The Riot by Khushwant Singh
In The Riot by Khushwant Singh we have the theme of fear, hostility, religion, control, conflict and change. Taken from his The Portrait of a Lady and Other Stories collection the reader realises from the setting of the story that Singh is exploring the theme of fear. People are afraid to leave their homes at night. It is as though their lives are a risk due to the lack of partitioning and each side has hatred for the other or at least are hostile towards one another. This may be significant as Singh may be highlighting or suggesting that the partitioning of India may be a necessity. On paper it might have seemed like the right thing to do. However without doing it in reality neighbours were killing neighbours and in general there was a lot of animosity between people based on their religious background. Something that does not affect that dogs in the story. Which may be the point that Singh is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that those in the town could learn from the dogs. However they choose not to. There is also no sense that things will change in the town. That each side is entrenched to its ideals. Believing themselves to be right and the other groups to be wrong.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Singh keeps the reader’s attention drawn to the dogs in the town. The dogs may be scruffy and malnourished but they still live a relatively peaceful life with each dog having his own patch. Very much like how each religion in the town has its own patch. The birth of Rani’s pups might also be significant as it highlights that life can co-exist in the town. If only others would afford their neighbours the chance. Even though the pups are not Moti’s he is prepared to act as the father. A sign of perhaps what is possible in the town among its human occupants. In reality the dogs in the town live a more respectable life than its human occupants. Yet they are seen as a nuisance by others, particularly the police. Who throw rocks at Rani and her brood.
The riot itself is caused by a misunderstanding and causes havoc in the town. With people divided along religious grounds. All end up suffering for their beliefs when it comes to trying to control the town. Ram Jawaya’s home is destroyed and one suspected so too is his livelihood. Also destroyed are other parts of the town which are owned by Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs. There is no real winner in the war of control of the town. A war that as mentioned was started by accident and over a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that is driven by man’s desire to control his and his neighbour’s environment. It might also be significant that the police are unable to control what has happened. Interesting because they might not necessarily wish to control the fighting that has occurred. It is easier for them to see others fight among themselves than it is for them to break up the fighting. Although it is possible that the fighting occurred so quickly that the police were caught off guard. It can be difficult to defend a town if the entire town is fighting among itself.
There are no real winners in the town now that a thriving town has been burnt to the ground. Apart from the dogs who carry on with their life as normal. If anything Singh might be suggesting that man (and religion) are its own worst enemies. Killing people over their religious beliefs in order to gain a little bit of land seems to be unreasonable. However it is part of the human psyche globally. Man will kill for greed and he will kill for God. Though no side can claim to be God’s soldiers. Human nature and greed takes over and causes problems for mankind. Problems that would not exist should everybody be able to live in harmony. Unfortunately in the story this is not possible with people being killed due to their religious background and as mentioned the partitioning of India may not have occurred or have been thought of by its founders. Killing in God’s name continued and the dogs on the street had better sense knowing that it was more important to get on with their lives with as little conflict as possible. In reality each character in the story could learn a lesson from the dogs in the story. Man’s need to control his environment has only brought disharmony to the town.