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Legal dimensions of prevention and control of communal riots
Preventing pogroms

The state-backed violence in Gujarat has generated a vigorous initiative by civil society which seeks to redress the wrong and prevent recurrence of such events. As part of the wider initiative, the New Delhi-based Minorities Council and Institute of Objective Studies jointly organised a seminar on "Gujarat Malady: Prevention and Cure" at Indian Law Institute, New Delhi, on August 4.

The seminar was of the view that, "In the absence of effective laws and impartial law-enforcement, civil society on its own cannot guarantee security to any vulnerable group." According to Prof. Iqbal Ansari, Secretary-General of Minority Council, inter-group peace in a country like India "requires a two-fold process of impartial and humane law-enforcement by the agencies of the state, and civil society's initiative for evolving mechanisms of peaceful resolution of disputes."

Both the processes are absent in India, says Prof. Ansari. The seminar examined the legal and administrative mechanisms for prevention and control of riots and for speedily bringing the guilty to justice, besides provision of adequate compensation to victims, their restitution and rehabilitation.

Summing up the need to make related laws more effective and their implementation fool proof, Prof. Ansari says much of the mischief could be nipped in the bud if "hate speech" is effectively prevented in the beginning itself. Every major riot is preceded by a sustained hate campaign of anti-Muslim, anti-Christian speeches, appearance of wall posters and handbills carrying vituperative hate messages and circulation of such audio and video cassettes in the targeted locality.

The laws on hate speech are almost never implemented at the preventive stage, which calls for a review of sections 153, 153 (A), 153 (B), 155, 295, 295 (A), 296, 298, 505 (2) of the IPC.

Some of the other issues are virtual impunity given to newspapers spreading anti-Muslim calumny and triggering violence or aggravating it with fabricated stories. Poor intelligence gathering often biased against minorities, and lack of any sustained campaign for implementing recommendations of the National Police Commission (NPC) are also important.

Because of this the police wait for "orders from above" rather than doing their statute-mandated duty. Another problem is anti-minority bias in police as established by important commissions of enquiry. That policemen go scot-free for all their acts of omission and commission only aggravate matters.

Prof. Ansari asks the following questions: Why does the secular agenda neglect the issue of police reforms? Why is the desirability of socially diverse composition of the police and other wings of law enforcement machinery never discussed as an issue even after Gujarat? Why have the recommendations of all commissions and committees for adequate presence of minorities in state forces and intelligence services not been implemented?

Prof. Ansari wonders as to why there is no move to amend the Commission of Enquiry Act. That there is a need for this is clear from Gujarat government's appointment of commission of enquiry to probe Gujarat riots. How can a government whose "failure" led to the genocide order an enquiry?, asks Prof. Ansari.

Despite clear signs of the latest Gujarat carnage having many features of a genocide, there is no sign of a genocide law in India coming into being although it is required by Article V of the UN Convention on Genocide. Even those who have characterised the Gujarat carnage as genocide and ethnic cleansing are not campaigning for enactment of such a law. That makes the trial of the culprits on charges of genocide nearly impossible.

The justice delivery system too has contributed to the present state of affairs by delaying procedures and by apparently acting under pressure on Ayodhya and other communally sensitive issues.

The National Commission for Minorities made comprehensive recommendations for prevention and control of riots to Union and state governments in 1999. Nothing has been done to implement those recommendations. The above issues, according to Prof. Ansari, were discussed at the seminar on August 4.

Md. Zeyaul Haque

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