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Communal and targeted Violence Bill in India: A step in right direction

by Irfan Engineer, 19 July 2011

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Steven Wilkinson, a US based Scholar who has been studying communal violence in India has concluded that since independence, the casualties in communal riots in India is as huge as 40,000!! Though at present there does seem to be relative peace, it is more of a short lull before another possible storm of Communal Violence. I say so because there are riot entrepreneurs, who organize, orchestrate and benefit from communal violence – the anti-social elements who get legitimacy and a role during riots on one hand and the politicians who consolidate their vote banks on the other hand. Communal violence for the making and the marking of collective and individual identity is increasing in India. Various studies have also pointed out that the victims of communal riots, particularly those from the minority community, are pushed into further economic quagmire having lost their properties and bread winners.

Vibhuti Narain Rai, former IPS officer who has served UP police and in BSF and who effectively handled the ‘karsevaks’ who had assembled in Aydhodhya in February 2002 has written after thorough research that no communal riot in India can continue beyond 24 hours unless the administration at some level is complicit. Police force in India is fully equipped and capable of brining under control any riot within 24 hours. The major communal riots that cause higher casualties are pre-planned for days if not months and there are always early warnings of such a planning which the police and intelligence can easily know if they care. West Bengal had every reason why communal busy bodies and riot entrepreneurs could have made the state a ground for frequent communal riots – 24% population being Muslim and the state having been partitioned with Hindu refugees migrating from (the then) East Pakistan, communal ideology and communal discourse having considerable influence as evident from the 1946 riots in Calcutta. However, once the Left Front Government came to power in West Bengal we did not witness any major riots in that state. The Left Front Government simply told the state police that riots will not be tolerated and if they fail to control riots, they will have to face the consequences. Similarly, Bihar had witnessed major riots in Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Bhagalpur. Laloo Prasad came to power on promise that Bihar would be riot free during his tenure and he delivered his promise. Just contrast this with the contention of the IPS Officer in Gujarat Mr. Sanjiv Bhatt who alleged that the Gujarat CM asked the top ranking police officers to go slow on the mobs protesting the burning of S-6 compartment of Sabarmati Express by unscrupulous elements in Godhra.

About 31 Inquiry Commissions were appointed after various communal riots. These Inquiry Commissions have pointed out that riots take place as administration is complicit and fail to perform their duties on all three fronts – in taking preventive steps before riots, controlling the mobs during the riots and finally bringing the culprits to book. The early warnings and communal mobilization through hate speeches are ignored as the culprits are powerful and well connected politicians. Ignoring the Maha-artis in Mumbai eventually helped the riot entrepreneurs during the 1993 riots in Mumbai. Weak enforcement of curfew in majority areas and firing on innocent people from minority community which is already victim of violence from majority community are failures of the police during the riots. After riots, relief is left to the community and compensation is left to the whims of the politicians that preached hatred in the first place. Most of the 31 Inquiry Commissions have already recorded extensively the aforesaid failures due to collusion between the riot entrepreneurs professing communal ideology preaching hatred, spreading rumours to mobilize large mass of unsuspecting and angry mob, collecting ammunitions and equipments for riots, marking the houses and areas to be targeted during riots and the some police officers on one hand and political networks on the other hand. Those police officers who are not in collusion with the riot entrepreneurs are slow to act on the rioting mobs due to their own biases and prejudices against the minorities and continuous flow of rumours or even target minorities to vent their own frustrations, anger and with revenge seeking / lesson teaching motive. And those who are not biased against the minorities, upright and impartial, are neutralized and rendered ineffective and helpless as they are marginalized within the force or with threats of transfers by those providing political patronage to the mob.

Any new legislation on the subject should therefore should aim at curbing the network of riot entrepreneurs and those spreading hatred through their publications, speeches etc., effectively prevent the entrepreneurs from collecting equipments and ammunitions for rioting and counter the rumours. That is precisely the duty of the police force. To achieve these objectives, the proposed legislation has to make the police and administrative machinery charged with duty to secure and protect lives and uphold law and order accountable for their omission and commissions.

The proposed draft of Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011 (the Bill for brevity) is a step in right direction that will address some of these malaise. The officers will be held accountable now for their commissions and omissions. They can be prosecuted if any officer fails to act or omits to act without any adequate reason. Of course in certain cases prior permission of the Government will have to be obtained and there is a glitch there. The delinquent and complicit officers can hope to be protected by the government by denying permission to the complainant to prosecute them in any court of law. However, the risks the officer may be taking by his/her deliberate actions or omissions may be higher after the Bill is made into a law than before. Not only the complicit officer, but even his superior officer also can be punished for the omission and commission of his subordinate, if it can be proved that the superior had the information of the situation and he too fails to issue appropriate orders and directions to his subordinate. This principle is called command superior responsibility. These provisions would ensure that the administration would act even if they are not headed by Laloo Prasad Yadav or by the Left Front Government.

The Bill will also give due rights to the victims to be heard during the trial and make the procedure of trial more flexible and victim friendly, including witness protection.

The Bill then provides for adequate standards to be maintained in the relief camps and no one can be forced to return against their will from the relief camps. In fact, relief, reparation, restitution and compensation becomes the right of every victim of communal and targeted violence. Compensation and reparations will be in accordance with the losses and damages as assessed by the State Assessment Committee. The victims will have to be rehabilitated in their areas and safety and security of the rehabilitated victims will have to be ensured by the state. Their rehabilitation and resettlement of the victim’s family in the existing locations or new locations by restoring them to levels not less than those prevailing before such violence occurred. The Bill also defines new offence of sexual assault which goes beyond the narrow definition of rape. Rape requires penile penetration whereas sexual assault also includes causing harm to reproductive organs, unrobing a person or compelling a person to undress, exposing one’s sexual organs in front of any person or subjecting them to any sexual indignity, exhibiting private parts and inserting sharp objects into their private parts. The Bill also constitutes National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation and State Authority of similar name and style whose objective will be to prevent acts of communal and targeted violence, control spread of organized communal and targeted violence, monitor due investigation, prosecution and trial of offences and monitor relief, reparation and restitution in a fair and impartial manner.

The BJP is attacking the Bill precisely for the reason that it holds officers responsible for their acts and omissions and negligent behavior or willful failure in controlling riots. The Officers would not listen to their political bosses, else they could face prosecution if they are complicit. Organising, instigating and abetting communal violence will not be easy. The pretext these leaders are using is that the Bill does not propose to address communal and targeted violence perpetrated by the minority against the majority community. However, whenever that happens, the state has not been found wanting in taking appropriate action against those responsible. Special legislations are to meet special situations. The relief reparation and restitution of the victims, irrespective of their religious following itself would deter future communal and targeted violence. However, there are many other flaws in the Bill which we cannot deal with here due to lack of space. The major flaw being that the Bill does not have any remedy to tackle low intensity violence against the minorities in the form or discrimination and social and economic boycott. Perhaps another legislation would be required for that purpose.

Irfan Engineer
- Director,
- Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution,
- 603, New Silver Star, Nr. Railway Bridge,
- Prabhat Colony Road, Santacruz (East),
- Mumbai, India
- PIN: 400055