Rising Communal Violence

By Ayesha Pervez

Targeted communal violence like the Mumbai and Gujarat riots are heavily publicised. However, many lesser-known riots regularly take place in India, the most recent being the Moradabad riots in Uttar Pradesh in August, the Bharatpur riots in Rajasthan in September, and the Rudrapur riots in Uttarakhand in October.

If we look closely at these recent cases of communal violence, we see the trend of police complicity wherein they have colluded not only with the dominant community but also with right-wing groups to perpetrate violence against the Muslim minority. The violence in Bharatpur claimed nine lives, all Muslims; 19 of the 23 grievously injured were also Muslims; a mosque was vandalised; and perhaps the most glaring aspect of this incident was that the police fired 219 bullets at the Muslims in a mosque. Police atrocities against the Muslim minority were again evident within three weeks of the Bharatpur violence, when Muslims in Rudrapur (Uttarakhand) went to the police station to complain about two incidents of desecration and burning of the Qur’an within a span of three days. Not only did the police refuse to lodge an FIR, they also took no action against the culprits. When the group of Muslims protested and refused to leave the police station without an FIR being lodged and action taken, the police started a lathi-charge which resulted in stone-pelting by protestors. In response, the police opened fire at the protestors killing four Muslims and injuring many others. A Hindu mob that had gathered during the firing began destroying shops and setting vehicles on fire.

An important aspect to be noted here is that, in both incidents, Muslims had approached the police only to demand action against miscreants. Instead of controlling the situation by taking immediate action, the police played the role of catalyst in escalating the violence. The police’s response of not only denying justice but actually participating in the rioting against Muslims reiterates the communal bias entrenched in our police machinery. This kind of bias, if unchecked and left unaccounted, increases the level of mistrust felt by the minority towards the law and order mechanism, and results in deep scepticism about the state’s protection and justice machinery.

India has faced communal riots since Independence. If we study the justice and reparation process of riots over the last 64 years of independence, we see that on most counts victims have failed to get justice and the perpetrators have never been held accountable in the absence of any strong and exclusive legislative tool to address this violence. In all these cases, existing IPC provisions have proven inadequate in addressing targeted violence.

These limitations have been addressed in the pending Communal Violence (Prevention) Bill. The most remarkable aspect of the proposed legislation is that it holds public servants accountable for their negligent behaviour or wilful failure in controlling riots in their area. An officer can be prosecuted if he fails to act without adequate reason. Not only the complicit officer, his superior too can be punished for the omissions/commissions of his subordinates, if it can be proved that the superior had information about the situation and he failed to issue appropriate orders and directions to his subordinates. Relief, reparation, restitution and compensation become the right of every victim of communal and targeted violence. Compensation and reparation will be in accordance with the loss and damage; victims will have to be rehabilitated in their areas, and the state will have to ensure the safety and security of the rehabilitated victims. The bill also defines the new offence of sexual assault which goes beyond the narrow definition of rape. Rape requires penile penetration whereas sexual assault includes causing harm to reproductive organs, disrobing a person or compelling a person to undress, exposing one’s sexual organs in front of a person or subjecting them to sexual indignity, exhibiting private parts, and inserting sharp objects into a person’s private parts. The bill also constitutes a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation and a state authority of the same name whose objective it will be to prevent acts of communal and targeted violence, control the spread of organised communal and targeted violence, monitor due investigation, prosecution and trial of offences, and monitor relief, reparation and restitution in a fair and impartial manner.

The draft bill, which still has to see a debate in Parliament, has been attacked by right-wing groups calling it “anti-Hindu”. What they fail to understand is that Hindu minorities too are covered under the bill in states where they form a minority population. Further, it covers all religious and linguistic minorities in India and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Under the bill, relief shall be granted to all, including minorities, non-minorities, SCs, non-SCs, STs and non-STs affected by communal and targeted violence. We already have a similar legislative tool in India -- the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act -- which protects particular social groups like dalits and tribals.

The new bill has been drafted along similar lines. The Indian state, till date, has not effectively been able to protect this minority neither from communal violence nor from day-to-day exclusion. These factors have resulted in a high level of mistrust between Indian Muslims and the state. Strong protective legislation is the “right” of the minority community to address targeted violence against them and hold the perpetrators and failed police and government machinery accountable. Minorities, especially Muslims who are targeted on a regular basis, need this in the growing environment of insecurity and fear. It is also important for reinstating trust in the government, and will empower the community to fight for justice and reparation.

This calls for the government to act proactively to create an environment where, first and foremost, this minority community feels it is being protected and that it has access to strong legal tools and redressal mechanisms to address specific forms of exclusion and protection of human rights.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2012 on page no. 2

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