9th Anniversary Special
To curb communal violence the nexus between politicians, criminals and the police has to be broken
BY DR. V KANNU PILLAI
religious conflicts have brought us considerable pain, hatred, bloodshed and more destruction than any other single institution in the world. The long history of the world reveals that great civilisations and empires fell more often from internal decay than external assault. Group violence takes place normally due to frustration and failure of peaceful efforts and it is like a fever in the body politic. The fear of crime has eroded basic quality of life, as pointed out by the Crime Commission of the US (1967). Social violence has destroyed basic fabric of society, killing the spirit of co–operation, good will and trust amongst its citizens.
It is strange that in a democratic society a citizen has to be afraid of his best endowed fellow citizen and the country gets divided internally, people are burnt alive in their own houses.
Politics and communal violence
The US National Commission on causes and prevention of violence (1969:57) has aptly pointed out that group violence is utilised by "groups seeking power, by groups holding on to power and groups in the process of losing power." The commission further points out that group violence is "dangerous to free society" and frequently the aim of group violence is not to persuade "but to compel" the opposite group. The lack of respect or fear of law and support from the State accelerates group violence. In a democratic society, free mobility is conducive for carrying out violent acts with the aid of manpower, materials, including lethal weapons support of mass media and easy availability of soft targets.
The Jagmohan Commission, which enquired into the 1969 riots in Ahmedabad, has quoted from Panikar (Future of India and South East, pg. 30–32): "While Hindus and Muslims fight on religious issues, fundamentally it is a question of political power." (1970, 229)
Police and communal violence
The machinery to control communal violence is through criminal justice administration, namely, police in commissionerate areas and magistrates and police in other urban centres and rural districts. The police must be effective so that people do not lose faith and take law into their own hands. The police force is the only agency to employ violence as a method to control violence but in modern times, various religious groups use violence as a means to settle scores with their opponents. Thus the basis of civilised administration is questioned and the police have to be aware that their survival depends upon controlling such fanatic religious groups and anti–social elements usurping their role.
In spite of repeated communal violence taking place in the same place and in the same locality, police have failed to take immediate and effective penal action. The government–appointed inquiry commissions which have enquired into the communal violence in Gujarat in 1969 and in 1985 have confirmed that the situation became volatile due to ineffectiveness, inaction, or delayed action by police and civil authority.
The common complaints are lack of effective leadership, gross underestimation of likely events, demoralisation of the police, a complacent attitude, seeking political support and instruction from superiors and undue dependence on the alleged promise given by the leader for maintenance of peace.
The Justice Dave Commission (1990), which enquired into the 1985 riots, pointed out that the police was totally inactive on April 22, 1985 and May 9, 1985 and as a result there was large-scale damage to life and property. Worse still, it was found guilty of "at times showing excesses and doing atrocities." Regarding the collection of advance intelligence and investigation into the riots, the commission has adversely commented on the role of police.
National Police Commission Report
The National Police Commission (1981) appointed by the central government has undertaken a detailed study of police organisation. In its chapter on communal riots it has commented: (1) Controlling riots has become complicated due to growing public resentment against the police. Riots continue due to lack of decisive action on the part of authorities. (2) Authorities adopt a lukewarm attitude in the initial stages.
Several forces come into prominence to interfere in the police’s duty of controlling riots, investigation and arrest of real culprits. Such interference should be condemned and stopped. The NPC recommendation of formation of state security commissions insulating the police from political pressure is discussed below.
Role of police during communal violence
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi, has commented on the functioning of the Gujarat police during communal violence. The salient futures of the commission’s report are as follows:
Ø "Failure to protect rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity" as laid down in the Constitution.
Ø "Serious failure of intelligence and failure to take timely and adequate anticipatory steps to prevent initial tragedy in Godhra and subsequent violence.
Ø Failure to take appropriate action "to prevent the spread and continuation of violence." "Immediate and stringent measures were not adequately taken" in the wake of the call for a "Gujarat Bandh" on February 28. Bandhs always end with large-scale violence.
Ø "Failure to identify local factors and players" for participation in the violence.
Ø Though a large number of persons have been arrested, break up and details of those arrested are not furnished. It is reported that 90% of the arrested persons in heinous offences were released on bail and some of them were given a warm welcome after release.
Ø Uneven handling of major cases in respect of Gulberg Society and Naroda Patia in Ahmedabad City, Best Bakery in Baroda and Sardarpura Village in Mehsana District. These cases have not been diligently investigated.
Ø NHRC has adversely commented on distorted FIRs, extraneous influences, lack of transparency and integrity. "There was widespread lack of faith in the integrity of investigating process and ability of those conducting investigations." Accused are shown as "unknown" and names of the offenders are not included in the FIR and copies of the FIR have not been given. Atrocities against women including acts of rape are not recorded and investigated. Investigation and prosecution of crimes are not free from "extraneous political and other influences" and, therefore, the Commission called for investigation by the CBI of the "very worst incidents of murder, arson rape and other atrocities."
ØRegarding failure to protect judges, Justice Kadri and Divecha, the response of the State lacks sensitivity and "the fact indicates that the response was often abysmal, or even non-existent, pointing out to gross negligence in certain instances or worse still, as was widely believed, to a complicity that was tacit if not explicit."
The report of the National Human Rights Commission comments adversely on the inaction on the part of the administration to curb the violence. In the past, the same machinery controlled communal violence in a short period but this time the violence was cruel, harsh and painful. And in a very short time, large numbers of people were killed and properties torched and destroyed. Indiscriminate plundering and torching of targeted houses and business establishment indicates the inability of the government and its machinery to meet the eventualities.
The rioters were not scared of police action and as a result the violence was volatile, continuous and brutal. Yet the inefficiency of the law enforcement machinery is not condemned and punished. It seems the fanatics have not considered that the law is above them, however mighty they may think themselves to be.
In short, the secular philosophy of the Constitution and the right to life and property were under severe strain during this period. Gujarat has never seen such serious violence in the past and it seems that the conflict, though apparently religious, is about resources and political power.
Need for reforms
There is urgent need to formulate a system to develop a neutral, secular, non–communal police force which will act as per the law of the land without fear or favour and free from extraneous interference. The nexus among politicians, criminals and the police has to be broken to curb communal violence. Prolonged communal violence is due to the activities of anti–social elements and the nexus mentioned above.
In spite of the various recommendations made by Justice Jagmohan Reddy 30 years ago and the VS Dave Commission 10 years ago, the police continue to be sluggish. The simple reason for this is that there is no political will to punish erring police officers and men for dereliction of duty. These officials have abdicated their duties and deserve strict action. The politicisation of the bureaucracy and police in action has an adverse affect on the administration.
The NHRC has underlined the need to proceed without delay to implement reforms that have been repeatedly recommended in order to preserve the integrity of the investigating process and to insulate it from extraneous influence. The recommendations of the National Police Commission (1981) has long been forwarded to the State but the crucial recommendation regarding the constitution of the security commission, selection of the director general of police, insulating the police from the political process have not been implemented.
There is an obvious "lack of political and administrative will" to implement the above recommendations as pointed out by the NHRC. The commission has urged "to revive quality of policing in this country and to save it from catastrophic ‘extraneous influences’ that are ruining the investigation work of the police — taking the situation in Gujarat as a warning and catalyst to act with determination to implement various reforms recommended and referred to above."
Supreme Court directive
The Supreme Court in the case of Vineet Narayan vs. Union of India and Another (1998(1) SCC 273) has pointed out the need for establishing a mechanism for selecting the DGP, tenure, transfer and posting of the DGP and police officers of and above the rank of superintendent of police. But no action was taken despite the observation of the Supreme Court in 1997 and the letter from the Union Home Minister (late Indrajit Gupta) "reveal a distressing situation which must be cured if the rule of law is to prevail" as pointed out by NHRC.
The NHRC has further noted, "the police reforms directed by the apex court never took place. An unreformed police force thus allowed itself to be overwhelmed by the ‘extraneous influences’ brought to bear on it... The state government thus failed in its primary and inescapable duty to protect constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizenry."
The NHRC urged the Centre and State to give top priority to police reform in the interest of the nation without "extraneous" consideration, to cure the "rot that has set" and to "maintain rule of law."
Action against police officers
The Justice Dave Commission (1990) has urged: "District authorities must be made directly responsible and action should be taken against them for inactiveness if established. They must explain each communal incident which takes place within their respective jurisdiction and assign reasons for failure to control" (Vol. 2, 22). The NHRC has called for the identification of police officers who failed to discharge their duties during the communal violence and recommended prompt action against them without waiting for the report of the commission of inquiry.
"A major deterrent to misconduct or negligence in the performance of duty, it also acts as a catalyst to restoration of public confidence and indication of good faith of administration. Failure to take prompt action has the opposite effect." The NHRC has suggested a reward for officers who controlled communal violence.
Pay Commission recommendation
The recommendation of the 5th Pay Commission, that senior All India Service officers should be posted outside the cadre state after completion of a fixed period as means to improve the efficiency and integrity of the service so that their nexus with the politician be reduced. It is therefore necessary that the above recommendation be implemented.
Enactment of law
There is no effective law for prevention of genocide during communal violence. In pursuance of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), a penal law must be enacted for the protection and safeguard of citizens against the onslaught of powerful groups. Similarly, there should be provision for relief and rehabilitation to the victims as it is only due to the failure of the state to protect the victim that he becomes destitute in his own country. The role of voluntary associations in providing relief and rehabilitation should also be specified the in proposed law.
Finally, penal action must be provided for serious dereliction of duty on the part of government servants for failing to control communal violence.
Amendment to the protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
The above Act should be amended to the effect that the recommendations of the NHRC, headed by a retired chief justice of the Supreme Court, be accepted like a judgement by both Centre and state. The NHRC should be so empowered under Section 18 of the protection of Human Rights Act, (1993) that the commission’s report after inquiry is accepted in toto, and it is not for the state or central government to interpret the recommendations for its convenience.
National Commission on Communalism
The Justice Jagmohan Commission of Inquiry (1970) which probed the Ahmedabad riots of 1969 had suggested that a National Commission on Communalism be constituted at the Centre as well as in the states, to fix the responsibility at all levels for handling communal violence as well as to find out the evil forces responsible for recurrent communal violence, with modern equipments utilised in advanced countries to minimise the loss of property and life.
General economic conditions and violence
As pointed out by the US National Commission on the causes and prevention of violence (1969:70): "We cannot ensure democratic tranquillity unless we ‘establish justice’ in a democratic society. One is impossible without the other." Poor economic conditions,unemployment, multiple deprivation, poor living conditions and lack of facilities encourage violence.
Communal violence will not go or wither away with a superficial whitewash unless conditions responsible for it are removed. Communal violence has been caused by socio-economic administrative factors and our institutions should meet the challenge adequately. Every ‘successful’ round of communal violence has a multiplier effect of inviting more communal violence. There is urgent need for police reforms and maintenance of communal harmony depends upon the acceptance of the legitimacy of social and political institutions, administrative machinery including the police, and meeting the aspirations of the people.
Our institutions should be capable of providing justice to all without discrimination, and our political institutions should be so managed that it makes "violence as a political tactic both unnecessary and unrewarding." (The Report of US National Commission on Causes and Prevention of Violence (1969; 68).
All should accept the constitutional provisions of fundamental rights. The Jagmohan Reddy Commission has aptly pointed out: "The country neither belongs to Hindus nor to the Muslims nor to any particular section of the community, to think in terms of their separate entity, immutably different apart from Indian people could be a negative idea of sovereignty and one nation." (1970:229). The greatness of our country’s civilisation depends upon how we respond to communal violence.
(The writer is a former additional director general of police, Gujarat)
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