'Communal violence Bill is a nasty piece of legislation'

The Times of India, 8 March 2010

Critique Communal Violence Bill: Interview with Vrinda Grover

By Humra Quraishi

Vrinda Grover , a Delhi-based human rights lawyer, is director of Multiple Action Research Group (MARG). She is presently counsel for survivors of the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage, 1987 Hashimpura police killings and the 2008 anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal. She speaks to Humra Quraishi about the Communal Violence Bill expected to be tabled soon in Parliament:

A new version of the communal violence Bill has been cleared by the cabinet. How different is it from the earlier version?
The most significant change is this Bill gives powers of authority to the states to declare an area communally disturbed and it's this clause which is likely to be misused by the state governments. This Bill is a nasty piece of legislation to hoodwink and dupe the minority communities under the garb they will get protection. On the contrary, it will only make them more vulnerable to the powers of the government and the states.

What are the shortcomings of the Bill?
Documented experience clearly shows that in communal carnages there is a definite role played by the various state agencies (civil and police forces and the politician). This has not been taken into consideration. The Bill treats communal violence as though it's mere rioting between two communities and does not create any accountability for the state and the various agencies. Another flaw is this Bill does not follow the Doctrine of Command and Superior Responsibility that is, it will not hold the man at the helm of affairs responsible for communal rioting and carnage. For example, in the Ehsan Jaffri murder case, his widow says they had called/contacted the police commissioner when they were besieged by mobs during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, but he didn't respond and come to their rescue. So the person held responsible for Jaffri's murder/killing should be the then police commissioner of Ahmedabad and not some small players or people who were in the mob.

Another flaw is that the Bill is only relying on old offences of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). On the aspect of sexual violence the definition of sexual violence is restricted to rape as under the IPC and it doesn't cover the sexual offences that take place during communal rioting/carnage. Nor does the Bill cover the very consequences of the aftermath of sexual violence. There is hardly any mention of victims' rights. After all, it's the obligation of the state to provide relief. But, in this Bill, it makes rioting appear as though it's just between two communities. So the state moves away from that responsibility/accountability. Psycho-socio traumas of victims need to be addressed but there is not even a mention of these in the Bill. No mention of the need for counsellors, long-term medical relief etc.

What does it say about the police?
This Bill does not challenge the absolute impunity that the police force enjoys. In fact, it reinforces the impunity by the addition of 'good faith' clause, which ensures that no prosecution of the police and public servants is permitted without the prior permission of the executive. The executive will, for very obvious reasons, shield them. If this Bill is amended and some fundamental changes are brought about which give rights to the victims and accountability falls on the state and its functionaries, only then can it uphold the rights of the targeted communities.


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