1. Rising Communal Incidents
This meeting of the National Integration Council is being held in the background of rising number of communal incidents and violence in the recent months which is a matter of serious concern. In the past few weeks, there has been communal violence occurring in Kishtwar in Jammu & Kashmir; in Nawada and Betiah in Bihar; and a major outbreak of violence in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh where more than 40 people have been killed. These have occurred after a series of communal incidents in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in the past one year.
What accounts for the worsening of the communal situation in the recent period? These are not spontaneous outbreaks but part of a planned effort and designed by certain communal-political forces.
The causes for the communal violence are the same as in the past – religious processions moving through mixed areas and provocations taking place; allegations of harassment of young women belonging to a particular community by persons of another community; inflammatory propaganda which leads to a climate of mistrust and any incident can spark off a wider conflict. But what is more disturbing is that riots are sought to be spread in the rural areas as it happened in Muzaffarnagar. In all such riots, it is the minority community which ultimately bears the brunt of the violence in terms of deaths and destruction of property.
Certain organisations and political parties espousing communal ideology, are indulging in communal propaganda to build up tensions and to utilize any incident to incite communal violence.
As per the figures supplied by the Home Ministry, this year, from January to September, there have been 497 communal incidents in the country which have killed 107 people and injured 1,697.
The forthcoming 2014 Lok Sabha elections seem to be a catalyst for communal activities. It can be easily identified who seeks to gain out of such communal polarization.
2. Measures to Tackle Communal Disturbances
Therefore, in order to curb communal violence, it is necessary to first identify such political-communal elements and organisations and take preventive measures to curb their activities and propaganda. The laws concerning the prohibition of communal propaganda, incitement to hatred etc. should be applied.
The role of the administration in taking such precautionary measures cannot be overemphasized. It is also essential to see that the administration and the police act promptly and impartially to curb violence and to book the offenders.
The Prevention of Communal Violence Bill should be enacted into law without further delay. The law should focus only on communal violence and not broaden itself to other forms of conflicts and violence. Further, the legislation should be in keeping with the federal principle wherein the state governments have the primary responsibility for maintenance of law and order and policing.
The espousal of communal ideology through the educational system and textbooks which promote communal and anti-secular ideas exist in some states – these need to be dealt with.
We have seen the use of social media and networking sites to promote inflammatory communal propaganda. Just as in the case of other forms of communal propaganda, measures should be taken to prohibit such content and take action against those who upload such content. In this connection, the clause in the Information Technology Act, Section 66 A, should be suitably modified, so that this clause is not misused to suppress views and dissenting opinion.
Above all, it is important that the problem of communal violence is not seen merely as an administrative law and order problem. Given the history of communal politics in India, it is primarily a political issue and it must be dealt with politically. This requires a firm adherence to the secular principle and the need to combat communal ideology and politics, whatever their source and origin.
There is another matter which concerns communal harmony and involves having an equitable approach to the minorities. Communalism promotes extremist activities such as terrorist violence. While it is necessary to fight and curb terrorism whichever its source, there has to be care to see that no single community is targeted. Unfortunately, experience shows that in the name of fighting terrorism often innocent Muslim youth are targeted. There have been a number of cases where young Muslims have been arrested and implicated in false cases and kept for prolonged periods in jail. There are many cases where these youth have been eventually acquitted and the judiciary has passed strictures on the way they have been booked on false or flimsy evidence.
Such a biased approach on the part of the police and security agencies is causing alienation and anger among the community.
It is imperative that such a discriminatory approach is given up. The State has responsibility to compensate and help the rehabilitation of such youth. There should be accountability and action taken against the police and security authorities who are responsible for such travesty of justice.
3. Safety and Security of Women
Sexual offences and attacks on women and children have assumed alarming proportions. Even as incidents of rape, gangrape, acid throwing on young women, child sexual abuse have increased, the conviction rate in cases of crimes against women, remains dismal. The utter failure and lack of political will to put in place a system which ensures the certainly of punishment encourages such criminality. Stringent action must be taken against all those whether in the police or other investigation agencies who sabotage the law. Fast track courts for such cases and time bound justice are an urgent necessity.
Even though a new law has been put in place as a result of public outrage following the brutal Delhi gang rape, it is yet to be implemented properly and in any case is not sufficient as it does not cover all the recommendations made by the Verma Committee. For example, the horrendous killings of young couples in the name of honour continues. There is urgent need for a separate law against such so-called honour killings. It is unfortunate that such a law has not been taken up as some state governments do not feel it necessary to go against retrograde so-called traditions and social conventions for narrow political considerations.
Communal and fundamentalist forces in all communities seek to impose their patriarchal values on women restricting and violating their rights. Often sexual attacks and harassment of women are given a communal colour and used by communal organizations to rouse passions and hatred against the other community. It is necessary to take strong action against such elements.
It is deeply regrettable that the number of cases of men in high places whether in politics, in the sphere of self-proclaimed “god men” and so on have often utilized that power to harass women. The crime must be considered as an aggravated sexual crime and action taken accordingly. No double standards of leniency in applying the law against such individuals should be attempted.
At the same time the inequalities in terms of access to employment, equal wages. guaranteed social security, rights in land and other assets, make women dependent and therefore more vulnerable to violence. It is necessary to ensure a framework of economic policies which enable women to attain economic independence, particularly for the poorer sections of women, dalits and adivasis who are the most vulnerable targets of sexual violence.
Women’s rights to an environment free of sexual violence must be grounded as a fundamental and constitutional right accorded to women on the basis of gender equality. The right of women to live in a society free of sexual violence must be grounded as a fundamental and constitutional right accorded to women on the basis of the principle of equality. These principles must form part of the upbringing and education of our young people and be reflected in educational syllabi at all levels.
4. Welfare of SCs/STs
There has to be allocation of budgetary resources for the development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population. However, the Planning Commission guidelines in this respect has remained only on paper. The experience is that the funds of the Tribal Sub-Plan and the SC Special Component Plan are diverted for other purposes or are not fully utilised and lapse.
To prevent this happening, legislation should be passed to ensure mandatory implementation of the Sub-Plan and Special Component Plan for STs and SCs respectively. The Government of India should bring such legislation expeditiously in Parliament for adoption.