To fulfill its pledge to prevent violence like that of the 2002 Gujarat pogroms from recurring, the Gujarat government has proposed the Communal Violence (Suppression) Bill, 2005.
This bill grants the government wide powers to respond to communal violence, including the power to arrest and search without a warrant. The bill also increases the punishment for offences in riots and allows the government to set up special courts and police stations. These special courts can hear cases at any protected place and can maintain confidentiality of witnesses. The bill also requires that the government nominate a committee to advise and assist it in relief and rehabilitation efforts.
A recent column in The Indian Express commented on the deficiencies of the bill.
However, the benchmark of the merit of the proposed law should be that if it was enacted when the Gujarat mass violence unfolded, or indeed the ’84 Sikh riots, would it have influenced the conduct of recalcitrant state authorities in terms of ensuring that they take all the necessary steps to protect the victim and prosecute the guilty? The answer is that this law would have made absolutely no difference to a government driven by a communal agenda.
In 2002, the Gujarat government failed to end the violence not because it lacked the power to do so, but because it chose not to. This new bill grants additional powers to the government, which is a meaningless move unless the government is compelled to use these powers to end communal violence.
The law as proposed is at best irrelevant to the challenges of communal governance and, at worst, dangerous, because many of the special powers such as of search and arrest can be used against minorities in the same way as Modi consistently misused the powers under POTA. The governments of today do not require greater powers, but greater moral and legal accountability.
It is for this reason that we need a law that lists the mandatory duties of the state, failing which they can be criminally prosecuted as well as dismissed.
No riot can continue for more than a few hours without the active complicity of state authorities. This monumental crime against humanity must be explicitly and severely punishable under the new law.
The state must be obligated to take legal action against all hate propaganda, to quickly use maximum force to control communal violence, and to set up relief camps for victims of the violence.