RAM PUNIYANI terms the communal and fascist forces’ argument that to define the targeted minority is to divide the nation as a mechanistic one, and underlines the need of debate and passage of Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparation) Bill 2011.
In the recently held meeting of National Integration Council (September 2011), the discussion on the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparation) Bill 2011 was on the top of the agenda. While the leaders of Opposition in both the Houses of Parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley came down heavily on the draft Bill, there were not too many members of the council speaking in support of it. The ruling party members were quiet as most of the Opposition leaders criticised the proposed draft.
The main reasons behind this criticism are the definition of the minority group which presumably ‘divides’ the country along linguistic, caste and religious lines and the role of Central Government in the violence prevention, by playing an active role in controlling violence. Both the grounds of criticism are more out of biases and misconceptions rather than due to what Bill contains and intends to do.
Communal violence has been one of the major problems the country is faced with. It has been surfacing on Indian horizon time and over again. During the freedom movement, the communal forces, those aiming at Islamic state or Hindu nation spread venom against the ‘other’ religious community and many a major incident of violence broke out. The communal forces matched each other brick by brick. The resulting violence was a point of major tragedy. Violence following partition tragedy should be etched in the conscience of the subcontinent, as a tragedy from which we all should have learnt the horrors of communal politics and communal propaganda from both the sides. It was this communal politics which could not stand the torch of amity among religious communities symbolised by the life and preaching of Mahatma Gandhi. He symbolised the opposition to communal politics. Gandhi’s work for communal amity was the reason for his murder, which was a calculated move by communal politics.
In Independent India the communal violence has been going on through various phases and has started becoming worse from the decade of 1980s when the politics around Shah Bano-Ram Temple, and later the politics of rath yatra and Babri Masjid demolition took the centre stage. The sectarian violence has a multilayered aetiology. To grasp this phenomenon, to understand its genesis during pre-Independence times we need to look at the politics of declining feudal elements and middle classes, as embodied in the expression of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS. It is their politics which needs to be looked at closely.
Since these communal formations were not for secular democratic India, they kept aloof from the struggle for Independence and focused on activities which spread hatred towards the ‘other’ religious community. The communal politics was at the base and hate propaganda against the ‘other’ was at the surface of their agenda, which was the core reason of violence. This violence kept on getting precipitated by various provocations. After independence communal propaganda was gradually made part of the ‘social common sense’ against minorities; and the state machinery, police in particular, infected by communal prejudices, became the vehicle of biased attitude towards the Muslim minority, the major victim of this violence.
The issue of violence is more complicated than just looking at it in contrasting colours. There are shades and shades of reasons for precipitation of violence. The statistics of violence is galling and obvious. The first major one based on the Ministry of Home Affairs data (1991) tells us that even when the Muslims are a minority (12 odd in 1991 and 13.4% in 2001), among the violence victims 80% were Muslims. In Mumbai carnage of 1992-93, as per the study of Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, the data matched with the national data. In addition, it revealed that even the property which was destroyed belonged more to Muslims. After the Gujarat carnage and the later recurring violence, nearly 90% of the violence victims are Muslims as per the latest estimates.
The other observation is that at more times than one, it appears or it is propagated, that the minority is instigating the violence: that they are initiating it and then in turn they get the bashing. Most of the inquiry commission reports, Madon (Bhiwandi Jalgaon, 1970) Joseph Vythyatil (Tellicherry), Jagmohan Reddy (Ahmedabad, 1969) and others tell us that mostly the spontaneous looking riots are a part of the plan of the communal forces, who then benefit from the same by polarising the majority votes around themselves.
The greatest ‘success’ of this communal propaganda is that it has instilled the fear of the minority in the heart and minds of majority. The scholarly work by the Police Officer, Dr. V.N. Rai does point out that the minority is often cornered to throw the first stone, which is then used as a pretext for unleashing the violence. Major inquiry commission reports, the latest one of Justice Srikrishna (Mumbai 1992-3), confirm the biased attitude of police machinery, yet again. The activists like Asghar Ali Engineer and others who have tried to have peace and harmony workshops with police officers have experienced the deep biases which the police force is afflicted with.
The additional factor has been that many Congress leaders have used the communal violence as an opportunist tool to settle their in-house power equations. On the top of that most of the violence has taken place when the Congress Governments are in power. Here the obvious understanding is that the communal forces sitting in opposition know that the violence in any particular area leads to polarisation of communities along religious lines and benefits communal parties in the short and long run.
Recently (2009) the violence in Maharashtra in Miraj Sangli area following the violence on the issue of hoarding depicting Shivaji and Afzal Khan led to increased electoral strength of the parties with communal agenda. It is also true that in the Muslim majority areas, there have been more incidents of violence. These areas are more sensitive to violence. The major reasons for this have been the business rivalry in the places like Moradabad and Bhiwandi. The other reason has been the majority communal force asserting itself and meeting with resistance from the local minority communal forces.
So overall the picture is very complicated but assumptions which have been at the root of the National Advisory Committee’s undertones are very clear. There are laws which should prevent violence, and violence having taken place should be able to deal with it and later give rehabilitation and justice to the victims. What has been the obstacle to it? One, the attitude of political leadership, which not being very principled, more oriented to power equations permits the violence to go on. Here Congress party leaders are not exempt, the difference being that BJP leadership being the more pro-active player in letting the violence to go on. So the first issue is the problems related to command responsibility and deliberate acts of omission by political leadership. The second being that the bureaucracy and police, as observed by inquiry commission reports, are partisan, biased, leading to further escalation of violence. Same factors play their role in the post-violence scenario, where the victims are generally left in the lurch.
With these observations in mind, it becomes clear that communal violence post-independence is not the same as in the pre-independence era. Currently it is a targeted violence, targeted for political goals and assisted by the attitude of political leadership, bureaucracy and police. So here identifying a group is not to divide the nation. It sounds very impressive to assert, “We don’t see citizens as Hindus-Muslims’, we see them as Indians. But the reality check defies this. To identify a minority group as a victim and targeted one is not to divide the nation but to grapple with the reality so that it can be dealt with. Whenever we try to put the truth under the carpet, justice and peace are just not possible. It is nobody’s claim that minority cannot attack the majority. The point is the observation that the minority is being targeted. When Domestic Violence Bill was thought of, the argument was not that sometimes woman also attacks man, the point was most often women are the victims, they are the targets, so we need to protect them by special provisions. Was it meant to ‘break’ the home by identifying man and woman separately? On the contrary, only by indentifying the targeted gender, the bill can be given solid foundations and be effective in preventing the violence against women.
This argument, that to define targeted minority is to divide the nation along religious lines, is a mechanistic one. It also hides the intentions of Majoritarian communal forces to carry on with its own business of dividing the communities along religious lines to gain at electoral level. The right wing forces are opposed to any of the affirmative action where the weaker section is identified and given protection. Still right wing, RSS and progeny, have already reconciled to the provisions of Domestic Violence Bill, provisions of Anti-Dalit Atrocities laws. Similarly, this Communal Violence Prevention Bill has based itself on the observation of the last six decades, so why this opposition.
The reasons can clearly be seen in the vested interests of BJP types who want to promote their political agenda with continuation of existing pattern to continue. By identifying the targeted group and bypassing the existing weaknesses we will definitely be able to control the communal violence in the future.
This seems to be the key point of the Bill; this is the kernel of the new Bill. It won’t be much surprising that the communal forces which have benefitted by its mechanisms of spreading hate and orchestrating violence will be totally opposed to it, the surprise is why the ruling party is not sticking its neck out to bring peace and prevent violence through this Bill, after its suitable modification after a debate in Parliament? The other issues of federalism do need to be addressed and rough edges of the Bill can be smoothened to ensure that the Centre does not overstep its mandate, but is still able to ensure that states discharge their duties properly. There is an urgent need that the Bill be debated in Parliament, smoothened out and brought in as a step in affirmative justice.