Communal Violence Bill: Hostile beginnings

BY NIMISHA SRIVASTAV

Drafted by the National Advisory Council (NAC), the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, was introduced in the monsoon session of the Parliament in the midst of a big furore itself.

The Bill aims at creating a legal framework for preventing riots witnessed by the country in the past and the provision of relief for victims of such violence. However, the bill was opposed not just by the Opposition but also several secular and civil liberty activists and organizations.

Voicing his contention, BJP’s Arun Jaitely highlighted the discrepancies in the Bill that makes sexual assault punishable only if committed against a person belonging to a minority ‘group’, and not against any member of a majority community.

Also, the Bill was attacked by the allies of the UPA, on the grounds that it revokes ‘law and order’, a state subject, from the State’s purview in the event of communal violence. The Bill proposes the constitution of a ‘National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation’ and makes no provision for a judicial check against any order passed by the Authority.

The Bill fails to define a comprehensive scope for the term ‘Hate Propaganda’. The definition of the term is broad enough to cover almost all the acts under ‘incitement of violence’. Similarly, there is ambiguity related to terms like ‘hostile environment’ and ‘victim’ leading to an opportunity where the act can do more harm than good.

However, the biggest loophole lies in the fact that the Bill vests responsibility with the Centre for determining whether an act qualifies as being tantamount to Internal Disturbance under Section 20 of this Act. This would further impose a serious threat to the very nature of the federal character of the country as this provision gives all the power in the hands of the Central Government and the State Government is nothing but a mute spectator to the Emergency powers of the Central Government. The Bill shapes the nature of offences committed as non – bailable and the accused will be guilty of an offence that he has been charged with, unless that can be proven otherwise. Now, with the definition of ‘hate propaganda’ as wide as given by the Act, almost any act is liable to be culpable in nature. Furthermore, the provisions concerning civilian and armed forces matters are ambiguous and lie within the ambit of the National Authority. With no judicial intervention, these powers can be extended to any extent.

Even though the Bill happens to be the brain child of people of a formidable stature like Mander, Farah Naqvi and Teesta Setalvad, it ends up as myopic and ambiguous. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “An unjust law is itself a species of violence.” If a law has to prevail, then it should be universal in its approach and its enforcement should be subjected to analysis and accountability. The present bill regrettably promises none of these and is rather looked upon as a political faux pas.  So, what really is the intention of the legislature ? Is it to promote and uphold the constitutional virtues or to denigrate them on the grounds of religion and linguistic demarcation? The question is left for us, the people, to answer. 

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