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India: Effective Act against Communal and Targeted Violence Needed | Dr John Dayal’s Statement at National Integration Council

11 October 2013

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[The following is the written statement delivered by Dr John Dayal, the Secretary-General of the All India Christian Council, at the National Integration Council meeting held in New Delhi on September 23, 2013.]

Honourable Prime Minister, Honourable Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Honourable Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and other Members,

Greetings from my community and my organisation, the All India Christian Council, which was founded in 1998 in the wake of large-scale persecution of our community in several parts of the community at the hands of misguided fringe elements of a militant Right- wing fundamentalist and hyper-nationalist organisation that seeks to convert this secular democracy into some sort of a mono-culture theocracy.

Thank you, Prime Minister, sir, for convening this meeting, but after such a long gap. A meeting of the NIC, of course, is not a panacea for the violence against, and general persecution of, religious minorities, Dalits, tribals and other marginalised people. But frequent meetings—at least once a year would be the bare minimum —would send a signal to the victim groups that the nation at large, present here in the presence of the leaders of the Union and State governments, had not forgotten them, was deeply concerned about them, and was determined to end their trauma and restore them to a life of peace and happiness.

In recent days, I have once again witnessed the aftermath of targetted mass violence. I was part of a fact-finding group, organised by the Centre for Policy Analysis, which a week ago visited Muzaffarnagar, and in particular its villages, make-shift refugee camps, burnt out mosques and its despairing people. Earlier, at a People’s Tribunal in Bangalore, victims and witnesses told us of the widespread persecution of Christians in the villages of Karnataka since 2008, attacks on small and home churches and the molestation of women, which was continuing.

Muzaffarnagar and Kandhamal, Odisha, in 2008 have striking parallels—the spread of violence to the villages through a sustained hate campaign carried out by extremist political vested interest, and the involvement of politicians.

Anti-Christian violence is also visible in Andhra, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and specially Madhya Pradesh. Karnataka is now reporting anti-Christian acts of violence every third day. In all cases, the police look on passively, or is itself complicit in the violence. Senior officers choose to remain deaf to the warnings of growing communalism and tension, and imminence of violence.

Both Kandhamal, 2008, and Muzaffarnagar, 2013, saw large scale attacks on places of religious worship in the villages. There was massive internal displacement, with village upon village purged of all presence of the minority communities. Police and governance systems were found wanting before, during and after the violence. In both cases conditions in refugee camps were dismal and inhuman. And in both cases, killers and fomenters of violence roamed about free, taming both the victims and police.

Kandhamal has also seen a gross miscarriage of justice and extremely tardy and incomplete rehabilitation and reparations. In 32 of the murder cases—the total, according to the survivors, is more than 100—there have been only two convictions. An MLA, accused in nine of these cases and convicted in one, is roaming free on bail in a highly questionable judicial decision.

It is no surprise therefore to go through the agenda of this meeting of the NIC, and learn from it that there has been a steady rise in recent years in the number of communal violence cases, and the number of dead and injured. We learn there were 640 cases of actual violence and 716 of communal tension in 2012, which left 2012 killed and 2129 injured across the country. In the nine months of 2013, we have already seen almost 490 cases of violence and 433 cases of tension, with 152 injured. These include the separate figures given for Assam and the North-East. These figures do not reflect the cases of anti-Christian violence. The police for their own reasons do not register them under the “communal” heading.

These call for urgent action. Short-term response from the government and long-term correctives which have still not been put into place after more than six decades of experience with communal violence need to be devised and activated,

Suggestions

1. The long-term solution is to have a compre-hensive and effective Act against Communal and Targeted Violence, which favours the victim and has a national Code to standardise the current Relief, Rehabilitation and Reparation. Impunity must end, and officials must be held accountable. I was part of the last exercise under the National Advisory Council to formulate such a Bill. I was a witness when the draft Bill was targeted and all but destroyed in the last meeting of the NIC by some States and political leaders. The Union Government did not intervene at any stage to disclose its mind. Civil society feels this Bill is imperative if communal violence and its aftermath are to be averted, and victims rehabilitated with human dignity. The Bill was not against any particular community. Nor was it meant to encroach on federal values. With the protection of victims at the centre, and as the reason, of its theme and jurisdiction, Civil Society is willing to listen to governments and other stakeholders to device an acceptable version of the Communal and Targeted Violence [Relief, Rehabilitation and Reparation] Bill which is implementable and which will punish the guilty and hold police and civil officials responsible for their actions, or their failure to act.

  It is also important that:

2. The guilty are arrested, including those who were part of the hate campaign by spreading rumours and false information through posters, word of mouth and social media.

3.  The government must identify and prosecute and stop those involved in communalising and radicalising innocent people, specially in the villages by perverted concepts of identity formation.

4.  The government must provide adequate and well-equipped and well-trained police with arms and communication equipment and transport in communally sensitive villages. There must be some code of postings to ensure that police are biased in favour of their own community.

5. The government must ensure Rapid Action Police at the block level.

6. The government must hold village panchayat leaders culpable for communal violence in their region, and hold block and district senior officers of the police and administration, similarly, responsible for the occurrence of communal violence.

7. At the State and national levels, police reforms and training continue to be a work in progress, and progress is exceedingly slow. Ensure commensurate presence of minority and marginalised in police forces.

8. In Muzaffarnagar, ensure that the govern-ment takes over all relief camps and makes them humane with adequate security, medical relief, especially for women and children including newborn babies, with adequate provisions and sanitation. The survivors must understand they are under the government’s protection and care.

9. Ensure that detailed FIRs are registered and the crimes investigated painstakingly with adequate modern forensic scientific methodology, supervised by senior police officers, and tried in special courts so that justice is swift. There must be witness protection in place.

10. Every internally displaced person must be resettled in his or her home village with a sense of security and compensated adequately to rebuild his and her home and life. If required, employment must be provided. Special care must be taken for the rehabilitation of women victims of gender violence.

11. In Karnataka and other States, ensure that violence against home churches, pastors and others is registered and investigated as an act of communal violence.

12. In Kandhamal, ensure fresh investigation of all murder cases by trained investigating officers, followed by fresh trials of these cases. Witness protection systems must be put into place to reassure victims and survivors. The government must also help survivors rebuild their lives, and provide jobs to those now forced to work in distant places as casual labour.

The Christian community has been distressed at the government’s attitude to their demand that Dalit Christians be given the same rights as are given to Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits. In affirmative action, there cannot be any discrimination on basis of religion. The government must issue an ordinance to remove Article 341 Paragraph 3 as soon as possible.

The government must also ensure an end to the so-called Freedom of Religion Acts in some States which encourage extremist and fundamentalist elements to harass, torment and persecute innocent Christians.

Thank you.