Communal violence Bill 2011: Why not?
A proposed law to deal with communal violence is being called biased and seen as totally tilted towards minorities. Correct. That’s my impression too.
And that’s exactly how it ought to be – positively biased. For, it often takes one bias to correct another.
Those who find the draft “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Regulations) Bill 2011” biased have obviously failed to see its real purpose.
It is to specifically deal with violence against minorities of all kinds — such as Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits, Dalits and other groups — who tend to suffer targeted violence merely because of their group identity. That is why it makes provisions for punishment only for communal violence against the minority communities.
Since this is not a law to tackle all forms of communal violence, its title should have explicitly stated as much. Calling it the “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill” leaves room for ambiguity.
In the manner of plain speaking, it ought to have been named “Protection of Minorities from Targeted Communal Violence Bill”, or something along those lines. Moreover, the government ought to have spelt out the purpose of this Bill clearly at the very outset.
For one, this is a special law, and not a general piece of legislation. When specialized acts of collective violence are treated like any other crime under Indian law, their targeted nature is not explicitly dealt with.
Therefore, minorities of this country – be it Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Kashmiri Pandits – need a special law positively biased towards them. Often, they are threatened because of hostility towards India’s very pluralism. This threat is growing with time, not diminishing.
Since numerical supremacy always places the majority community in any society at a certain advantageous position that can be leveraged socially and politically, minorities always need safeguards.
So, we are not apologetic when we say that a law positively biased is just what is required to ensure protection of minorities.
In fact, other such positively biased laws are already in place, such as the one that makes even verbal insults and taunts against Dalits a punishable offence.
It is being pointed out that the draft Bill simply presumes that violence cannot come visiting on the majority community. This is not true.
Violence can be directed against the majority community too and this should be firmly and comprehensively dealt with under provisions of the Indian Penal Code. The germane issue remains the same: all violence is deplorable but vulnerable groups need special security.
Take, for example, a hospital, where all inmates are equally threatened with opportunistic infections. The hospital will have sufficient routine measures to prevent such infections.
Despite these, the wards of children and the elderly enjoy enhanced protective measures, as they form the vulnerable sections simply because of “who they are”. While infections can visit all inmates, children and the elderly will be less effective at fending them off.
When the majority community faces targeted violence, experience shows that two factors will ensure that such violence — however fierce at the beginning — will sooner be quelled and blunted out by sheer (a) dominance and (b) prevalence of the majority community.
The retributive phase that follows will then be more acute and grisly. Then, killings will happen on an industrial magnitude, if you like, because the “economies of scale” kick in. Overpowered and subdued, the minorities suffer far greater number of casualties.
Invariably, a contagion effect ensures that newer riots occur at locations far away from the original site of dispute and are abetted, commanded and managed by the majority community, often involving political players. Typically, peace is ensured when anger is satiated.
Almost as a rule, governments in India have failed to control riots when there is political complicity.
Some political parties with a certain ideology will have a natural proclivity to actively or tacitly engage in such violence. However, all political parties may be equally prone to play some part, given the correlation between votes and violence. (Refer to Yale’s Wilkinson here.)
Therefore, some of India’s worst riots against minorities (such as the Ahmedabad riots of 1969, the Moradabad riots of 1980, the Meerut riots of 1987, and the anti-Sikh riots of Delhi) went uncontrolled by the Congress. The BJP has of course presided over worst violence against religious minorities, from Gujarat to Orissa.
The draft Bill provides for the “command doctrine” to penalize authorities who are in a position or are mandated to stop riots. Therefore, the BJP has alleged that the draft Bill is inspired by the Gujarat riots of 2002.
Good law-making and legal amendments are precisely meant to do just that: learn from practical events, take into account emerging tendencies that require attention, fix new flaws and retrofit newer clauses that may have become necessary.
India, for three-quarters of a century or more, has witnessed significant collective violence. It is important to remember that such violence against religious minorities in India is not — as aptly termed by Brass — “spontaneous outbreaks of passion”, but “productions by organized groups”. (See Paul Brass’ The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India, University of Washington Press.)
Also, newer political developments in India have given rise to newer forms of minorities. Therefore, the new law could also protect non-Marathis in Mumbai, who have been targeted by the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, or Bihar’s migrant labourers in Assam.
The core doctrine of the draft Bill is its recognition that Dalits, tribals as well as linguistic and religious minorities are particularly vulnerable groups. They are targeted for “who they are”. A law to address violence against minorities is nothing if it goes against this grain.
Of course, as with all laws, this one could also be used, abused, not appropriately used or simply unused. The efficacy of a law depends on the intention with which it is applied. The pudding cannot be sweet if the chef intends it to be sour.