nov 18 2011In 1998, five years after we launched Communalism Combat, we had pointed out, in possibly one of the first researched compilations on judicial pronouncements on communal violence, that from the first ever bout of communal violence in free India (Jabalpur, 1961) to the full-blown pogroms that followed some decades later, two characteristics typified the violent frenzies that frequently cost us lives and property (‘Who is to blame?’, Communalism Combat, March 1998).
Both characteristics hold good today.
One is the silent yet strident mobilisation by right-wing supremacist groups through hate speech and hate writing against religious and other minorities for months beforehand. Though these have always amounted to violations of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), they have gone unchecked and unpunished, creating a climate that is fertile ground for the actual outbreak of violence. The other major cause of such violence has been found, by several members of the Indian judiciary, to be the failure of large sections of the administration and the police force to enforce the rule of law, resulting in a complete breakdown indicating deliberate inaction and complicity.
Both these features combined each time – whether in Jabalpur (1961), Ranchi (1967, Justice Raghubir Dayal Commission of Inquiry), Ahmedabad (1969, Justice Jagmohan Reddy Commission of Inquiry), Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad (1970, Justice DP Madon Commission of Inquiry), Tellicherry (1971, Justice Joseph Vithayathil Commission of Inquiry), Hashimpura (1987) or Bhagalpur (1989) – to ensure that minorities were not just brutally targeted but also denied free access to justice and reparation.
The organised violence in Delhi in 1984, Bombay in 1992-1993 and Gujarat in 2002 took the levels of impunity for state and non-state actors to hitherto unknown heights. A historiography of communal violence since Indian independence thus reveals a poor report card on justice delivery and reparation. Today unfortunately, we have extant examples of victim survivors, Muslim, Sikh and Christian, still waiting at the threshold for the first stages of investigation and trial to begin decades after the crimes have taken place.
The newly drafted Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill 2011 (commonly referred to as the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill), which awaits a nod from the cabinet before it is tabled in Parliament, is an attempt to address the imbalance and the despair caused by over six decades of discriminatory justice delivery.