Much is said on the prevention of communal violence bill. Understandably the minorities who have been victims of targeted communal violence have welcomed the bill which puts into perspective such objections as, ‘UPA is playing communal politics’ etc. Responding to the objection the bill is made community neutral.
What the Bill Seeks to Achieve
Leaving aside the politics of it, what does the bill seek to achieve? In its preamble, it states the following: “To respect, protect and fulfill the right to equality before law and equal protection of law by imposing duties on the Central Government and the State Governments, to exercise their powers in an impartial and non-discriminatory manner to prevent and control targeted violence, including mass violence, against Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and religious minorities in any State in the Union of India, and linguistic minorities in any State in the Union of India; to thereby uphold secular democracy; to help secure fair and equal access to justice and protection to these vulnerable groups through effective provisions for investigation, prosecution and trial of offences under the Act; to provide for restorative relief and reparation, including rehabilitation and compensation to all persons affected by communal and targeted violence; and for matters connected herewith and incidental thereto.”
In the 2011 draft of the bill, the phrase, “Access to Justice and Reparations” that appears in parenthesis in the title, is instructive. In that the bill seeks to provide reparations for the victims of communal violence in the form of restitutions, it lays bare a few facts:
a) In general, while the bill is a tacit acknowledgement that justice is often inaccessible for various minorities, it more clearly is a loud testimony to the umpteen instances of injustices to hapless victims of targeted violence and to the lack of accountability on the part of the government and its official machinery for allowing such violence. Why else would there be a need for such a bill since the constitution already guarantees freedoms and equality.
b) The bill presupposes an idea of justice that affirms both freedom and equality of every individual of the nation. The bill does not seek to define freedoms or equality before the law all over again; but merely reaffirms what is already defined and guaranteed by the constitution.
c) The bill also reaffirms that the state is responsible for implementation of justice. That is, a functional democratic state would ensure that the central principles of equality of all its citizens and their freedoms—conscience, speech, assembly, practice and propagation of religion—are upheld.
Why Are Some State Governments Unhappy?
Now, if the bill envisages preventing communal and targeted violence by comprehensively listing an entire gamut of possible derelictions by the State, why should anyone be uneasy with it? For one, it advocates that the buck stops with the state and central governments, which if it fails, would have to make restitutions. So then the bill is directed against dysfunctional states that fail to defend the freedom and equality of its citizens. Understandably, some state governments are unhappy with the bill, because it not only makes the responsibility of the government explicit but also functions retributively in case the government fails in its responsibility. It is high time that the states were made accountable for every act of neglect.
The bill is significant precisely because the state authorities have frequently acquitted themselves on very feeble grounds—be it the neglect of its responsibility during 2002 Gujarat violence that failed to prevent (even control) the attacks on Muslims, or citing such flimsy excuses as roadblocks caused by cut trees by the perpetrators, which apparently prevented the police from reaching the troubled areas during the 2008 Orissa violence against Christians—these remain feeble vindications.
Such frail justifications have led to a suspicion of complicit hand-in-glove involvement of the state with the perpetrators. While it is a matter of utter disgrace when state governments are complicit with groups that perpetrate violence, they are in the least guilty when they fail to prevent violence against various minorities. The state machinery would have failed to deliver justice making it culpable and requiring reparations.