Communal Conflict and the Plight of Religious Minorities in India
Its status as a secular democratic state notwithstanding, India has been experiencing increasing incidents of communal violence since the electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 in which religious minorities, such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, are being targeted by Hindu ultra-nationalist organisations that have the tacit support from some in the central government in India. According to an interim report by a human rights activist, Dr. John Dayal, the first 300 days of the Modi’s government have been marked by 43 deaths among 600 documented cases of violence against Christians and Muslims. The threat that religious minorities face in India is not just a fear of violence against their physical bodies and religious institutions, but the fear that their very existence is at risk in a country dominated by a Hindu majority that is increasingly taking on a fundamentalist hue.
Another Building Block in the Edifice of Authoritarianism
The Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill is the latest effort at the devolution of authoritarianism. This article discusses four draconian provisions, which seem like a throwback to the days of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act of 1987 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002.
There is an old saying that a bad craftsman blames his tools. India has no dearth of laws to deal with violent activity. In addition to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 1973 and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860, there are numerous other laws that are equipped to deal with terrorist offences. Among them are,
(i) National Security Act, 1980; (ii) Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, as amended; (iii) Disturbed Areas Act;(iv) Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976; (v) The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, as amended 2008; (vi) Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911; (vii) The Religious Institution (Prevention of Misuse) Ordinance, 1988; (viii) The Anti-Hijacking Act, 1994; (ix) The Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation Act, 1982; (x) Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976; (xi) Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999; (xii) The Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980; (xiii) Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1988; (xiv) Indian Telegraph Act; and (xv) Information Technology Act, 2000.
The case of Greenpeace India activist Priya Pillai is a stark example of how the space for democratic dissent in India is not only shrinking alarmingly but also of the central government’s parsimony with the truth. In the entire sorry episode underlining the blatant violation of human rights, the Intelligence Bureau, which seems to be a law unto itself, has played a major role. At most times, the Government of India tends to be economical with the truth on issues concerning human rights. The latest evidence of this can be witnessed in the affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in response to the petition filed by Priya Parameswaran Pillai.
Pillai is employed as a policy officer with the Greenpeace India Society that is registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act.
The Supreme Court judgment in the Akshardham temple attack case has acquitted six innocent men who were tortured and then made to suffer imprisonment. The Supreme Court has come down hard on the investigating agencies of Gujarat and the way in which the lower judiciary has functioned in this case. The apex court must take this forward and revisit the existing prosecutions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and examine the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which incorporates many of the POTA provisions.
Narendra Damodardas Modi’s destination may have been very different if the Indian criminal justice system had met the standards of more robust democratic legal systems that make strict adherence to due process and timely delivery of justice an article of faith and everyday practice. Nothing exemplifi es this more than the handling of the case of the murder of Ehsan Jafri, former Member of Parliament (MP) who was hacked to death alongwith many others in the Gulberg society in the Chamanpura suburb of Ahmedabad.
The case is brilliantly etched out in the report by the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School, When Justice Becomes the Victim – The Quest for Justice After the 2002 Violence in Gujarat (2014).
Much has been said recently about national interest requiring turning a blind eye towards the extra-judicial killings of Indian citizens allegedly with the connivance of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and its uniformed police accomplices. To hear some commentators, all that stands between India and imminent destruction is the capacity of an unaccountable body to Parliament to execute whomever, wherever, and whenever they like. Stripped of the immunity to murder at whim, the IB would be allegedly forced to fight suspected terrorists with both hands tied behind its back. Or would it?
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The Jammu and Kashmir government has cleverly used the Supreme Court's order on revamping police legislation to bring in the J&K Police Bill 2013 that has several arbitrary and draconian provisions. While demanding revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the state government is attempting to bring in a law that gives the police huge powers over citizens without protecting the latter's rights.
There is need for a statutory framework for South Asia’s intelligence agencies to build effective oversight and accountability mechanisms. Whilst national security is highly important to public interest, it is only one of many competing interests to be balanced for effective governance. This paper outlines best practice for regulation of intelligence services in South Asia, acknowledging the difficulty of balancing national security needs with civil liberties guarantees. It seeks to identify appropriate civil liberties safeguards, whilst maintaining sufficient freedom for intelligence agencies to perform their functions effectively.
It appeared in the December 2012 issue of the South Asia Journal.