spike in false police charges against Muslims, as well as arbitrary demolitions of their properties.
While the government and its statistics are busy establishing a decrease in communal violence, a report by the Pew Research Centre graded India 9.4/10, first on the Social Holistics Index (SHI) 2020, worse than its own score of 2019. (A High score indicates an increase in communal clashes.)
A recent report by the NCRB reveals a steady decline in the last 50 years. What’s questionable is a sharp decline in cases during every NDA’s regime and an increase in cases during the UPA’s rule. Not only this, but reports from several International Human Rights Organisations (IHRO) concerned with a decrease in religious freedom in the nation conflict with data indicating religious harmony and a decline in communal violence.
While multiple IHRO reports labelled India an “Electoral Autocracy”, and demoted it on the Democracy Index, the Indian government refuses to recognise or debate any of these reports. The growing religious hostility we witness around us raises the question, “Are we really heading towards communal harmony, or is this just a mirage?”
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