Demand for passage of anti-riot bill resounds through Parliament Street

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By India Tomorrow News,

New Delhi, 17 Dec 2013: Mohammad Haneef from Loi village in Muzaffarnagar district had covered himself in the blanket he was carrying to protect himself from the cold and fog that had engulfed the national capital Monday morning. Standing at Parliament Street, he was shouting slogans against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre and Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh.

“It seems we are alone in this world. There is no one to listen to us. We don’t have proper tents, food or drinking water. Our children are struggling to survive. So many people have died due to poor living conditions. We don’t know if we will ever be able to go back to our homes,” said Haneef who had come to Delhi for the first time to participate in a protest organized by Aligarh Muslim University Lawyers Forum, a registered body of lawyers who are alumni of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Haneef and other victims of the September 2013 communal riot of Muzaffarnagar were brought by the forum.

He was bewildered by large number of protests, posters and banners at Jantar Mantar organized by several organizations to mark the anniversary of Dec 16 Delhi gang rape incident.

“Is rape in Muzaffarnagar different from rape in Delhi? There is no one to listen to rape victims in Muzaffarnagar. Nobody has been arrested even when the women gave statement in the court,” said Haneef.

Aslam Khan, president of the lawyers’ forum, said: “We are grateful to the Supreme Court for passing orders to give all kinds of protection to the people living in relief camps. But there is hardly any implementation by the district administration.”

“There is a total failure on the part of state government. More people have died in the relief camps than in the violence. But the govt is not acknowledging those deaths and forcing people to shut the relief camps. Where will these people go?” People in the relief camps are scared of going back to their villages due to hostile environment there.

Shahzad Alam Burni, president of AMU Students Union, said: “It is a long pending demand. The Congress party promised this Bill in its manifesto. But it never showed any interest in the enactment of the law. Congress party will have to pay a price for this.”

Naved Hamid, member of the National Integration Council, said: “We want a strong law in which the policemen are held accountable if there is any communal violence. Also, the law should be specific to the minorities otherwise it will become meaningless. A special law is meant to protect a specific group. The govt wants to dilute the law by making it for everybody. This is not acceptable.”

Members of Parliament like Shafiqur Rahman Barq of BSP, Ali Anwar of JD (U) and Mohammed Adeeb also addressed the gathering.

The protesters demanded the UPA government to pass Communal Violence Bill in the ongoing winter session of Parliament. It is due to lack of any specific law and accountability that such violence keep happening time and again.

Civil society members and lawyers like Vrinda Grover and Shakeel Ahmad explained the provisions in the bill. They dispelled the notion that the bill would adversely affect any community and asked all parties to unite and pass the legislation at the earliest.

Shehzad Poonawalla, founder of AIMA2014 and former official of Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, shared insights on the legal nuances of the bill and its potential passage. Having visited the relief camps himself Shehzad also made a stirring speech on the double victimisation of riot victims languishing in relief camps. He stressed on reports of children dying in these camps due to lack of blankets as has been reported widely in the press too. He highlighted cases of pressure being mounted on complainants to withdraw FIRs registered against rioters and condemned the UP police for its sloppy investigations.

Convinced that the local administration would do precious little, Shehzad Poonawalla has initiated a campaign called Blanket of Hope that aims at collecting and distributing blankets and warm clothes to inhabitants of various camps. The campaign, initiated 3days ago, with a motto to spread the warmth and share a blanket, has seen a massive response from across India and as far as USA, Australia and Mid East.

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