The Communal Violence Bill: Amend. Enact. [Now!]

There can be no bigger an embarrassment to a secular democracy than a live and much-publicised public rip-off of its citizens’ democratic rights on the pretexts of religion, caste, sect and region. The very recent, disturbing incident in Muzaffarnagar is one such crying instance. In one word – mortifying! The communal riot in Muzaffarnagar – in the backdrop of a weak economy – not only adds to the woes of the economy but also forces both internal and external minds to perceive our nation as a ‘failed State’. As is easily understood, the impact of the fl are-up is not confined to the western UP district that is home to over 41 lakh individuals from many religions and castes (and has a literary rate of under 60% as per the 2011 Census). The violence in Muzaffarnagar has impacted thoughts and processes in other locations like Baghpat, Unnao, Bulandshahr, Bahraich, Bijnor, and other towns in the vicinity of the district. [Mind you – Delhi is just a neat 80 miles away!] You can almost sense that some of these poisoned minds are working tirelessly to steadily disturb social stability in the entire nation. What is worse is that such a fomented communal unrest as this, only ends up lending the upper hand to anti-social elements. That eventually creates a rift between various social groups in many belts across the nation. And what we [could, would] witness is many-a-magnified repeats of the ‘blood and fire drama’ that unfolded in Muzaffarnagar this September. What’s the panacea to eradicate this social plague? A re-drafted and powerful Communal Violence Bill.

Without any iota of doubt, we immediately need to re-work and clear the Communal Violence Bill. But what should rightfully precede – in terms of importance or value – the passage of the new Bill is a need to incorporate a few fundamental changes in our political system.

Violence pitting one community against another – from Hatia & Ranchi to Karimgang to Godhra to Bhiwandi to Meerut to Muzaffarnagar – has been an indisputably striking [if not central] feature of Indian politics since we really severed all ties with Pakistan 66 long years back. It’s been religion. And it’s been caste. Look at communal riots that have put this nation to shame in the past six-plus decades. Almost all of them bear this one peculiar characteristic. That fanning such disturbing fires have oft en benefitted political parties – those that claim to play the messiah to certain religious or caste groups that become their vote banks during elections. So there you are – a clearly written chapter of history that can be read by one and all. Either these riots were, are (and will be) politically ignited or were, are (and will be) later used at political forums. [Or both.]

We are one of those few nations where religion and politics work hand in glove. Many other nations have adopted policies that separate their organized religious groups from their political systems and at no point do these two groups cross paths. Speaking in context of the modern political system, it was in 1802 that Thomas Jefferson iterated the importance of separation of the Church from the State. He wrote thus (for the US constitution): “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” In fact, much earlier in The First Amendment to the United States Constitution (adopted on December 15, 1791), was it clarified that, “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...”

Along the same lines, even before we pass and convert the Communal Violence Bill into a law, we need to ensure that other supporting laws are secular and do not favour any particular religion or group per se. The incumbent government is busy with other bills for many years now and has paid literally no heed to the Communal Violence Bill. Seems today, the file has been put on ‘dormant’ mode.

What can be more ironical than our Home Minister delivering a statement on the decaying conditions of communal harmony of the nation, but not taking any stern step to get the Bill in place? Due to lack of such a Bill, the central government and central authorities are not authorised to take action and interfere in State-related matters even during communal riots. The Communal Violence Bill would empower the Centre during such disturbing situations and would allow it to help the States keep the fire under check and subsequently douse it. It would further ensure the inception of a specialized task force called the National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation (by the Centre) that could come into action whenever required. 451 cases of communal violence between January and August 2013 in our country as compared to 410 in the twelve months of last year (as put across by our Home Minister) – aren’t these numbers enough to substantiate the importance of such a Bill most urgently? Annoyingly amuses me.

At present, the police and Rapid Action Forces are handicapped as they are not permitted to take remedial action during processions and during gatherings where venomous speeches are delivered. For instance the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry for Mumbai riots (1992) stated that the police was keeping track of the movements of the rioters and the speeches they were giving up until December 6, 1992 – the day when Babri Masjid was demolished. The police was not empowered enough to arrest those responsible for the riot and was not even allowed to question the activities. Obviously, in its current form, the Bill does provide for special courts (for trails) and empowers the victims while further providing protection to witnesses during the trial period. But the next big issue that makes the Bill fl awed is the demarcation line that it draws between the “majority” and “minority”. The Bill silently favours the latter group. This is where I would like to bring in the concept of ‘Separation of the Church (read: religion) and the State’. Under no circumstance should a secular country have special laws for a particular religion or a separate trial system for a religious group. The provisions of the Communal Violence Bill should apply to Hindu and Muslim victims alike. I am not questioning which religion or caste has been more victimized or has seen more people being killed during the many past waves of sectarian rioting. All I am saying is that – should the Bill keep it fair, sans religious (or any such conditional) discrimination, it would go a long way in serving the purpose that it was actually conceptualized for.

Differentiated provisions and laws based on religion or caste or any such element, are in themselves non-secular and communal and only encourage anti-social elements to customise it politically and take undue advantage. You can’t call for love and peace between various communal groups when you have clearly differentiated and unique policies that apply to different communities. Continuation of such an ideology only promotes non-secularism, repugnance and schism.

Where do we begin? Separate religion from legislation and make sure that laws that differentiate individuals on the ground of religion (especially for crime) and caste are not allowed to breathe the Indian air. Under no circumstance is crime justified. The Communal Bill then should be passed immediately after removing the clauses of majority and minority and adding clauses that provide for excellent provisions to all victims irrespective of their religion, caste, sect and region.

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