Monday, January 29, 2007

India: Alcoholism fuels religious riots

People from the upper castes used alcohol and money to incite Hindus to launch riots against Muslims in Gujarat state, India, say members of a local community peace association.

The committee of 30 neighborhood volunteers, including both Hindus and Muslims, has set itself the mission of trying to stop more riots before they occur. Since a giant pogrom against Muslims in 2002 (photo), in which more than 1,000 lost their lives and hundreds of houses were looted, community tensions have been high.

The association's members say that most communal violence is “created” and is seldom the “spontaneous outburst” that it is touted to be. In their ward, fights usually start when drunkards come to buy the food sold at the laris (pushcarts), many of which are owned by Muslims.

“It will start with abuses, then they will fight, someone will get beaten up, and one group will organise a mob,” says Solanki, one of the members. Adds Shaikh, another member: “It is under the influence of liquor that people throw stones and fight — in our area, alcoholism is the biggest problem.”

Though prohibition is in force in Gujarat, illicit brewing and sale of liquor is widespread in the state. As one of its first initiatives, the association hopes to enlist the community’s help in stopping bootlegging in the locality. Details.

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