By Javed Anand
Oct 24, 2013
Expect misogynist men to feel aggrieved by laws especially enacted for the protection of women against sexual violence. Expect upper-caste diehards with Manuwadi mindsets to be unhappy with special legal provisions to prevent atrocities against dalits. Similarly, expect masterminds and perpetrators of targeted violence against vulnerable minorities to fume and fret over a proposed law to protect the latter and punish the former.
It is but natural for the Sangh Parivar and its electoral wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to oppose the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, that is slated to be introduced in the Winter Session of Parliament in November. The bill to prevent communal violence is itself communal, claim BJP spokespersons. Interestingly, the one making the loudest noise on the subject is the party’s Muslim mascot: Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
Perhaps the party should go a step further and denounce the United Nations too for its two-decade old Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, 1992. Article 1 of the declaration stipulates: “States shall protect the existence (life) and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity”. Article 2 declares: “States shall adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to achieve those ends”.
The UN declaration speaks not only of religious but also national, ethnic and linguistic minorities. So does the bill, aimed at controlling not only communal but other forms of “targeted violence”, too. When it talks of religious minorities, the reference is not only to Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Parsis who are minority communities nationally speaking. Included in the definition are Hindus, who are a minority in Jammu and Kashmir and in some north-eastern states, as also in some districts: for example, Malegaon. When it comes to targeted violence, the reference, for example, is to Tamil-speaking people in Karnataka and north Indians in Maharashtra who are frequently targeted by the Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Dalits and adivasis across the country are frequent victims of targeted violence and have, therefore, been included within the ambit of the bill.
After the recent communal conflagration in Muzaffarnagar, the Sharad Pawar led-Nationalist Congress Party, Left parties, Janata Dal (United), Samajwadi Party and the National Conference have now indicated their endorsement “in principle” of the idea behind the proposed law. As and when India’s lawmakers overcome their fear of engineered “Hindu sentiments”, muster the political will to table the bill in Parliament, debate and pass what is often referred to as the “Communal Violence Bill”, the country would at long last have honoured the spirit of the 1992 UN declaration and qualified itself to be counted among the global community of the civilised. By its continued opposition to such a step, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar expose themselves as the ideological allies of those whose hate-soaked politics is founded on the hounding of minorities — neo-Nazis and White supremacists in the West, the Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and their ilk in our own neighbourhood.
Truth be told, the fierce opposition of the “Hindu nationalists” to the bill is rooted in their guilt-ridden fear of the far-reaching consequences of a critical provision in the proposed bill. Though the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are conveniently castigating the bill on account of it allegedly being “anti-Hindu” and “pro-minority”, what frightens them — and the Indian police and the bureaucracy — the most is the principle of “chain of command responsibility” that is embedded in the proposed law. Simply stated what it means is that in the event of violence that is not controlled in good time, it is not only the murderous mob on the streets and the lowly constable guilty of dereliction of duty who will be prosecuted and punished. The superiors in the chain of command — senior police officers and civil servants on one hand, the instigating masterminds on the other — too will be held accountable, tried and punished if need be, for what they did and did not do.
Take a look at any report of any judicial commissions of enquiry appointed by different state governments following major communal carnages — B.N. Srikrishna Commission (Mumbai, 1992-93), D.P. Madon Commission (Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad, 1970), Joseph Vithayathil Commission (Tellicherry, 1971), Jagmohan Reddi Commission (Ahmedabad, 1969), Venugopal Commission (Kanyakumari, 1982), Jitendra Narain Commission (Jamshedpur, 1979) — and you’ll know why the Sangh Parivar is terrified.
Two common threads run through all these reports: one, the criminal role of Hindutva organisations in master-minding the violence; two, the partisan, anti-minority (Muslim, Christian, Sikh) conduct of the police.
Two examples: “Here was not only a failure of intelligence and culpable failure to suppress the outbreak of violence but (also) deliberate attempts to suppress the truth from the Commission, especially the active participation in the riots of some RSS and Jana Sangh leaders.” — Justice Jagmohan Reddy Commission on the Hindu-Muslim Ahmedabad riots, 1969
“The RSS sets itself up as the champion of what it considers to be the rights of Hindus against minorities. It has taken upon itself to teach the minorities their place and if they are not willing to learn their place to teach them a lesson.” Justice Venugopal Commission on the Hindu-Christian Tellicherry riots of 1971.
An obvious exception to the above was the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi. It was spearheaded by Congress leaders where, as always, the police either remained passive and indifferent or sided with the murderous mobs. But in contemplating a new law, the Congress, at least, seems prepared to render its own leaders open to judicial scrutiny and possible prosecution if charged with dereliction of duty in the event of any future communal conflagration. Why are the leading lights of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar so scared of following suit?
Javed Anand is co-editor Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy