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Why are we scared of the anti-communal bill?

November 06, 2013 11:42 IST

This is one bill that will ensure that no politician, official or person can play politics with the lives of any other person and if they do, they will be arrested. It is time for such a bill to protect the minorities, says Neeta Kolhatkar.

This week actor Rahul Bose launched a campaign by writing a postcard to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to fulfill the nine-year old promise of tabling the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations Bill) in Parliament. Immediately, the right-wing had got into overactive mode to rubbish the bill, shred any trace of support for it and send out mass smses, emails and whatsapp messages spreading lies and wrong information.

The message said that most Hindus would have to convert, as this bill supports only Muslims, and it is partisan, more communal and it would spread more hatred. I have read the bill, and moreover I believe in some of the legal luminaries associated with this bill. A lot of thought has gone into it and has good intentions. I am not surprised with the way the right-wing has begun spamming all forms of communication. I am also not surprised that Subramanian Swamy has said that it threatens ‘Virat Hindus.’ I am surprised how easily people are believing the distorted information being spread.

When I supported the bill on Twitter I had the right-wing trolling me immediately. Many enlightened me calling me names and telling me I can’t decipher the bill, worse still few went on to tell me how Hindus will have to convert to Islam and some who blatantly told me Muslims are the victims in communal violence. 

Going by the facts presented since the original bill, which the government had presented and fortunately lapsed, the fact is, till date there is no bill that compels the police, security officers to take action during an outbreak of communal violence. We have seen scenes ever so often since the Babri Masjid demolition and later the Bombay riots in 1992, when top legal luminaries pleaded with the then chief minister to call the army to the city and it was never done.

Often the administration, state machinery and especially the law and order enforcers allow a riot-like situation to fester. Rarely is a politician immediately arrested or booked for instigation after delivering a hate speech, preventive arrests are not done. Even during the more recent Azad Maidan disturbances, the video clips were circulated nearly five days before the riots. In fact if we see the record of communal violence and riots, often the signs of such outbreaks are seen few days before the actual incidents. In such circumstances the minorities -- which ever group in lesser numbers -- needs safe location, witnesses need protection and it is never followed.

The main grouse against the bill is that the word minorities is attached to Muslims. The word minority in the bill encompasses all groups linguistic, women, children, religious, political, whoever is in lesser number at the time of violence, in that place. So where is the question of conversion? Also, if we speak of numbers the Union ministry of social justice department figures clearly show that Hindus in India are 80.5 percent, Muslims 13.4 percent, Christians 2.3 percent and other castes/sections below one percent.

The figures speak for themselves. People saying that a majority of Indians will have to convert is a campaign to distort the truth and divert the attention of the public from the basic issue. Another important factor is of linguistic minority. In Mumbai and Maharashtra, we have seen how the Marathi manoos politics has often targeted the north Indians, who are Hindus.

The enforcement agencies have never offered to protect them, and this bill would support not only the north Indians, even the common man who goes out on the street and braves the violence to go out and earn a living. Most often minorities are women and children, vulnerable and first targets in times of violence.

If the logic is that the percentages show Muslims in a minority and will always be the victims, which was a reason thrown at me for opposing the bill, then I’d say it definitely speaks of a deliberate plan. That is admitting to the fact that there is immense distrust against certain religious communities and the division plays on the minds of the law enforcement officials, who are caught in the web of politics, eventually denying justice to the victims.

The other falsehood is that the bill won’t be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir. In fact Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has welcomed the bill and the activists explained that like in Kashmir where the Hindu Pandits are the minority, there are other states too like Nagaland, where Hindus are in the minority and they too need protection.

One needs to be realistic of the multi-layered and complex form of society today. Migration at different levels, an aspiring society where people want a rather cosmopolitan attitude and protection to life, the anti-communal makes even more sense. While on one hand everyday people want to hold politicians accountable, this is one bill that will ensure no politician, no official or person can play politics with the lives of any other person and if they do, they will be arrested. It is time for such a bill.

Image: Rahul Bose at the launch of the campaign.

Neeta Kolhatkar