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Millennium Post

Amend. Enact. Now!

There can be no bigger an embarrassment to a secular democracy than a public rip-off of its citizens’ democratic rights on the pretexts of religion, caste, sect and region. The very recent, disturbing incident in Muzaffarnagar is one such crying instance. The communal riot in Muzaffarnagar – in the backdrop of a weak economy – not only adds to the woes of the economy but also forces both internal and external minds to perceive our nation as a ‘failed state’. The impact of the recent flare-up is not confined to the western UP district. It has impacted thoughts and processes in other locations like Baghpat, Unnao, Bulandshahr, Bahraich, Bijnor, and other towns in the vicinity of the district. What is worse is that such a fomented communal unrest as this, only ends up lending the upper hand to anti-social elements. That eventually creates a rift between various social groups in many belts across the nation. What’s the panacea to eradicate this social plague? A re-drafted and powerful Communal Violence Bill.

But what should rightfully precede the passage of the new Bill is a need to incorporate a few fundamental changes in our political system. Violence pitting one community against another – from Hatia & Ranchi to Godhra to Muzaffarnagar – has been an indisputably striking feature of Indian politics for long. Look at communal riots that have put India to shame in the past six-plus decades. Almost all bear this one peculiar characteristic. That fanning such disturbing fires have often benefitted political parties – those that claim to play the messiah to certain religious or caste groups that become their vote banks during elections.

We are one of those few nations where religion and politics work hand in glove. Many other nations have adopted policies that separate these two. Speaking in context of the modern political system, it was in 1802 that Thomas Jefferson iterated the importance of separation of the Church from the State. In fact, much earlier in The First Amendment to the United States Constitution (adopted on 15 December 1791), was it clarified that, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...’ Along the same lines, even before we pass and convert the Communal Violence Bill into a law, we need to ensure that other supporting laws are secular and do not favour any particular religion or group per se.

The incumbent government has for long paid literally no heed to the Communal Violence Bill. Due to lack of such a Bill, the central government and central authorities are not authorised to take action and interfere in State-related matters even during communal riots. The Communal Violence Bill would empower the Centre during such disturbing situations and would allow it to help the States keep the fire under check and subsequently douse it. It would further ensure the inception of a specialised task force called the National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation (by the Centre) that could come into action whenever required. 451 cases of communal violence between January and August 2013 in our country as compared to 410 in 2012 – aren’t these numbers enough to substantiate the importance of such a Bill most urgently?

At present, the police and Rapid Action Forces are handicapped as they are not permitted to take remedial action during processions and during gatherings where venomous speeches are delivered. For instance the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry for Mumbai riots (1992) stated that the police was keeping track of the movements of the rioters and the speeches they were giving up until 6 December 1992 – the day when Babri Masjid was demolished. The police was not empowered enough to arrest those responsible for the riot and was not even allowed to question the activities. In its current form, the Bill does provide for special courts (for trails) and empowers the victims while further providing protection to witnesses during the trial period. But the next big issue that makes the Bill flawed is the demarcation line that it draws between the ‘majority’ and ‘minority’. This is where I would like to bring in the concept of ‘Separation of the Church (read: religion) and the State’. Under no circumstance should a secular country have special laws for a particular religion or a separate trial system for a religious group. Should the Bill keep it fair, sans religious (or any such) discrimination, it would go a long way in serving the purpose that it was actually conceptualised for.  Differentiated provisions and laws based on religion or caste, are in themselves non-secular and communal and only encourage anti-social elements to customise it politically.

Where do we begin? Separate religion from legislation and make sure that laws that differentiate individuals on the ground of religion (especially for crime) and caste are not allowed to breathe the Indian air. Under no circumstance is crime justified. The Communal Bill then should be passed immediately after removing the clauses of majority and minority and adding clauses that provide for excellent provisions to all victims irrespective of their religion, caste, sect and region.

The author is a management guru and director of IIPM Think Tank

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