On comprehensive law on communal riots
By Asghar Ali Engineer
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government has promised, in its Common Minimum Programme that a law will be enacted to prevent communal riots but what is stated therein seems post-riot measures like special courts to punish the guilty, to pay uniform compensation to the victims etc. However, it is silent on the preventive measures which are more important than the follow up measures. Needless to say the comprehensive law should lay emphasis on preventive measures so that communal violence can be prevented in this country.
The most important players in any communal violence are politicians. No communal riot can take place without the direct or indirect role of politicians, much less Gujarat like carnage. I have been investigating communal riots since last four decades and I have yet to see any communal riot in which politicians have not played direct or indirect role. There are very few riots in which politicians have played even indirect role; in most cases they play direct role. Only politicians of the left are an exception to this game.
Thus it should be said with all emphasis here that without tackling political problem one can hardly check communal violence in this country. The most obvious role among politicians is that of communal politicians i. e. Jan Sangh-BJP-Shiv Sena. These communal parties are not only motivated by their communal and fascistic ideologies but also by immediate political gains to be made in terms of increasing their vote base. The whole Ram Janambhoomi movement was motivated by their desire to widen their vote base among low caste and backward caste Hindus besides upper caste Hindus to multiply their seats in Parliament and they greatly succeeded in that project. To achieve this objective Mr. Advani took out Rathyatra from Somnath to Ayodhya which, of course, he could not complete.
It was this movement coupled with rathyatra, which polarised the Hindus and Muslims as never before in history. The BJP politicians like Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara were making highly provocative speeches against Muslims publicly. Bal Thackaray and other Shiv Sena politicians too were not far behind. In fact they were outdoing each other. If the Narsimha Rao Government had taken strong action against such provocative speeches and arrested concerned BJP poticians whatever their stature, Babri Masjid would not have been demolished and so much blood would not have been shed in riots which followed the demolition. Thus first of all political will is needed to tackle communal violence. The law is there but it is never implemented sincerely. If sections 153, 153(A), 295 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code which deal with promotion of religious animosity are used against any one making such provocative speeches, the whole trouble can be nipped in the bud. It is hardly ever done. Even elections are fought on such provocative campaigns. Modi's speeches during Gujarat elections of December 2002 were patently communal and he won two-third majority from precisely those areas where anti-Muslim violence broke out after the Godhra incident of February 27, 2002.
It is also strange that the politicians which take oath for secularism at the time of registration of their parties with the Election Commission and also swear by the Constitution adopt 'Hindutva' as their parties programme? How Hindutva or Islamitva can be reconciled with the Constitutional secularism? The two are quite contradictory. An observation by a Supreme Court judge that Hindutva is a way of life cannot certainly reconcile it with secular spirit of our Constitution. Hindutva is a political doctrine of a Hindu communal party. It can under no circumstances be equated with secularism.
It is fine if a politician is intensely religious (either Hindu, or Muslim or Christian). It certainly does not conflict with our concept of secularism. But it is one thing to be intensely religious and quite different to spouse political Hindutva based on hatred of minorities. Our electoral laws also need to be stringently looked into to uphold our secularism and to consolidate it. The Hindutva forces are eroding secular values and replacing it with hatred and conflict. Any law against communal violence has to keep this political dimension in view. The UPA Government would need strong political will to achieve this. It should ask the Election Commission to keep strict vigilance on communal campaign and disqualify candidates using communal or sectarian appeal.
It is only politicians who prepare atmosphere for communal violence through provocative speeches and newspaper articles. The second stage is to spread rumour through a well planned manner and third stage is to start violence using some spark here and there. Any law has to tackle the problem at all these stages. We have already dealt with the question of provocation. Spreading rumour is done very stealthily and is not easy to deal with. It needs help from the people and an alert administration can take effective steps through people's committees to squash such rumours.
Thirdly, the sparking incident, unlike Godhra in case of Gujarat, are usually insignificant like teasing a girl of the other community, or quarrel between two groups belonging to two different communities, or someone knocking down a pedestrian etc. and in a surcharged atmosphere this is enough to start major conflagration. And if the police is also communalised, which is often the case, it can turn into a disaster. The Biharsharif riots of 1981 started with a brawl between a Muslim and a Yadav on the question of payment and turned into a major disaster thanks to the role of RSS and the police under its influence.
In communal violence after politicians another important factor is police. If police wants it can curb communal violence in no time. There are two conditions: (1) the police should be strictly professional and handle communal disturbances strictly as law and order situation and (2) it should be allowed to function without political interference as long as they do their job professionally.
The role of police has been increasingly politicised and communalised as I have been observing since the Jabalpur riots of 1961. In many riots lower level officers lead the mobs and take part in looting, burning and killing. Bhagalpur riots of 1989 and Gujarat riots of 2002 are flagrant examples of direct police participation with of course, honourable exceptions. The police is also becoming part of communal polarisation. Also, with communal parties coming to power they tend to oblige their political bosses by adding and abetting their communal misdeeds. In case of situations like Gujarat honest officers were punished by being immediately transferred.
The shocking thing is that all those police officers who were indicted by the judicial inquiry commissions were never penalised; instead they were rewarded by promotions. There were innumerable examples. Mr. Ram Dev Tyagi, who fired on Suleman Bakery people and killed innocent boys during January 1993 riots in Mumbai was severely indicted by the Justice Srikrishna Commission. Hardly any action was taken against him. Instead he was promoted as Commissioner of Police during the Shiv Sena- BJP rule in Maharashtra in 1995. Mr. P. C. Pande, Police Commissioner Ahmedabad during Gujarat carnage of 2002 was promoted and sent to CBI.
Any law to prevent communal violence has to tackle police problem and see that it behaves strictly professionally, as pointed out above. The Left Government in West Bengal can become a better model in this respect. It is well known that a communally sensitive state like West Bengal until seventies became a totally riot-free model state after the Left Front Government took over. There are two reasons for this: (1) it does not mix religion with politics and does not indulge in any form of communal rhetoric and (2) it has warned the police force that any lack of action to stop communal violence within 24 hours will attract strong action. The result is for anyone to see in West Bengal.
Bihar was also communal hotbed for long but since Laloo Prasad Yadav came to power the communal scenario changed. Bihar is also now almost riot-free state. Not that communal forces are lying low but do not succeed in engineering communal violence as the state machinery is ever vigilant. It should not, therefore, be difficult to have riot-free India under UPA though few states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and M. P. are presently ruled by the BJP. But UPA Government can send right signal to all communal mischief makers. No tempering with secular values and communal rhetoric will be tolerated.
And in case communal violence does break out the guilty, which should include politicians as much as ordinary citizens, provoking or taking law in their own hands and the police officers failing to control within a specified time period, should all be punished according to law through fast track courts specially set up for the purpose. If necessary, there should be a separate autonomous police commission to professionalise the police force and to make it independent of political interference.
Of course the law should see to it that the victims of communal violence get speedy justice and are uniformly compensated. Today it all depends on the chief minister concerned to announce the quantum of compensation. For every person killed at least Rs. 5 lakhs should be given by way of compensation and if a bread earner is killed, a job should be ensured to a member of the family. Often those killed happen to be poor.
I would again like to emphasise that the law should deal more stringently with pre-violence than post-violence situation. Prevention will prove far more effective.
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