Gujarat Verdict And Communal & Targetted Violence Bill

The communal forces can set this country on fire any time they like.

The recent verdict by a Gujarat court on the case of Naroda Patia is, to say the least, revolutionary, in its content. This verdict has brought a new confidence in the minds of victims and activists about judiciary in secular India. Judge Jyotsna Yagnik has enhanced the prestige of judiciary especially through her observation that communal riots are like poison in secular India. One rarely hears such a remark in written judgements these days.

It must be admitted that it is after a long time and almost for the first time in independent India that such severe punishments have been meted out to the perpetrators of communal violence. Both Dr Kodnani, who subsequently went on to become minister of women and child development ironically after killing 35 women and 30 children brutally, and Babu Bajrangi, Both were confident that they would be fully protected by their boss and that no one will ever touch them.  Babu Bajrangi had boasted of his exploits in a sting operation carried out by Tehelka magazine on the eve of last Assembly elections.

But, howsoever powerful a person, he/she cannot control everything. Therefore, despite such assurances these perpetrators of brutal violence could not escape the long hands of law.  In most earlier riots, the perpetrators managed to escape for various reasons like partial, incomplete or careless investigations by the police under pressure from political bosses and due to their own communal biases.

Not that Narnedra Modi allowed honest and careful investigations for catching up with the criminals but because communal violence in Gujarat had reached such outrageous proportions that the whole world was watching what was going on in Gujarat. Activists like Teesta Setalvad, Advocate Mukul Sinha and many other human rights activists made it very difficult for these accused to escape the law of land. Actually the Gujarat police had closed more than 4000 cases saying that no evidence was available. It was Supreme Court that ordered these cases to be re-opened. Not only this, the Best Bakery case and Bilqis Bano case had to be tried outside Gujarat in order to get justice.

Also we must salute, as Teesta Setalvad said, the women from Naroda Patiya who had seen all the killings, showed rare courage and stood firm to give evidence in courts despite threats to their lives and also allurement of money as reportedly Rupees two crore were offered to them to change their statements. We must indeed salute these brave women.

Again, recently what happened in Assam between Bodos and Muslims and the terror it spread in the country shows how vulnerable is our country to communal violence. The communal forces can set this country on fire any time they like. Also the way these forces set rumours afloat against innocent people of Northeast working in different parts of India was very scary. These Northeasterners were so scary that they took the first train available to rush home. Assam violence was like Gujarat violence. The only difference was of scale of killings. In brutality, it was another Gujarat.

It was after Gujarat riots that Congress had promised people of India in its manifesto for 2004 elections to bring a law on communal and targeted violence. It also drafted one but the propose law was so weak that it was worse than the remedy. We protested against it, held many consultations and forced the Government to redraft it. Sonia Gandhi took up the matter and set up a sub-committee under her advisory committee to suggest a new draft. Thus a new effective draft was prepared and given to the government. However, the BJP and some of its allies attacked it so severely that Government simply abandoned it.

Had that Bill been adopted, I am sure Assam would not have repeated. Many more riots would take place if an effective laws is not enacted and implemented. The provisions of the Bill are such that it would be difficult for perpetrators of violence to escape the law. Also it holds those who fail to maintain law and order responsible and they, in case, they fail to maintain peace, will be punished. Above all, there is fair provision for reparations and relief. Today, in Assam more than four lakh refugees are rotting in relief camps and do not know what will happen to them and their families.

The communal and targeted violence Bill provides for all that. Government has abandoned this Bill. It can be slightly amended to make it acceptable to all, though there is nothing that really makes this Bill objectionable. However, the word “community” could be replaced by “group” to take care of the sensibilities of some parties like BJP. This Bill is highly needed to prevent future Gujarats and Assams.

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