Communal Violence Bill: Nothing secular about it
Three days after the Delhi bomb blast on 7 September, the PM convened a meeting of the National Integration Council. Surprisingly, combating terrorism was not on the agenda. Instead, what topped the agenda was a controversial proposed bill called Prevention of Communal Violence Bill, 2011.
The drafting of this bill is amateurish. Moreover, the manipulative intent of the bill becomes clear if one goes through the definitions of "communal violence" and "group" outlined at the very start.
"Communal and targeted violence" means and includes any act or series of acts, whether spontaneous or planned, resulting in injury or harm to the person and of property knowingly directed against any person by virtue of his or her membership of any group, which destroys the secular fabric of the nation.
"Group" means a religious or linguistic minority, in any state in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes within the meaning of clauses (24) and (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution of India.
Thus, it is obvious that the government has assumed that all communal violence in the country is perpetrated by the majority community and directed at the minority community. If both sides inflict violence upon each other, the bill carries provisions of punishing only one side and it need not be reiterated which side it favors. The bill conveniently ignores the fact that most violent acts in India produce retaliatory violence and on many occasions, the retaliation has been far more savage than its trigger.
Apart from being partial and divisive, the bill carries two other cardinal flaws. One, it makes a mockery of the basic tenet of equality before the law. Two, it assigns a distinct religious identity to all citizens, as against seeing them merely as Indians.
Sexual assault, thus, is punishable under this bill only if committed against a person belonging to a minority 'group'. A 'hate propaganda' is an offence against minority community and not otherwise. Organised and targeted violence, financial help to such persons who commit an offence, torture or dereliction of duty by public servants are all offences only if committed against a member of the minority community and not otherwise.
Interestingly, the bill "extends to the whole of India, provided that the Central government may, with the consent of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, extend the act to that state." The bill thus provides Kashmir an easy escape route which in effect reiterates that the bill does not concern itself with the atrocities or violent acts committed on minorities in Kashmir.
Let us consider another situation: what if violence is committed against the majority community in a majority-dominated state? Given the demography of several districts of Kerala, UP and Assam, such a possibly exists at least theoretically. Doesn't the bill then give unnecessary leeway to certain sections of society to get away with violence?
Having dwelt upon the fallacies of the bill, it is worth questioning why the same government, which has steadfastly ruled out the need for any specific law to combat terror, should be in such tearing hurry to pass the Communal Violence Bill. After all, the last major communal violence took place in 2002 whereas the last major terror strike (if one chooses to ignore the sundry ones) took place in 2008.
The answer to this question can't ignore the vindictive, communal campaign which senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh has been running for nearly two years now. Nor can it isolate Rahul Gandhi's irresponsible reported remark to US Ambassador that Hindu terrorism is a bigger threat to the country than Islamic terror.
Does that by any chance hint that the communal agenda which the Congress has been pursuing lately has been laid out by none other than its crown prince?
Moreover, the proposed bill carries another furtive intent that doesn't go unnoticed. Communal violence constitutes a law and order problem, dealing with which is squarely within the domain of the state government. The Centre's jurisdiction is confined to issue advisories and in a worse case situation deciding whether under Article 356, the governance of the state can be carried on in accordance with the Constitution or not.
If the proposed bill becomes a law, then effectively the Central government would have usurped the jurisdiction of the states. This does not augur well for India's federal structure, especially when instances of the misuse of Article 356 are well known. The contents of this bill are so ill-intended that one can't help wondering if this bill was drafted on the wishful hope that Gujarat might see communal riots again, in which case the UPA could have ready grounds to dismiss the state government.
It is strange and ironical that while everyone criticises the UPA government on the issue of corruption, few are willing to acknowledge that this government might have been pushing a covert communal agenda for far too long now.
More about Tuhin A SinhaTuhin A Sinha is among the best-selling authors in India, a columnist and a screenwriter. Starting in 2006 with his first book, That Thing Called Love, an unconventional romance set in a Mumbai monsoon, Tuhin has written five novels. They include The Captain (formerly 22 Yards), Of Love And Politics, The Edge of Desire and The Edge Of Power. Tuhin is acknowledged among the most prolific Indian writers with a maverick knack to experiment with new genres. While his first book was an offbeat romance, The Captain was a cricket thriller that explored the underbelly of modern cricket. Of Love And Politics was a political thriller. His last two books which comprise the Edge series can be called socio-political thrillers with a strong feminist skew. Tuhin is a screenwriter of several popular TV shows, the most noteworthy being Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai on Star Plus. Apart from his fiction novels and scripts, Tuhin is a keen political observer. His columns on Indian politics appear regularly in India’s leading dailies. Tuhin has a regular blog on ibnlive.com. He also appears frequently on news channels on discussions around politics and cricket.
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