Like any legislation, the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention) Bill 2011 must be judged by two things. First, the intent behind the formulation of such a law and second, the justification of intent. Conceived by the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council (NAC), the bill’s original draft divided India’s population into two categories: the “Group” and “Others”. “Group” was defined as members of minority communities, SCs and STs, with the rest of the population clubbed as “Others”. The draft assumed that any riot is essentially the handiwork of the majority community, i.e., “Others”. Ipso facto, victims were members of the “Group”. Undeniably, NAC has drawn from a highly racial and discriminatory colonial era law known as Criminal Tribes Act. It was originally framed in 1871, taking a larger shape in 1924 through various legislations. Tribes “notified” under the Act were labelled Criminal Tribes for their so-called “habitually criminal tendencies”. Members of around 160 communities were presumed as “born criminals”. The Act gave police sweeping powers to arrest them and monitor their movements.
The Communal Violence Bill 2011 is a replica of Criminal Tribes Act, 1924. The division between the “Group” and “Others” presumes anyone born in a Hindu family to be a “born criminal and communal”, irrespective of any such precedents. Biological determinism has been used as a tool to draft such laws. Can any system of justice entertain such racist assumptions and laws? Finding it impossible to justify its pernicious “Group and Others” theory and faced with organised opposition, the government was compelled to drop this nationally disruptive provision. Need anything more be said about the intent of the framers of this bill?
The CVB’s stated objective is to “prevent communal riots by deterring provocation, rumours, hostile atmosphere against any community” and so on. Does it denote that there is lack of strong laws to prevent communal tension and riots? This is mendacity of the most perverse kind. Clearly, the worthies of the NAC are oblivious of the Indian Panel Code. For instance, Section 148 of the IPC provides for punishment for rioting and storing lethal weapons. Section 156 punishes “agents” who commit riots to benefit their masters. Section 146 goes further: “Whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly, or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the common object of such assembly, every member of such assembly is guilty of the offence of rioting.” Section 153 of IPC punishes anyone for promoting or attempt to promote ill-will between religious communities through writing, speech or any act prejudicial to maintaining religious harmony. There are provisions to punish all those trying to disharmonise society. Rumours, provocations, and all types of hostilities have been dealt with in the IPC.
Far from filling any legal vacuum, the CVB is a parallel penal code to discriminate against the majority community. It also creates national authority with special powers. The bill has hidden agenda. For instance, in case of a feud between a member of a SC or ST on the one hand and Muslim or Christians, which body will be more effective: the National Commission for Scheduled Castes/National Commission for Scheduled Tribes or the national authority? The bill undermines constitutional institutions. Any resistance to religious conversions of Tribal will be targeted as an attempt to create hostile atmosphere and the CVB will be used against Hindu organisations. The dangerous provision of action against non-state actors—even for crimes they are not directly or indirectly responsible for—is another danger looming on Hindu organisations. The bill is an offspring of an anti-Hindu psyche and must be killed before it becomes a law. Neither the intention nor intent of this bill can be justified.
(Sinha is Honorary Director of India Policy Foundation. email@example.com)