The Mammohan Singh Government is preparing to place an amended Bill in the budget session of parliament, allegedly aimed at preventing communal violence and punishing those responsible for unleashing such violence. The Bill is also supposed to ensure relief and rehabilitation for victims of such violence.
The Manmohan Singh government had twice before placed bills relating to the same in parliament, in 2004 and 2005. Each time, before the placing of these bills, organizations and individuals who have been fighting to ensure punishment of the forces guilty of organizing communal violence, have pointed out the totally ineffective nature of these Bills as well as proposed changes that would ensure that the people have an effective mechanism to punish those who are guilty of organizing sectarian violence for retaining or capturing political power. Each time thus far, the essential concerns of the people fighting to punish the guilty have not been addressed.
At the same time, this time as well as earlier, organizations and individuals fighting for punishing the guilty, including the Lok Raj Sangathan, have tried relentlessly to place before the people of India both the realities of the government’s moves on this issue, as well as how actually the people of India will be able to once and for all put an end to the scourge of state organized sectarian violence and ensure that the guilty are punished.
Now too, in the run up to the introduction of a new bill on communal violence in parliament, consultations are being organized by peoples committees, consisting of diverse forces, including leading jurists as well as activists, to propose to the government what a Bill to prevent sectarian violence and punish the guilty, should contain as essential features. The proposals of these people’s consultations are being made in the light of the experience of the Indian people with state organized sectarian violence since independence, and particularly since 1984.
What ought to be the guiding principles behind any act that enables the people to punish those responsible for unleashing sectarian violence?
As a start, it must be acknowledged that experience of our people since 1947 shows that inflaming sectarian passions, and organizing sectarian violence against people has been a preferred policy weapon of various political parties, either as part of their effort to stay in power, or as part of their effort to come to power. It must also be acknowledged that organizing sectarian violence serves the ruling class as a whole. It serves them to keep the people divided and disoriented. It serves them to ensure that inflamed by passions or by real security concerns to their very lives and livelihood, ordinary people —workers, peasants, small businessmen, women, youth, tribals — are blinded and prevented from seeing what is preventing the addressing of their real life problems. It serves the ruling class to ensure that the broad masses of people who are marginalized from political power remain marginalized.
Therefore, we must ensure that any Bill purporting to address the question of putting down sectarian violence must clearly state, upfront, not only what is meant by sectarian violence, but also the role of political parties, the governments at the center and states, and the state machinery as a whole in the organizing of this sectarian violence.
After every occasion of state organized massacres, such as in 1984, 1993 and 2002, the predominant official propaganda, in many cases supported by government appointed enquiry commissions, and by the courts, is that the people of this or that sect or community were responsible for perpetrating the crimes. The key organizing role of state machinery and the parties in power is kept under the shade. This must not be allowed to happen. It is the people, and enlightened people from different strata, who have exposed the role of the state, and pointed out that the people are not to blame. A law on punishing the guilty must acknowledge this. The responsibility for preventing sectarian violence belongs squarely to the state and those in positions of power.
Secondly, it is clear that in the case of state organized sectarian massacres, wherein the ruling party, government, administration and police are the organizers or abettors of these massacres and part of the problem, it would be foolish to expect them to be part of the solution. Two conclusions can be drawn.
One, that to expect the victims and survivors to go to police stations to lodge FIR’s according to the normal laws, let alone to get justice, is to basically say that no justice will ever be provided. This is what the experience of victims of 1984 massacres, and 2002 massacres proves.
Two, the perpetrators of the communal and sectarian massacres could not have done so unless some high level official force was backing them and providing them protection. In 1984, the voters list of houses in Delhi marked as Sikh households were distributed to the organizers of the massacre, and so also was material supplied for arson and murder by the Congress Party. Lists of Muslim households were provided to the killers and looters in Gujarat in 2002. Similar things have occurred in all cases of state organized sectarian massacres in different regions of the country,
THEREFORE, any law that is to enable the people to punish the guilty must ensure
(1) That sectarian massacres, including gruesome assault on the women during these massacres be not treated as ordinary crimes perpetrated by one individual against another, in which the state acts as a judge and prosecutor. They must be treated as a genocidal crime against humanity wherein it is the state that is the party on trial. Such a law must ensure that the people have mechanisms to punish the organizers and perpetrators.
(2) The principle of command responsibility must be firmly established, with the highest political and administrative authorities of the state, answerable and punishable for these crimes.
(3) There must be no impunity for any state official — including ministers, bureaucrats, and police officers.
These are some of the issues that people fighting to end to state organized sectarian massacres and punish the guilty, have been relentlessly arguing for.
Can sectarian violence be prevented and the guilty punished under the present political setup?
The answer, from historical experience, is that it cannot. The reason is that perpetrators of this violence are the ruling class, its political parties and the state apparatus under their control, which is working to preserve their rule. Therefore it would be naïve for people to have faith in any new Bill that the government passes.
In holding the ruling class, its political parties and state apparatus squarely responsible for organizing the sectarian violence, in suggesting the essential features of a law which would actually punish those responsible for state organized sectarian massacres, Lok Raj Sangathan and numerous other peoples’ organisations and individuals are making an invaluable contribution to raising the awareness of the masses of people about the reality behind the state organized sectarian violence and why the guilty go unpunished. Our efforts are making people realize that under the present political set up, we are completely marginalized from political power, we have no power to make laws and decisions that affect our lives and no mechanisms to ensure their implementation.
The struggle we are waging to expose the flaws in the government sponsored bills and to propose what kind of legislation people of India will want to have, if we have political power in our hands, is extremely crucial.
Lok Raj Sangathan, as well as other peoples organisations are educating the working people, the ultimate victims of state organized sectarian violence, about who is to blame for the sectarian violence and massacres. We are educating the people as to why it is necessary to get organized and fight for political power in our own hands, so that the source of this plague is eliminated and any force which dares to organize such massacres is severely punished by the law of peoples power. The discussions and consultations are contributing to this extremely important work of bringing about peoples power, which is at the heart of solving this problem as well other manifold problems confronting our people.
Prakash Rao, Secretary, Lok Raj Sangathan