Will Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, 2011, Prove to be an Effective Tool to Deal Communal Violence?
Even though people of this country had to wait long to find solutions to the centuries old communal violence history of India, the proposed Bill gives hope to the Nation. The Indian history is smeared with sporadic violence but large scale communal violence began in 1784 with the Mangalore Treaty signed between Tippu Sultan and the British East India Company. Tippu Sultan carried out continues persecutions of Christians and Hindus for over a decade.
The forced partition of India on communal lines, the anti-sikh riots in 1984, the large scale violence that followed the Rath Yathra of L K Advani and the Babari Masjid demolition in 1992 , intermittent uprising of violence against the linguistic minorities, Gujrath violence in 2002 and the Kandmal communal violence in 2008 etc. have given a wide spectrum to the makers of this Bill aimed at addressing not just victims of communal riots, but also dalits, tribals, linguistic minorities or any community that is in a minority in a particular region who are vulnerable to attack by more powerful members of society.
Following the 1992 communal violence and the growth and capturing of power by BJP have encouraged political parties to enter into secret understanding with the fundamental organizations. The extended influences of fundamental organizations have forced the political organizations to observe silence during communal clashes. We need to see the Bill against this back ground. The proposed bill gives the Centre, power to intervene in cases of communal or targeted violence by invoking a provision in Article 355 of the Constitution that states, "It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and ensure the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution."
The Bill defines communal and targeted violence as “any act or series of acts, whether spontaneous or planned, resulting in injury or harm to the person and or property, knowingly directed against any person by virtue of his or her membership of any group, which destroys the secular fabric of the nation….” In Indian law, so far, only the SC and ST Atrocity Act recognises that certain groups can be targeted.
The features of the Bill includes setting up a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation that will ensure a national standards for the entire spectrum of provisions for victims, including rescue, relief, compensation, rehabilitation, resettlement, restitution, reparation and recognizing the rights of internally displaced persons. The National Authority that works as independent body will have the power to approach even the highest court of law to secure orders and the governments would have to respond to its reports within a period of one month. It has also provisions to deal with hostile environment like economic boycott, denial of public services, and forced migration etc. The national and state authorities will be empowered to take suo motu action to quell communal violence.
The National Authority will have seven members of which at least four will be women, and no more than two can be retired civil servants and thus it provide greater space for civil society members. A specific feature is that it also provides provision to punish the head of a communal organisation for the acts committed by the foot soldiers, dereliction of duty by officials including the chain of administrators and political persons like Chief Ministers etc.
The civil society activists saw this Bill as the effective step to enforce the law while the people in government perceived it as a way of usurping its powers and this controversy even led to several extensions, and exit of members of its drafting and advisory committees. The Babus accused the civil society activists of trying to disempower the existing administrative and justice mechanisms but the good will of people have persisted. Taking note of the opinions of different groups, we need to wait and see how this Bill will be used by the successive Governments to deal with communal and sectarian violence.
By Fr. Anand Muttungal