By Mumtaz Alam, India Tomorrow,
New Delhi, 08 Dec 2013: With apprehensions growing about recurrence of engineered communal riots in the run up to the General Elections in 2014, both Muslim community and independent civil society are pressing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance central government to pass the long-pending Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill in the ongoing winter session of Parliament. The session started December 5 and the bill, pending since 2005, attracted attention of both ruling and opposition parties on the very first day.
When Congress party had returned to power and formed coalition union government after dethroning Hindu right Bharatiya Janata Party in 2004, India’s Grand Old Party promised to formulate a harsher law to check the menace of communal violence which has pulled the progressing nation behind at a regular interval since the Independence. But for one reason or the other, the Communal Violence Bill remained a draft, was never tabled in the Parliament. The ruling alliance arguably didn’t show much enthusiasm and interest to pass the bill – and in between several large-scale riots continued happening in different parts of the country from Assam to Rajasthan to Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh.
Both Muslim community leaders and eminent civil rights activists are criticizing the government for its dilly-dallying approach for the anti-riot bill.
“When we met Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh he said this is pending because there are differences of opinion among the Muslim community over the contents of the bill. But there are differences among the government also over several issues, and differences are among political parties also. It does not mean you will hold the bill forever. It is government’s duty to make the law if it thinks it is useful. It should consult the community. If two factions of the community are not agreed on some provisions, the government cannot say we will not pass the bill,” says Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood, President, Zakat Foundation of India.
Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan, President, All India Muslim Majlise Mushawarat, also rejects the excuse of the government and demands it to enact the bill through ordinance if it is not getting required majority to pass the bill in Parliament. “The bill has been put in the cold storage. The government should present it in the parliament, or at least issue it as an ordinance. When they want to do something like nuclear deal or protection of politicians of criminal background, they can go to any length.”
Harsh Mander, former Gujarat cadre Indian Administrative Service officer who had convened the committee which drafted the bill some years ago, says the government is lacking the political will. “I am saddened by the fact that the UPA government, although National Advisory Council chairperson (Sonia Gandhi) had forwarded the bill to it long ago, has not found the political will yet to pass it,” Mander says.
While there is a strong lobbying for the passage of the Communal Violence Bill there are many among the civil society who say merely enacting a new will not check the violence if there is no political will on the part of parties as almost all communal riots are politically motivated.
Will a new law solve the problem?
Navaid Hamid, Member, National Integration Council, says: “People say the communal violence law will stop communal violence. I say, no, but it would be a deterrent.”
Senior Journalist Seema Mustafa is more categorical. “I have seen in my career of 35 years many bills and laws coming, but what have they done? Have they been able to prevent violence? I think political will is important to ensure secularism continues as the main tenet of our constitution and to check violence. And political will does not need to have laws like the communal violence bill,” says Mustafa.
Besides harsher laws, justice should be central to any form of governance in the country, suggests eminent Human Rights lawyer Vrinda Grover. “We need to very clearly assert to political powers that justice is central to any governance, there can be no model of governance in this country where justice is not central, whether it is justice for women, or it is justice for minorities or justice for caste victims. Justice should be central to any form of governance that will be acceptable to the people of this country,” says Grover.
Decommunalize police, Increase minority representation
Shabnam Hashmi, director, ANHAD, renowned civil and human rights group points out two other important measures – decommunalization of police and more representation of the minority community in the police forces
“We have seen in Dhule, Gopalgarh and Forbesganj that it is the community verses police which means that the state police have become so communalized that they opened fire on Muslims in all these three places. So as a solution, first police must be sensitized and decommunalized, and they have to have a sizeable proportion from minority community or people who are extremely secular. Every police station must have two-three extremely secular police officers,” says Hashmi.
With a few months left with the ruling UPA alliance before the nation goes to vote for a new national government, the Congress whose backbone has been the Muslim community – the main target of over 98% communal riots in India – has started pulling all stops to pass the bill. The government has agreed to include all sections of the society in the ambit of the bill – earlier it covered only the minority community.
However, the government has not yet agreed to the demand of holding officers with command responsibility responsible for any such eventuality.
Penalize high-rank officers, ministers
Harsh Mander says: “We have been trying that the bill has a new crime – dereliction of duty by public officers with command responsibility, which means that if government officials whose duty is to control violence do not execute their duty they should be held criminally liable. And command responsibility will cover not only officers but whoever commanded them like ministers or chief minister.”
Shabnam Hashmi has the same view. “If that provision is agreed upon then half the things will be solved. We are saying that Superintendent of Police or District Magistrate should be held responsible for the communal violence which takes place under them. If such incident takes place under them then they have to be penalized. If the DM and SP know that I can lose my job he won’t allow any such incident to happen.
India has witnessed over 35,000 communal riots in 65 years of Independence. The last 30 years have seen large-scale riots almost every 10 years. The 1984 Sikh riots were followed by countrywide communal clashes post Babri Mosque demolition in 1992-93. Ten years later, the nation witnessed the bloodiest ever pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. And now in 2013, we have just seen the bloody riots in Muzaffarnagar. The fear about repeat of Muzaffarnagar episode is looming large.
Pass Communal Violence Bill
Both community leaders and civil rights activists, therefore, want passage of the Communal Violence Bill without any further delay if secular parties want to save this country from the fire of communal violence.
Navaid Hamid says: “If secular parties want to save this country from the fire of communal violence, then they have to come to a common platform to fight the fascist forces. And the first agenda of this common platform should be to enact a harsher law which can deal with the communal violence, with the culprits who have a wishful thinking of destroying the social fabric of this nation to gain political power.
“It is important for UPA if it all has secular credentials to pass that law because that law will send the deterrents to every SP, every DM, and every minister that if you do not do your work and if you do not perform your statutory duty and exercise your power to protect citizens you will be held criminally responsible. We must ask for the passage of communal violence bill before the term of this government is over,” says Vrinda Grover.
Zafarul Islam Khan says if such law with real teeth is implemented honestly then we can dream of having a riot-free India. “If that kind of law with real teeth is enacted and enforced then we think there will be a way to really have riot-free India – riot free India means an India where everybody is free and safe and secure.
Follow the writer on Twitter @MumtazAlam1978