Monday, November 4, 2013

A Joke on Indian Secularism

 Some of you may have received a FB/ IM post about something called the Prevention of Communal & Targeted Violence act, saying stuff about how it is blatantly Anti- Hindu, and another example of the Congress pandering to the minorities etc etc. If you haven’t I’m not reproducing it here as I plan to present the case in a hopefully more rational & definitely less sensational manner.

Like me you may have dismissed it as yet another example of factually liberal right wing propaganda in the utterly disgusting Nehru – Patel funeral controversy mould. That would have been the happy ending. Unfortunately I happened to get into a debate with my father in law on this. I told him such stuff as given in the post was not possible in a democracy and Indians always believed more in rumour rather than actually finding out the facts for themselves and I would do so by reading the bare act (bill in this case) and doing the doodh ka doodh pani ka pani thingy.

To be blindsided in any debate is galling, to be blindsided in one with one’s father in law, well better not get into that. Anyway to get to the point, the act is linked below:

I think everyone should take time out to read it, at 56 liberally spaced pages it isn’t terribly long and should take less than 30 minutes to browse through.

Basically as the name suggests it broadly defines responsibilities, parameters of response and relief in cases of communal violence. It sets up authorities at the Central and state level with broad based representation across majorities & minorities, Government and opposition etc. to investigate and act upon riots with advisory and executive roles. It defines responsibilities for various Government departments, measures for rehabilitation & compensation, minimum standards for relief camps and punishment in case of dereliction of duties by government officials and others for stuff from hate propaganda to arson & torture to killing.

All this is pretty much fine and even commendable. The problem comes with the definition of “Group”, group being the term used throughout the act for the parties whom the act would protect. Group is defined as “religious or linguistic minority, in any State in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes…” (page 1, section 3(d))

Further “victim” is defined as “any person belonging to a group as defined under this Act, who has suffered physical, mental, psychological or monetary harm or harm to his or her property as a result of the commission of any offence under this Act, and includes his or her relatives, legal guardian and legal heirs, wherever appropriate” i.e. linguistic & religious minorities. (page 2, section 3(k))

The sum of these 2 definition means that anyone who is not a linguistic or religious minority is not covered under the act. Now riots as anybody who has experienced them first hand would know are never a event where only one community suffers. What would typically happen in a riot between 2 communities is that in areas dominated by one community, members of the other would be displaced and vice versa in areas dominated by the other. So members of both majority and minority community would suffer pretty much in the same manner, though the the number of people affected from each community of the same may vary from riot to riot.

From a plain standpoint of justice any illegal and unethical transgressions by either of the communities should be incorrect and both should be equally deserving of punishment. However as per the act designed to protect the victims of a riot, a victim with the double misfortune – as there is no other way to put it – of not being in a religious or linguistic minority is not a victim at all no matter how much he or she may have suffered. As per the logical conclusion of the sections, this person would not be entitled to minimum standards in relief camps, there would be no punishment for officials who through deliberate intent or neglect may have caused this person to suffer, nor should he be entitled to rehabilitation under this act.

Carrying the same argument forward using a topical example, a Muslim victim in the Muzzafarnagar riots would be a victim entitled to the protection of the law, but an Hindu victim of the same riot would not, which is plain ridiculous. Nor as per the law would Kashmiri Pandits, who are a minority community in Kashmir but a majority community in India qualify for rehabilitation, (unless they somehow come under the linguistic minority definition).

Now one may say that there are other laws that cover rehabilitation, redressal of justice etc for such a person. However if that is the case those same laws are equally applicable to all communities and religions so what is the need for a special law covering minorities.

Secularism is quite famously not defined in the constitution though it states that India is a secular state. A generally accepted definition of secularism is “a doctrine that rejects religion and religious considerations.” A second more detailed definition is that a secular state, involves 2 doctrines;

a)    Separation of the state from religions institutions and
b)   People of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law

This law as per the above definition does not seem to meet the concept of equality before law. The Indian Constitution in Article 14 explicitly guarantees the Right to Equality before law, “without discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”. How can then this bill that denies that right to equality be passed under the aegis of that very constitution?

Let us not even get into the fact that as per section 72 (page 28) “….it shall be presumed, unless the contrary is proved, that the offence committed was knowingly directed against a person by virtue of his or her membership of a group. “ So basically you are guilty until proven innocent unless you fall into the “Group”. While this seems to more suited for Guantamano bay and tinpot dictatorships than the world’s largest democracy, even this would be fine if there was reciprocity, which there isn’t by a long shot.

The fact that this bill is being sponsored and passed by the Grand Old “secular is my middle name” Party of India is a tight slap in the face of any Indian who actually understands and believes in secularism. In the political landscape as it exists today, it is difficult to envisage any opposition party, either the communist parties, or the RJD (let us not even think of the SP) or the single state regional parties opposing this bill. Which means the only person opposing this patently un-secular bill is (atleast by conventional definition) the least secular of parties i.e the BJP. If that isn’t a joke, what is? God bless India….