Once more, the UPA government is planning to bring a Bill dealing with communal violence before Parliament.
Communal and sectarian violence has been the bane of Indian political life for decades. It has been responsible for the deaths of lakhs of men, women and children, and for ruining the lives of countless more. The problem is only getting worse, assuming the proportions of regular, large-scale genocide, as we have seen in the gruesome killings of November 1984, the massacres in Mumbai after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and those in Gujarat in 2002.
Various remedies have been put forth to deal with this curse, but unless the central problem is pinpointed and dealt with, there can be no solution to the problem. The central problem of communal and sectarian violence in India today is that the state itself is the biggest perpetrator.
There is not an Indian who does not know that political parties regularly foment and sponsor communal and sectarian violence for political aims, while being fully aware of the consequences. These are not just some marginal groups but the biggest parties that hold power at the Centre and the states, led by the Congress and the BJP.
How many times have we seen the state machinery – the officials, the police and armed forces, courts, investigating agencies, etc. – play a criminal role in the perpetration of sectarian violence, taking the cue from their political masters at the top? Sometimes, this takes the form of actively leading the killing squads, while at other times it takes the form of cynically standing by and watching the thugs and killers create mayhem, but both are equally responsible. Why is it that those who commit such crimes – and particularly those in commanding positions – are never brought to justice? This is because both the perpetrators of communal and sectarian violence as well as those who are supposed to prevent and punish it are one and the same.
The main purpose behind the new version of the Communal Violence Bill is to cover up this truth, the reality of communal violence in India. The state, it is claimed in the preamble to the amended Bill, will be “empowered” to deal with communal violence. How can one expect those who have the blood of thousands of people on their hands in state-sponsored communal violence, and who continue to engage in the politics of communal and sectarian violence, to punish themselves and deliver real justice to the victims?
In the course of the struggle to punish those guilty of organising communal massacres, the demand has emerged that sectarian violence be treated as genocide according to internationally accepted norms and not as an ordinary crime. The demand has emerged that the principle of command responsibility be recognised explicitly, so that the top leaders of the state and government have to answer for sectarian massacres and be tried for the same. Expectedly, the bill being tabled by the government is silent on both these important questions.
It is the people of India, not the State, who need to be empowered to ensure that sectarian genocide can never be organised and that those who have been guilty of organising sectarian violence are punished according to the principle of command responsibility. All those concerned with the repeated and horrifying outbreaks of communal and sectarian violence should direct their efforts to seeing how the Indian people can have effective power in their own hands, which will enable them to deal with all forms of violence directed against them and to take decisions in their own interests. This power must be wrested from those in power now; it will be naïve to expect them to cede it voluntarily.