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Prevention of communal violence is a duty of public health activists

August 22, 2021

By Dr Arun Mitra

The incident of shouting highly communalized slogans and chanting genocide of Muslims and also that they be thrown out of India by a mob of Hindutva goons with police watching as mute spectator is not a new thing.  The difference however is that this incident has happened at Jantar Mantar in proximity to the Parliament. Till date neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister have uttered a single word to condemn it. Even in his Independence day speech the Prime Minister took no notice of this. Their silence is intriguing. Encouraged with government’s covert support, an incident of similar type occurred in Kanpur just after three days. In this case the accused got bail in the Police station itself

Earlier too we have seen crowds forcing people to chant Jai Shri Ram. Many innocents have faced mob lynching something hitherto unknown in our country. All this is not spontaneous but apparently a part of the pre-planned strategy of the Hindutva brigade to vitiate the atmosphere and generate communal riots so that the situation is then utilized to further their agenda at a time when elections in some parts of the country are a few months away. As a result of such incidents social cohesion becomes weak and health is a major casualty.

Not many have been left alive to tell the tale of partition of the country when the communal frenzy led to the death of more than 20 lakh people including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In such events the mobs are made to believe that the people from other community and ethnic groups are a threat to them. These mobs do not spare even liberals belonging their own community so as to silence any sane voice among them.

Rwanda is an example of modern times where in just 100 days in 1994, about 8 lakh people were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists who targeted members of the minority Tutsi community, as well as their political opponents, irrespective of their ethnic origin. Neighbours killed neighbours and some husbands even killed their Tutsi wives, saying they would be killed if they refused.

That perpetrators of violence have no mercy is apparent from the scenes of 9 year old daughter of the person being beaten at Kanpur who kept on begging mercy, but that had little effect on the goons. The child is now under extreme stress and has been refusing to eat food.

In any violent situation health bears the major brunt. Health effects are in the form of physical injury, death, nutritional deficiencies, mental stress etc. Women, children and the elderly are the worst victims. A study carried out by the IPPNW Kenya affiliate – One Bullet Story, of a teenager from D R Congo who was shot in the face and treated in Nairobi by an IPPNW doctor, was shown to United Nations delegates at an international meeting on small arms as well as many other venues. Cost of treatment in this case was $ 6000. This amount is sufficient to meet the expenditure of One year of primary education for 100 children/ 8 years of secondary education for 10 children/ Full immunizations for 250 children/ 1 1/2 years education for a medical student.

Thus Violence Prevention is a Public Health Issue. “Violence can lead to premature death or cause non-fatal injuries. People who survive violent crime endure physical pain and suffering and may also experience mental distress and reduced quality of life. Repeated exposure to crime and violence may be linked to an increase in negative health outcomes” 1.

Children exposed to violence may experience behavioural problems, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They may also show increased signs of aggression starting in upper-elementary school.

The effects of exposure to violence in childhood may be seen in adulthood and can result in greater risk for substance use, risky sexual behaviour, and unsafe driving behaviour. Individuals exposed to violence at any age are more likely to engage in and experience intimate partner violence. Women exposed to intimate partner violence have an increased risk of physical health issues such as injuries, and mental health disorders such as disordered eating, depression and suicidal ideation 2.

During any communal/ ethnic riot of serious nature the people are displaced and forced to live in the make shift camps. The condition in these places is generally awful. There is shortage of clean drinking water, proper sanitation, and food. A long stay of the people in such places can lead to nutritional deficiencies. The private family life is disturbed. Children loose their schooling. There is always an increased risk of sexual violence against women.

The perpetrators of communal frenzy have agenda with them. Many a times there are personal prejudices or business rivalries. Other times they intentionally want to split the society for their political gains. These have long standing implications on the society.

For a public health professional and activist it is an important duty to prevent such violence and save the social cohesion. It is important for them to speak out forcefully against any kind of violence. Engage the youth in positive activity. Try to prevent any violent reaction by the community/ group who are at the receiving end as this gives an alibi to the perpetrators to justify their communal propaganda and violence. Liberals should not take the events lying down, they must speak vociferously

It is important to select the people who are not rabidly communal but have been swayed away momentarily. They can be engaged in a positive dialogue. It is only through a conscious humanitarian and secular outlook that nefarious designs of the violence promoters can be countered. The experience of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD) in this regard through people to people dialogue, media writings and engagement with authorities has been quite encouraging and yielded tangible results. Some times taking stand in front of mobs can prevent untoward happenings. 

Dr. Mitra is co-president of IPPNW. This article was originally published by India Press Agency (IPA) Newspack.

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