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Published in the 16-28 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

ISSUES

Law against communal violence-i

By Manzoor Ahmad IPS (Rtd)

The Milli Gazette Online

Maintaining communal peace and harmony, ensuring equal protection of law to every citizen irrespective of caste, community, language and religious persuasion, and equal opportunity to share the fruits of growth and progress - these are some of the basic elements of good governance of a multi-cultural democratic polity. The Founding Fathers of the Republic envisioned a united and strong people preserving their cultural diversities as long as these diversities did not come into conflict with the unity of the nation. Their idea of unity did not mean extirpation of the cultural diversity. Their concept of nationalism, strong as it was, did not depend on one religion or one cultural tradition. They believed that this diversity would make country strong. In fact, all communities had fought together for freedom and our leaders were proud of our composite cultural heritage and unity in diversity. The father of the Nation made the supreme sacrifice of his life to uphold these lofty principles. 

Unfortunately, in spite of their vision, communal conflict has now become a cancer of our society. Communalism in its horrifying manifestation of Hindu-Muslim riots poses the greatest threat to the well-being and stability of society and state. Other religious and linguistic minorities have also suffered tremendously during the last decades. Atrocities against Christians came in sharp focus in burning alive of Stein and his two minor sons in a car. Although this incident shocked the nation and the world but Christian homes and churches continued to be torched in Gujarat and several other parts of the country. Anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi and U.P. gave a serious jolt to the unity of the country and Sikhs continued to suffer in Punjab and other places. The Kashmiri Pundits were systematically alienated and forced to become refugees in their own country. Similar crimes by militants of different hues made life miserable for North Indians in Mumbai and North East. 

In short, almost every minority community whether based on religion, culture, language caste and others has suffered at the hands of one group or the other and it has strained the chord of national unity to the breaking point.

Tens of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives at the hands of goondas and communal and partisan law and order machinery. The social and economic cost of these incidents is incalculable. There were incidents of communal violence in pre-independence days also. But there is a qualitative difference between the pre-partition riots and the present condition: while during the pre-partition days, law and order machinery remained, by and large, impartial, in post-independence days, the police, magistracy and in some places even judiciary came to play a partisan role. Eleven Muslims lodged in Meerut and Fatehgarh jails in connection with Meerut riots were killed by the jail officials with the help of the convicts and a large number were severely beaten.

Many of these riots as Paul Brass has found are not spontaneous acts of mob fury but are planned, orchestrated and institutionalized phenomena. There is an "institutionalized riot system" involving a network of relations between individuals economic interests, organizations, criminals, politicians and the police. Gujrat has shown that there may be close linkage between communal violence, electoral politics, and political mobilization in quest of power.

This blatantly partisan role of the police has so conclusively been established in the reports of almost all Commissions of Inquiry that it need not be repeated here. Those who think that this behavior is an aberration in an otherwise sound system live in fool's paradise. In Hashimpura of Meerut, the police picked up young men from a Mohalla, took them to a canal and mowed them down. Unfortunately, the government did not issue sanction for prosecuting duly indicted 61 persons, and the sanction given against 19 of the culprits was also later withdrawn. Various Commissions of Inquiry in communal riots have clearly said that the police not only lodged false FIRs against the Muslims and arrested them in large numbers but also participated in arson, loot and killing. This partisan role of the police has been noticed all over the world and brings bad name to the country. Chistopher Jafrelot, in his book The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics, says, "The principal Hindu-Muslim riots in 1980-87 were further inflamed if not actually triggered off by the police who showed an anti-Muslim bias in every case" and he identifies the PAC of U.P. as the real villain. Prof. Satish Sabherwal and Prof. Mushir-ul-Hasan in their report on Moradabad riots of 1980 clearly demonstrated how lower rung of judiciary also acted in a communally motivated and partisan manner.

Governments, both national and state, also have not covered themselves with glory. Highly respected journalist, A.M. Rosenthal, writing in the New York Times said about Bombay riots of 1992-93, "The riots were essentially anti-Muslim pogroms. Hindu hate literature against Indian Muslims is almost exactly the same in manufacturing paranoia as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitlers's favorite…. Shiv Sena could be put down in hours. The state and national governments behaved like Weimar reborn - disorganized, frightened, gutless". The participation of state machinery, even at political level in Gujarat pogroms is too open and too recent to need a detailed mention here.

With the new government at the Centre a fresh beginning is expected to be made. If we are able to eliminate this monster of communal violence, we shall feel that the blood of the innocent in Gujrat has not gone in vain. The Manifesto of the Congress Party rightly says that the cause of maintaining peace and harmony is the "real battle ground for secularism" for our generation. It is also a question of political will. It is an essential part of a civil society and good governance and any government worth its name has to stop the communally motivated violence. This was also the main political platform of the U.P.A. during the general elections to the Parliament. If the Governments of the States and the Centre decide to stop this periodic bloodletting it can surely be done. A firm resolve is expected from the U.P.A. leadership. The leaders of the UPA are expected to realise the burden placed by the country on their shoulders and do measure up to the tasks. This alone will ensure their political survival as well. 

The government should take prompt punitive measures against the policemen and magistrates who fail to prevent communal violence in their areas and those who are even remotely found partisan. Presently, there is an unfortunate feeling that one can indulge in minority-bashing with impunity.

(To be continued)

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