All I wanna say is, they don’t really care about us
The communal violence bill is being watered down. A few of its teeth are being knocked off. Predictably, pressure from the right has worked. I suddenly remember Michael Jackson. To borrow one of his songs, ‘they don’t really care about us’.
Despite his popularity that cut through race and ethnicity, Jackson ’s songs often captured the angst of racial discrimination, even though he was born four years after the American civil rights movement had successfully ended in the early 50s. Probably, subliminally he was aware of it somewhere down the line. Our predicament isn’t very different.
The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council will re-work the draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, bowing to pressures and threats from the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It is truth universally acknowledged and amply demonstrated at home too, that minorities of all categories need an appropriate level of protection of their life, property and dignity.
Much of the hostility towards the bill relates to two distinct provisions. One seeks to make targeted violence only against minorities a punishable offence; the other seeks to give the central or federal government consolidated powers to tackle such internal lawlessness (under Article 355 of the Constitution). Both of these remarkable provisions can now potentially undergo deletion or alterations.
Let this be stated upfront. Muslims need not be apologetic at all in demanding a law positively biased towards them when it comes to the issue of targeted violence. This was what one wrote in an earlier blog. This is what needs an emphatic repetition, to the point of banality.
The BJP sees the clause – of punishment only for those who target minorities – as utterly biased. Indeed it is — and rightly so. Minorities of all categories have long needed a special legislation to protect them from guided pogroms.
Let’s be clear about this new legislation. It isn’t about preventing communal violence per se, as the BJP thinks it is. It is more about enhanced protection to groups of people, who by default, are vulnerable and prone to suffer far greater causalities, persecution and hounding during communal violence.
It is to ensure dominant groups don’t prevail over non-dominant ones when largescale violence breaks out. It is to ensure foetuses aren’t scooped out of pregnant women and the words “ Om ” stamped on them. It is to ensure that police and civil administration don’t deliberately look the other way. It is to ensure that heads of state governments don’t allow numerically superior mobs to terrorize helpless minorities.
There is no evidence to suggest that the majority community will have no remedies available. In fact, all existing laws in the legal toolbox continue to be available. It is however evident that these very laws have historically proven to be inadequate when it came to protecting minorities during riot situations. (Refer to an earlier blog in this section.)
The BJP sees Gujarat as the locus of the draft legislation. Why not, shall we ask again? Targeted violence of minorities aptly falls under circumstances requiring federal or central intervention. Laws must be reworked towards this end, if they have not already been.
So, Article 355 of India’s Constitution — which enjoins the central government to protect states against “external aggression” and “internal disturbances” – was being reworked. The draft bill sought to expand “internal disturbance” to include violence against minorities.
“The occurrence of organized communal and targeted violence shall constitute internal disturbance within the meaning of Article 355 of the Constitution of India and the Central Government may take such steps in accordance with the duties mentioned thereunder, as the nature and circumstances of the case so requires,” Section 20 of the draft legislation states.
Now, this is being removed. “If there is a slightest fear or doubt that the Centre’s powers are being consolidated by reference to Article 355 and reference to internal disturbance in Article 355, we have simply recommended to delete it,” Farah Naqvi, NAC member and convenor of its working group on the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill was reported as saying.
Clause 30 of the draft Bill, which details the objectives of a national authority to deal with targeted violence, is also being done away with. What remains?
The BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh, have talked about the draft bill in terms of Hindus versus Muslims. Familiar reasoning?
This law isn’t about Hindus versus Muslims versus Sikhs versus Jains versus Jews versus Parsis or indeed anyone else, as is being pointed out by the BJP’s mouthpieces inside and outside the party.
If it’s about protecting a Muslim in Gujarat, it’s equally about protecting a Hindu in Kerela’s Muslim belt or in Christian-majority Mizoram. Likewise, it’s also about protecting a Bihari in Mumbai.
As Michael Jackson’s songs often pointed out, it’s simply about protecting the underdogs. Stupid.