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Communal Violence Bill: Is it Really 'Dangerous'?

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India is a land of several religions, languages, races, castes and several other forms of categorizations. India is an economic powerhouse, with 42% of Indians below the poverty line but the 4th richest man in the world is an Indian. A country of 1.25 billion and vast, it is impossible to imagine India without its diversity.

Communal Violence was not a phenomenon prior to 1857 as there was cohesion, forced conversions, tax on religious or linguistic minorities. The society hierarchy was strictly defined and resentment did not lead to violence. After the British took over the reins of administration, religion was not an important factor in administration. Laws were same for all citizens and Priests were not involved in statecraft. Communal Violence erupted due to different causes. The first recorded communal violence over Babri Masjid was in 1886. The British followed a policy of Divide and Rule and communal violence became the reality of the day. Communalism led to the division of the country and supported several secessionist movements. The violence in 1947-48 killed over 200,000 people in states of Punjab and Bengal.  Since then communal violence has been reported due to several reasons in different parts of the country.

Over 96% of the cases relating to communal violence never get justice in a court of law. It has been found that Law Enforcement agencies tend to favor the majority community. In Gujarat Riots of 2002, Police arrested twice the number of people from Minority Communities than it did from the Majority community. The number of dead from the minority community was also more than twice of the majority community. The recent instances of violence has followed similar pattern in Mangalore or Orissa. 

The National Advisory Council is a body composed of social activists and intellectuals, has come up with a bill under the chairmanship of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi for the protection and justice in case of riots or communal violence. A draft version has been put up on its web site, after incorporating the public suggestions, it would be sent to the Government. The Government would circulate the draft to its different ministries, amend the bill, get it approved by the Cabinet and then send it to the Parliament. The parliament would deliberate in the Standing Committee, where people can participate in the discussions. Then it would again be discussed and passed by the Parliament. The President would then approve it to make it law. Only the first draft is ready and people have strongly criticized it, opposed it and even threatened fasts. But the Right to Information Act draft of the NAC underwent more than 162 amendments in the process of being passed. More recently, the Food Security Bill from the NAC has also been altered by the Cabinet and the Government.

The Communal Violence Bill acknowledges for the first time that the crimes committed during the communal violence are different from regular crimes. Courts have often found it difficult to identify who exactly stabbed, when the mob is involved. Since the eyewitnesses have been a part of the mob, cases have filed in the courts. The Bill states that everyone in the mob would be held equally accountable. It also acknowledges that mob violence has a purpose!

Since independence, India has followed a policy of Social Justice. It has helped the backward communities attain a sense of social equality but at the same time, the preferential treatment has ensured that India has never been able to weave a united society. But, when it came to courts of law, everyone regardless of their gender or any other categorization has been equal. No one has been given a preference. This was challenged for the first time in the Domestic Violence Act, where women were given preference.

The Communal Violence Bill gives preferential treatment to minorities and Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This has been based on the experience of Gujarat, where it was felt that minorities require special protection. The definition of minorities would be based on the state. Hence Muslims would be minority in all of India, but not in Jammu and Kashmir. The definition of minority is based on religion and language.

Tulu speakers are minority in Karnataka but would be a majority in Mangalore city. If a group of Kanada speakers get attacked by Tulu speakers in Mangalore, they would not be able to seek justice using this Act. Indian cities have become cosmopolitan in nature, where one building has people belonging to different religions and speaking different languages. It is difficult to identify majority and minority in times of crisis.

There are other issues with the Communal Violence Bill with regard to the definition of group. A group is not an official entity, carrying Identity Cards. Sometimes onlookers get arrested for violence of a mob. It must go deeper into analyzing it.

We as a society has have faced violence from other groups; at times we have caused violence. In the 21st Century, Language and Religion are not the only ways of identifying with a community, rather in UK, one saw that Economic Divisions can also lead to mob violence. Laws should be broad and protect anyone who is attacked. It should ensure justice for all and not create injustice in any situation. 

Preamble of the Constitution assures equality and laws should follow the premise. As a society we should aim to create a unified society with mutual trust and understanding. At some point of time in history, all of us have faced violence or been violent. We should forgive the past to create a new future.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.


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