1984 Delhi, 2733 dead. Only 49 convicted for murder/ 2002 Gujarat, 1260 dead. Only 225 convictions/ 2013 Muzaffarnagar, 63 dead. All five judgments so far resulted in acquittal./ 2016 Haryana, 28 dead. Reports suggest police is unable to find witnesses willing to testify against their biradari.
The narrative has remained unchanged for decades. Tension builds up against a minority group; suddenly there is a spark and hell breaks loose. One of the first casualties is the formal chain of command. Cops and officials simply disappear or are mysteriously rendered ineffective. Once the chain of command has snapped, the riot is in full swing.
The fact that nothing at all has changed over the years is proof, if ever that was needed that whatever may be its advantages or disadvantages, the current system of policing and administration ain’t working, and almost never in difficult times when security is most needed.
The problem in all riots and hatred-provoked incidents is that invariably the inequity in population usually extends to organs of the state particularly the extremely poorly trained and uninspired and uninspiring police force.
From gathering intelligence to pre-incident threats to handling of the riot to post-riot gathering of evidence to framing of charges to threatening the witnesses, the connivance between the majority population and the police is complete. It is in no one’s self and social interest to actually fight for justice. The system has no check at all for failures and lapses in this chain.
Interesting that a country which has a CVC, CAG, CBI and Enforcement Department to safeguard its money has no oversight mechanism for the security of its people.
The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill 2011 was easily the finest piece of legislation the country did not get a chance to see. Unfortunately, with a stupidly coined title that highlighted the communal angle and a few pointlessly provocative clauses which appear to impinge on authority of the states, it had little chance of being introduced or discussed. And thus must the country suffer.
The bill was based on a powerful insight that targeted violence is an avoidable systemic failure. And that failure cannot be rectified unless an objective unelected third-party maintains oversight. Because no elected person or body will dare ’annoy’ a majority grouping.
When the bill was introduced in 2011 and again in 2013, it suited the opposition to damn it as Hindu vs Muslim and reap electoral benefits. But the reality is that minority groups in specific areas could belong to any religion.
Already we have seen targeted violence by and against Jats, Dalits, Sainis and Patels. Going forward as prosperity (and discontent) spreads, many other such caste groups will emerge as more and more people demand a share of scarce prosperity. One has to be naïve to imagine that there are no divisions in India other than the main religions.
The heart of the proposal was an all-powerful National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation at the centre with similar set-ups for states. The Authority was conceived as an arms-length mechanism available at the centre to monitor hatred mongering and violence against groups, fixing personal accountability among cops and officials, ensuring relief , rehabilitation and justice to the victims. The head was to be chosen through a process that would be similar to appointment of the heads of CBI, CVC and CAG.
At a broader level the Authority took targeted violence out of the purview of day to day rioting which the country and our lawmakers now assume is acceptable collateral damage of a democracy. And gave it the focus it deserves. If almost 4000 were killed between 1984 and 2002, surely a total of 275 convictions is nonsense.
The problem was the sweeping powers proposed for the Authority. They were sure to send shivers down any spine of anyone nicely cocooned within an unfair , retrograde system weighed heavily in favor of the powerful.
Which politician would ever like to shake that superstructure? And so they all aganged up with a million allegations but only one real reason. That they felt their castles would be invaded.
Here’s what the Authority was supposed empowered to do.
The mandate of the Authority stretched from collecting and acting on intelligence received by its various offices or collected suo moto to keeping an eye on hate speeches and incitement to violence to requisitioning a central body like the CBI to investigate on suspicion. While it could not demand a particular action, it could certainly approach the court for appropriate directions.
It had the power to summon any officer from a state without seeking approval of the state government. Or even raid any office or home on mere suspicion. Witnesses were provided complete protection. One of the major reasons why cases involving targeted violence have poor conviction rates is that witnesses turn hostile as all of them have to finally live in the same milieu.
Most importantly it had the mandate to assign personal responsibility and take action against culpable officers, something that hardly ever happens in India. This would ensure a break in the cozy scratch-each-others back arrangements between politicians and the police.
Additionally it was mandated to decide on the nature and quantum of relief to be provided to the victims and their families. And have an oversight on the conditions in relief camps provided for the victims. This is usually an area with least focus. By the time the relief camps are set up the incident is usually off the media radar and no one really cares. Bringing accountability at this stage was important.
And last but not the least it had an oversight on filing of the cases, charges levied and progress on them. Much of how the guilty get away is through poor framing of charges. By focusing on this area the Authority could actually have broken the nexus between the cops who create inappropriate charges which are likely to be dropped anyway.
With such a sweeping mandate it is easy to see why states who barter riots away for votes would find a million ways of damning it. The UPA failed to explain the bill to the people at large. Possibly was not sure it wanted the bill to be passed since it had been the brainchild of Sonia’s NAC rather than the government.
By 2013, The Great Indian Intellectuals were so busy feting Mr Modi and dreaming vacuous dreams of the so-called federalism fed by the BJP that they failed to understand the power of the bill. As did people like Arvind Kejriwal and other wavers of liberty.
And thus the best-ever legislation aborted. We were all responsible. But come back it will. In some other form or shape. Maharashtra has recently introduced the Social Boycott Bill which is simply an extract out of this.
As the country gets more and more divided, central and state governments will realise the value of The Prevention of Communal and Targetted Violence Bill 2011.
There’s hope yet.