India is a land of unity in diversity and people from many religious, social and cultural backgrounds harmoniously live in India.
However the diversity of the subcontinent has often been exposed under threats of religious violence. As Marx rightly says Religion often turns out to be the 'opiate of masses'. The Communal violence is one of the major threats to Indian democracy. It has been a barrier to the socio- economic development of India.
The Communal issue has deep roots in the Indian past. The colonial rule was based on communal divisions. The British found the divide and rule policy as the most comfortable way to establish their hold in Indian subcontinent.
The communal issue associated with the Partition of India was one of the major catastrophes in Indian history. India faced the worst form of communal violence during the Partition which led to massive death and destruction.
Even after independence, communal violence continues. The first major clash between Hindus and Muslims occurred in Madhya Pradesh in 1961. The Ahmedabad riots of 1969 claimed the lives of about thousand people. The 1984 riots following the assassination of Indira Gandhi was another black spot. This was followed by the Meerut riots of 1987, Bhagalpur riots of 1989. The Mumbai riots of 1992 following demolition of Babri Masjid killed about 1788 people. The Gujarat riot in 2002 was one of the worst communal carnages in India.
Besides, there were other communal riots that have sprouted out in other parts of India. This includes the Varanassi bombings of 2006, Kadhamal riots in Orissa, in 2008, Mumbai Massacre on November 26th, 2008, 2012 Assam violence, and the Dharbha garti massacre in May 2013 and the latest one Muzafarnagar riots in September 2013.
In this context, it is essential to examine the need of a bill for preventing communal clashes in the country. There have been heated debates whether new laws are essential in this respect or the existing provisions are enough. The Indian penal code encompasses certain provisions to prevent the communal clashes. Section 141 to 160 provides for various provisions against any type of communal violence. It has provisions against unlawful assembly, Riot or any sort of activity which causes disharmony.
Article 335 of the Indian Constitution states- "It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution"
However, the recurring communal riots prove that the existing provisions have not succeeded in preventing communal clashes in India. It is in this context that the necessity of a bill to prevent communal clashes arises.
The UPA government came up with a bill Communal violence (Suppression) Bill soon after it came to power. However, it was rejected owing to its legal faults. Later Communal violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation) Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2015. It was referred to the parliamentary committee on constitutional affairs for review.
Prevention of communal and targeted violence (Access to Justice and reparations) Bill, 2011 is one of the latest bills introduced in the Parliament with an agenda to prevent communal clashes.
According to the bill it aims to provide equal access to justice and protection to the vulnerable groups through effective provisions for investigation, prosecution and trial of offences.
The Bill also intends to provide for the restorative relief, rehabilitation and compensation to all persons affected by communal violence.
The Bill aims to prevent atrocities, sexual assault, unlawful assemblies, hate propaganda etc being organized leading to communal violence.
There are constant pressures from the social activists to pass the bill for the prevention of communal violence in the country. However, due to the criticisms of some of the contentious provisions of the bill, it continues to be in cold storage.
According to the BJP and its allies, the bill is anti-majority and against the Federal structure of the nation.
However all these issues and other can be discussed on the floor of the house by introducing the bill in the Parliament and eliminate its shortcomings. After that it should be made into a law. The prevention of communal violence is essential to keep the secular spirit of the constitution and the glory of the nation.
Bhagya Lakshmi Vijayan