A “Secular” Bill Against “Communal” Violence?

Posted on November 5, 2011 in Society

By Akshay Ranade:

Secularists seem to have wooed the National Advisory Committee’s (NAC) draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill 2011. The draft comes up with a rationale as explained in the explanatory note itself that, Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill 2011 is intended to enhance the State’s accountability and correct discriminatory exercise of State powers in context of identity based violence and thus restore equal access to law for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Religious and Linguistic minorities. The ‘noble’ attempt, as it may seem at its face value’, appears to be a pun over ‘equal opportunity to justice’ notion we all love to brag on. The draft comes with special emphasis that existing laws give an adequate protection to dominant or ‘majority’ group and that the weaker section is the one which needs to be taken care of. Yet one need not be an expert to deduce that the law’s inherent diabolic purpose seems to divide society once again on the ridiculous notion of conceptual and numerical ‘majority’ and ‘minority’. But keeping aside the nature of draft for a while, the point is do we really need a law of such a kind now? Aren’t enough laws already available including countering the communal violence? The even pressing point, what is the bigger issue — less no of laws or the implementation of existing laws? It is to some of these questions we shall try to think on.

Do we really need a law?

Congress customarily bunked the opposition of draft as an attempt of communally polarized propaganda. The usual ploy every secularist seems to enjoy nevertheless, what congress would find hard to tackle is the opposition from various quarters which include eminent judges having intervened in various cases regarding communal violence. The consensuses view against the bill is question regarding the necessity of the bill. It so appears that NAC has blatantly misjudged the core issue regarding the communal violence. It’s however unlikely that such misjudgement comes from the array of eminent personalities from the NAC and so I seriously come to doubt the motive of the law. Anyway, coming back to the point, the core issue is not the less number of laws but proper implementation of the existing ones. Another law is hardly a solution. Our efforts should concentrate on making justice reach to everyone by proper implementation of the existing structure. As Chief Justice of India Justice J S Verma rightly pointed out, “No law can eradicate communalism in the country…We need to identify lacunae in present laws, if any, and make amendments. We have enough laws, in fact the maximum in the world. The problem is in faithful implementation. It is not the Constitution that has failed us but we who have failed the Constitution.”

Another crucial point is that the bill suggests an altogether new bureaucracy, a seven-member National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation, parallel state authorities. Quite curious it is not to see any objection from those who have vehemently opposed Lokpal Bill on the same grounds on creating a different government structure altogether. What is further intriguing is that the Bill expects from this ‘parallel’ structure to “prevent” any communal violence, control an outbreak of violence, and monitor the probe, the prosecution and the trial and distribution of relief and reparations, as explained in the Chapter IV, Clause 30. The attempt appears to be too far-fetched. How can a law or the seven-member team for that matter prevent any communal outburst when the state functionaries are incapable of doing so? Does it reflect that we have forgotten the lesson Gujarat riots taught us? The rationale that the bill will ‘prevent’ any communal outburst simply doesn’t hold ground.

A Bill for Whose Sake?

The genesis of the Bill is from the idea that ‘minority’ community in the country (may be religious, linguistic, castes etc.) are not adequately protected and it is for this sake that such a ‘positive discriminatory’ bill is required. The attempt is to ensure equality in law for ‘non-dominant’ groups in every state of the country. If an outsider reads the draft and if he is to judge the situation of minorities in our country it would not take too long to conclude that minorities suffer a great deal under the hands of majorities in India. Indeed so much so that attempt to pass a separate law essentially for the ‘oppressed’ ones is in full swing by our ‘concerned seculars’. How very ironic! The attempt of NAC to make parliament swallow down this proposed bill is not only diabolic but also divisive. It tries draw a permanent line between the so called ‘minorities’ and ‘majorities. As for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, they already have enough of protection under Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. The rationale to include them in this new bill doesn’t appear to be convincing. The emphasis is again drawn to ‘religious minorities’. The ‘secular’ nature of this bill is heavily contestable since it recognizes ‘minorities’ alone for special provision. It’s evident in the way the bill defines ‘group’. It says- “group” means a religious or linguistic minority, in any State in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes within the meaning of clauses (24) and (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution of India; It carefully eschews the majority Hindu population out of its purview. It goes by the logic that the majorities already have sufficient protection, (really) and that the weaker ones are in need of it. One of the contesting views I read for the bill was that it includes both religious and linguistic minorities. And so, the Gujarati speaking Hindu gets protection in Maharashtra, a Marathi speaking Hindu would get that in Tamil Nadu and so on. As if it can get any more ludicrous. What about Gujarati speaking Hindu in Gujarat and a Marathi Speaking Hindu in Maharashtra? Well to explain by the bill standards, they are secure under the present situations. The exclusivist nature of the bill is serious question which has been a customary practice by some of our pseudo-secular, pseudo-liberal policy makers. A perpetrator fashions no label of caste, religion of language for that matter. To do so is to label whole community with the blot lamenting to the crime of that one individual. And this precisely what the bill attempts to do. Its motive is highly questionable and its ways are quite unpractical.

Let’s Not Play These Games!

Everyone stands equal before law is the basic prerequisite for a secular system to work on. And the bill stabs this very thing under noble banner of ‘equal justice to all’. It’s another sheepish attempt to beef up the vote bank size by wooing the minorities. The games of the similar kind are dividing the country. The concept of ‘minorities’ itself appears to be quite demoralizing. Why can’t it be ‘religious-counterparts’ rather than ‘religious-minorities’? The bill appears to be seriously flawed in its nature, in its assumptions and its ways to implement. One thing is beyond question that the communal violence in the country has been a serious issue of concern and every community has suffered from the evil of it. To characterize that is an insult to all those who suffered it. In incidents like this, there are no Hindus, Muslims, Brahmins, SCs and STs. There is just an oppressor and oppressed and in front of law they all should stand equal. The attempt should be, as Justice Verma points out, to prevent such incidents to occur and make justice be accessible to all. The final point thus remains that the distinction between the communities for the sake of law as far as Communal Violence bill is concerned doesn’t stand to examination. The issue is ‘justice to all’ and our attempts must be is realizing that. Should we continue to play politics with that, the divisive forces would continue to prevail.

Sources: 1) NAC website for the original draft of the bill

2) Explanatory Note of Draft

3) Newspaper Articles for various views for the draft

The writer is a student of Bsc Economics from Symbiosis School of Economics.