As the country awaits the ruling of the Allahabad high court on the Ayodhya title suit with unease and foreboding, it is instructive to note that a whole generation has grown up since the cycle of violence associated with the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute that started in 1990.
Communal violence in India might have had its ups and downs, but has never gone away. Relative to the violent 1990s, the first decade of the new millennium appears to have been more peaceful. But only just so. India continues to bleed, slowly and silently. There were 6,541 incidents of communal clashes between 2001 and 2009, leaving behind 2234 dead and 21460 injured.
These are figures put out by the ministry of home affairs, and may well be under-estimates. About half of these violent deaths took place in one year, and one state — Gujarat in 2002. Even if you leave out Gujarat for a moment, 1,104 people have been killed in over 5,800 incidents of communal violence since 2001 — that is, an average of 130 lives lost in over 600 violent clashes between religious fanatics, every year running.
In addition, there has been the escalation of terror strikes — the hidden bomb, the indiscriminate firing and the like. Since 2001, there have been 28 major bomb blasts taking the lives of 990 people and injuring 2,791 others. This was not there in the 1990s, and lends a dramatic dimension to the activities of religious terrorists.
It is difficult to estimate aggregate economic losses due to communal violence or bomb blasts. Thousands of lives are affected by wages lost, business turned away, school hours wasted, etc.
The Mumbai riots of 1992-93 after the demolition of the Babri Masjid are estimated to have led to losses of a jaw-dropping Rs 9,000 crore, while the Gujarat killings in 2002 are said to have cost Rs.600 crore.
Can the country afford it yet again? The simmering, below-the-surface communal tensions are kept alive by an incendiary mixture of politics with religion. It was this that propelled the nineties into the nightmare of violence, and it is a small retreat from this that has given people some peace in this decade. But, as the statistics for 2001-2009 show, the seeds of bigotry lay buried deep, and may burst forth with a new harvest of hatred in the coming days.
For the younger generation, the 1990 were an unpleasant nightmare. They look forward to peace and harmony. That is why, there is unease at today’s judgment. Will it mark a turn for more bloodshed? Can India really afford it anymore?