Enact a Law Against Communal Violence

The UPA Government has again delayed the introduction of the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill in Parliament. Predictably, Narendra Modi and the BJP shrilly opposed the CV Bill. And the UPA Government lacks the political will to pass a strong bill against communal violence.

What should be the salient features of such a law?

The violence and its aftermath in Muzaffarnagar itself illustrates what kind of law is urgently needed. In riot after riot, it is clear that organised violence escalates only when the State machinery looks the other way, and fails to act in accordance to its duty to stop the violence. What is needed is a law that ensures accountability of the State machinery to preventing and curbing communal violence, by fixing punishment for those who fail to do their duty.

The plight of the survivors of communal violence in the relief camps of Muzaffarnagar brings home the other feature that such a law must have. It must ensure justice, rehabilitation and reparation for the survivors of communal violence.

Between 2005-2009, the UPA Government introduced versions of the CV Bill that sought to vest the Executive with extraordinary powers by declaring an area ‘communally disturbed’, and these versions were rightly rejected.

A memorandum to the Prime Minister, endorsed by many civil society organizations and parties including the CPI(ML), noted: “It has been repeatedly observed that it is not that the Executive does not have the powers needed to prevent and control a situation of communal and targeted violence. It is the lack of accountability of public servants, officials and others exercising political, executive, administrative and law enforcement powers, further aggravated by institutional bias and complicity that leads to the non-use or misuse of such powers by State functionaries. Almost all incidents of communal violence reveal a pattern of planned or targeted violence; abdication by the state machinery of the responsibility to protect; occurrence of gender based crimes with specific targeting of women’s bodies; followed by indifferent or partisan investigations and consequently absolute impunity for the horrific crimes committed in these violent assaults. The survivors, debilitated and shattered by the violence, with no recognized rights to reparative justice are left to live on the margins of fear and destitution. …There was therefore a clear and unequivocal call for rejecting a Bill that would in any way enhance the arsenal of state power….

“ The recent outbreak of communal violence in Muzaffarnagar once again reminds us of the urgent and dire need for a law against communal and targeted violence. We the undersigned, secular and civil liberty activists, women’s rights activists, legal experts, academicians, organizations, urge the Government to draft a new legislation, the primary focus of which should be to secure accountability of public servants and to hold them responsible for communal and targeted violence, as well as make provision for providing reparative justice to all victims and survivors of such violence.”
The memorandum sought a fresh draft of the CV Bill that would protect ALL persons from communal and targeted crime through making persons in positions of public authority accountable; punishing all those responsible for perpetrating, planning, inciting, abetting and conspiring to cause the violence, harm, and loss; and just, fair and equitable reparation to ALL affected persons. The UPA Government must pass such a law without further delay.

Lokpal Act: Inadequate Measure Against Corruption

The Lokpal law has finally been passed by both houses of Parliament. This historic achievement has been possible only because of the enormous public awareness and movement against corruption.
But the Lokpal that has been enacted falls short of an institution that can effectively combat corruption. The appointment of the Lokpal will be by PM, Leader of Opposition, Speaker, CJI and one jurist nominated by these four. This still fails to ensure a Lokpal that is truly independent of the political representatives. Removal of the member of the Lokpal also lies in the hands of elected political representatives alone, and no citizen can initiate a move to remove a Lokpal member.
The Lokpal fails to include corporations and conduct of MPs in Parliament in its ambit. This means that the crucial corporate element in huge scams, as well as scams like questions-for-cash or cash-for-votes, will remain outside the ambit of the Lokpal. PPP projects are also left out of the ambit of the Lokpal – in spite of the fact that these are the norm in the neoliberal regime, and PPP projects have been known to be riddled with corruption.
The Act fails to have any provision for protection of whistleblowers – and surely, without this provision, it will be much harder to establish corruption. Not only that, the Act actually has a provision that will intimidate potential whistleblowers – it states that a person who makes a false or frivolous complaints can be jailed for up to one year. The law also does not mandate States to enact Lokayuktas. Corruption in the judiciary and armed forces is yet to be addressed. The Lokpal Act passed by Parliament, therefore, shies away from confronting and correcting the worst practices of corruption that we witness today.

Amend SC/ST POA Act to Make if More Effective

The UPA Cabinet has reportedly approved some amendments to strengthen the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Amendments are sorely needed, since the conviction rate under the Act is abysmal – as low as 1-5%.
The scope of the Act needs to be expanded. As the Act stands now, various common forms of caste discrimination are not recognised by it: such as social and economic boycotts, segregation of Dalit children in schools, two tumbler system; preventing Dalits from accessing public wells or ponds or temples.

One of the reasons for the low conviction rate has been the reluctance of courts to accept that caste atrocity was the intent behind a crime like rape or murder. In the Khairlanji gang-rape and massacre case, for instance, the court did convict the accused, but refused to do so under the SC/ST POA Act. To correct this situation, it is necessary to amend the law so that the Act can be invoked if the perpetrator of the crime knew that the victim was of the Dalit caste. For instance, in a rape case, of course the evidentiary requirements to establish rape will remain the same as in the rape law. But the perpetrator can be punished under the SC/ST POA Act if it is established that, at the time of the rape, he knew that the victim was a dalit.

It is crucial that the SC/ST POA Act must cover all dalits and adivasis irrespective of religion. Merely converting to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Sikhism does not end the caste discrimination faced by the dalits and adivasis. There is widespread evidence of continued caste discrimination and violence faced by dalits who have converted to Christianity or Islam.

Preventing and monitoring mechanisms, as well as measures to ensure accountability of the State machinery, are also called for. Failure of State officials to act in accordance with their duty to prevent and curb caste-based violence must be made punishable.

It has been seen in caste-based massacres (such as at Bathe and Bathani Tola) that police bias resulted in a shoddy investigation, where crucial evidence was lost. It must be mandatory in every case of caste-based mass violence, for the investigation and collection of evidence to be done by Special Investigation Teams. Time-bound trials must be ensured. Timely compensation and rehabilitation of the survivors must be ensured.

Adarsh Scam Report Rejected

Even as the UPA Government tries to pat itself on the back for enacting the anti-corruption Lokpal, the Congress-led Government of Maharashtra stood up to defend the corrupt. The cabinet rejected the judicial commission report on the Adarsh scam, that has reportedly indicted several former Chief Ministers and also military officers and bureaucrats.

The Maharashtra Government refused to table the Adarsh Commission report in the state assembly, and the Maharashtra governor K Shankaranarayanan refused to give permission to the CBI to prosecute former Maharashtra chief minister and senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh scam case.

The 700-page report of the two-member committee, comprising Justice (Retd) J.A. Patil and former Maharashtra chief secretary P. Subramanian has said there is prima facie evidence of benami flats, and has named three former CMs Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan for extending political patronage to the Adarsh Society. The report indicts Ashok Chavan for entering into a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement with the Adarsh Society so that close family members could get flats in the 31-storey building. Several NCP leaders and even some BJP leaders are reportedly named.

The Adarsh Society not only involved corrupt allotment of flats, it also involves violation of laws enacted to protect the environment. The radia tapes has indicated that a major aspect of contemporary corruption is the way in which corporations influence political appointments of Ministers. The removal of the UPA’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan appears to have been timed to allow Rahul Gandhi to assure FICCI that environmental roadblocks in granting permission for projects will be removed.