Congress not serious, only using communal violence bill as poll plank: Vrinda Grover

    By Staff Reporter,

    Delhi: Advocate and civil rights activist Vrinda Grover lamented on little or no debate on the Communal Violence Bill and said that the UPA government does not appear serious in its intent and is only using it as a poll plank.

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    Advocate Grover was speaking at the 3rd professor Iqbal Ansari memorial lecture on ‘Communal Violence and the Question of Justice: Notes from the Field and the Courtroom’ at Jamia Millia Islamia FTK-CIT Hall that saw a huge attendance from students, activists and academic community on November 22.

    Advocate Vrinda Grover and Prof. Farida Abdullah Khan.

    Ms. Grover said that the Communal Violence bill issue is getting faded away from mainstream discussion. “There is no healthy debate going on this issue. Media is not giving an active or positive coverage. At times it is playing the role to polarize opinion on the bill,” she said.

    Earlier Tanveer Fazal of Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association made the preliminary remarks, and introduced speaker Advocate Vrinda Grover as ‘most appropriate person to deliver the lecture’. The session was chaired by Prof. Farida Abdullah Khan, Member of the National Commission of Minorities.

    Prof. Iqbal Ansari was a pioneering minority rights’ activist, who passed away on 13th October 2009. He was one of the most visible civil liberties’ activists in India, taking up a variety issues, from communalism, religious freedom and communal harmony to minority rights. A teacher of English literature turned into a whole time human rights’ activist, Prof. Iqbal Ansari along with another well-known civil libertarians like V M Tarkunde and Justice Rajendra Sachchar championed the protection of civil rights in India. He was also author of several books.

    This lecture is instituted by the friends, comrades and students of late Professor Iqbal Ansari and the last two lectures were delivered by former Civil Servant turned Activist, Harsh Mander and the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL)’s national general secretary, Adv. V Suresh.

    Ms. Vrinda Grover, the eminent human rights lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, who is currently a Fellow at the Teen Murti Library, starting this 3rd annual lecture stressing on Communal and targeted violence said, “The victims of recent communal violence in Muzaffarnagar have only joined the victims of Delhi anti-Sikh massacres, Hashimpura, Maliana and Gujarat 2002 pogrom in waiting for the ‘due course of justice’ to prevail.”

    Advocate Vrinda Grover speaking at the 3rd Prof Iqbal Ansari Memorial lecture.

    While the Indian constitution is a watershed in upholding equality before law and justice to the victims of individual or collective violence, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) lags behind the spirit of the constitution. While there are provisions against citizens if they turn against the state, there is nothing state committing crime against its citizens. Public servants can be prosecuted for individual crimes or misconduct, but the state doesn’t lend itself to be questioned and prosecuted. This is evidently in discordance with the Article 3 of the Constitution which ensures fundamental rights against abuse of power. Therefore, the criminal legal system runs contrary to the kernel of the fundamental ethos of the republic.

    Seen in this light, the rampant impunity does not really come across as some surprise. Cases like that of Bilkis Bano are at best exceptions and not a case of best practice. It took many efforts on part of the activists to ensure justice. So I don’t hail it as a success of the judicial system.

    The term ‘riot’ as defined in the IPC is grossly inaccurate and does not capture the premeditated and organized killing of the minority communities. A corollary to amending it would also be to include the abatement of such violence in its purview and bringing such culprits to the book. We need a new language to describe the nature of communal violence and its dynamics. One does not really need to invent such language. Some part of it is evolving in the expanding contours of the judiciary, but importantly, a lot has to be incorporated from the international conventions and understanding on the issue.

    The crisis in the Indian judicial system is self-evident. The fact that the Supreme Court is forced repeatedly to constitute SITs is an admission by the court that the present machinery is complicit and essentially unaccountable. Transferring cases outside the concerned state is also a pointer that in fact it is the law which is running like a refugee. It is a recognition that the present mechanism is not working. The crisis is also manifested in the non-existence of an independent investigating agency. CBI is not such an independent body. I appeared in a 1984 case in Karkardooma High Court some 3 years back, filed by a Sikh widow whose husband was killed by a mob being supervised by Jagdish Tytler himself. His name appeared in the CBI chargesheet in the column which indicates absence of evidence and hence non-feasibility of FIR. For every single witness in the case who saw he saw Jagdish Tytler instigating violence or people being killed by his goods, there were exactly three witnesses saying they did not see, in the same chargesheet. The point is, it is anyways possible for 3 people in the event of a riot to narrate different versions even if they were at the same place and the CBI should have followed up on the line which pointed at active instigation and organised violence. I saw no such diligence on part of the CBI in the case.

    The burden of collecting and producing evidence falls in such cases squarely on the victims themselves. The power to do so lies with the CBI but is severely compromised. The recent letter by the Home Minister Sushil Shinde saying the Muslims should not be targeted might have been wrongly worded but it did reveal that there is an institutional bias against the minorities. JTSA has come up with empirical evidences of such bias in its reports. My plea to the National Commission on Minorities is that it should conduct independent research to bring out the truth of such systemic bias. Institutional bias emerged in England in Sir Mcpherson Commission appointed to deal with a black boy’s killing by a white boy. The parents insisted that it is not just an individual crime and reflects the systemic bias. In India, there is similar institutional bias against Muslims. And this bias goes much beyond the police. The government officials cannot be prosecuted until the complainant succeeds in getting their seniors’ approval to do so. This is called ‘sanction for public servants’ which is only the continuation of the colonial vintage ‘sanctions for the servants of the crown’ with just the title changed. Why this legal impunity? Why the people who are running the system have no faith in judiciary that if they have done no crime they will come out unscathed?

    The prosecutor does not have institutional or functional autonomy in India. In the Hashimpura case, we got a special public prosecutor after much travail. 90 families filed 600 RTIs demanding the Annual Confidential Reports of the accused police officials and there was no mention in the ACRs of any ongoing murder case against them. Why the police is entirely insulated from accountability? In fact it is the activists who have made great contribution in expanding the justice system. Accountability of the command and control system must also be ensured. The heads of the system should be held accountable if they indulge in or are unable to stop targeted violence.

    In the Kandhamal incident, the rioting followed the map of procession that the Hindutva groups organised with the dead body of Swami Lakhananand. The local officials must have sensed that it would provoke further violence but still allowed it to happen. The law isn’t faulty just because of the bias, but also because of the structure. It is interesting to note that a student’s witness in the case was accepted by the court as the lawyer said that the person studies Sanskrit and Sanskrit students have better memory!

    The proposed Communal Violence Bill by the Congress party in 2004 has not been passed even in the UPA-II. The Bill creates ‘communally disturbed areas’ much like the AFSPA and gives more power to the same state machinery which has been found to be institutionally biased and complicit. I personally think the government is not serious really about the Bill hence it has brought a version which they know will be opposed by the BJP. Instead of protecting the minority group, let the law protect just anybody. We are asking for accountability in the system and that aspect should be strengthened.

    She asked for a debate stress on accountability of public servants not on which community will get protected in the bill, then she mockingly said, “Let the bill be stress upon accountability and brought in for debate. Then we will see how BJP will oppose Government servant’s accountability.”

    Another important aspect which bill didn’t touch, which was raised by Ms. Grover is internally displaced person protection, “During riots thousands of people get internally displaced, but there is no provision in the constitution or any law to guarantee them their rights. The new draft communal violence bill should include rights for internally displaced persons.”

    A robust victim-witness protection is of more importance. The second pillar of the Bill is reparation where it again fails to address the grossly arbitrary system of state government deciding relief and compensation on its own whims. Even in a road accident, the compensation is fixed. Why cannot it be done in case of communal violence?