A petty theft, kidnapping for ransom, prolonged incidents of communal violence in a region, Naxal activities in a geographically large area of a state: What do you think is common to all these apparently diverse phenomena?
Economics is the driving force behind all of them. Most of these crimes, specially communal and caste riots, do not take place for the apparent reasons that are usually assigned to them almost instantly. The media focus their reporting on the petty incidents that create the so-called spark. Activities of anti-socials begin to get projected for the next few days. Many times these get prolonged, and tend to get politicised in the most predictable ways. In fact, these steps are now so well programmed that an observant person can almost script out the media reports of the next five days. The typical government reaction to these riots is to set up of a Commission of Inquiry. The terms of reference of these commissions are also as standardised and predictable as the reporting by the media of such incidents.
Having seen so many Commissions of Inquiry reports on riots, I have observed that these have all gyrated around the details of the incidents and the faults of the administrative machinery. Rarely did I chance to see a report, which could provide any deep insight into the causes and, therefore, some clue to possible lasting solution to the problem.
Right from the beginning of my career in the police when I was dealing with petty crimes, I used to be thoughtful about what really provided the impetus to the criminals to do what they do. What is the final outcome of all the crimes that get committed? Is there something that can be termed as a common outcome?
Before I dwell on the communal incidents, I will talk on how this concept of economics, which in my opinion is the driving force of a majority of crimes, was applied to the issue of kidnapping for ransom that plagued the Champaran region of Bihar for a very long time. When I joined that place as SP, I began by analysing the economics of this activity called kidnapping for ransom.
Soon I found that the ransom money the gangsters received against kidnapping was peanuts, not even sufficient to sustain the establishment cost of the gang. I started looking around for the right reasons for kidnapping. It was not long before I reached the conclusion that these gangs were covertly running the business of “forest felling”, “international smuggling”, “illegal mining”, “illegal selling of sugarcane challans”. These were the major sources of money of these gangsters. The kidnapping they committed did not produce “ransom”. Instead, it produced terror which made their money-spinning illegal activities easy to operate. Once I understood their dynamics, I started hitting at these illegal activities directly, which put the plans of these gangsters in disarray, making it easy for me to tackle the kidnapping menace. I was promoted before due date and shifted.
On January 26, 2006, the government of Bihar issued a notification creating the Bhagalpur Communal Riot Judicial Inquiry Commission consisting of retired justice N.N. Singh of the Patna high court. This was by itself not in any way an explosive decision considering the fact that the Bhagalpur communal riots, which had changed the political course of this country in many ways, happened almost 17 years before this decision was taken. Another commission had already done what commissions usually do in such situations, that is submit a report. The reason why this commission of 2006 is being referred to is due to two terms of reference that are different from most of the earlier commissions created in this country to look into communal riots. I deem it appropriate to quote this verbatim so that the import comes out in all its dimensions and paradigms:
III. “To inquire and find whether distress/duress sale of properties in the riot affected areas have taken place. If so the circumstances under which this had happened including identifying persons responsible.”
IV. “To consider, suggest and supervise the ways and scheme for rehabilitation and rendering relief to the victims in the Bhagalpur Riot and particularly for restoring their possession over the land and houses from where they may have been uprooted forcibly and criminally”.
These two terms of reference were definitely new and have far reaching implications. It also helps to understand the “economics of communal/caste riots”. The commission did a thorough job of it, gathering all documented data on transfer of property in the riot affected area, summoning all the sellers of such property, examining them under oath and submitting the finding in the most reasonable way expected of any commission. It is beyond the physical scope of this article to quote the results. Suffice it to say the commission came to the conclusion that properties were transferred under distress/duress and it also recommended legal ways for the restoration of these properties which had been transferred forcibly and criminally.
The commission submitted its report almost a year ago. However, the victims of the distress/duress sale of Bhagalpur riots who have been so assiduously identified in the report along with the persons who are now the owners of property got through forcible/criminal eviction under the cover of legal transfer of property, which was in actual a result of distress/duress sale, have yet to feel the impact of the decisive action of the state government.