The riot solution

Responding to India's riot-scarred experience, the National Advisory Council proposed a piece of legislation that raises more problems than solutions. This version of the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Regulations) Bill, 2011, has faced a barrage of criticism from unexpected places, and at the recent National Integration Council meeting, most BJP chief ministers, as well as others like Naveen Patnaik and UPA ally Mamata Banerjee, made their opposition clear.

The chief ministers pointed to its anti-federal tilt (law and order is a state subject and this bill proposes a Central panel to monitor matters of group violence) and its "dangerous" assumptions about minority victimhood. Conditioned by the memory of the Gujarat riots, the bill tries to impose accountability on public officials, in the police and adminstrative machinery. The bill recognises the special vulnerability of minorities (defined as religious or linguistic minorities or SC/STs), and intends to make sure that the state cannot be coopted by majority interests but it does this by exerting all its force on civil servants, and reposing its faith in a set of benevolent guardians a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation composed of people who represent a range of religious and linguistic minorities, and have displayed "clear moral character". The bill also assumes that religious tensions will tend to express themselves through violent riots rather than, as is more, likely, through subtle forms of discimination or through acts of planned terrorism, which it does not address. Creating a special riots bureaucracy could end up reifying the problem, one that might actually be waning over time. Instead of recognising what makes incidents of premeditated group violence special (and what is unaddressed by the array of laws in the CrPC), this bill looks for solutions in the official apparatus.

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