Sunday, November 13, 2011

Agonizing Wait for Communal Violence Bill

Agonizing Wait for Communal Violence Bill
Syed Ali Mujtaba

There seems to be a conspiracy of silence when it comes to tackling Hindu- Muslim communal riots in India. Since the past sixty years or so a systematic annihilation of human population is going on but no one seems to be bothered as to how to address the issue.

The recent communal clash in Gopalgarh at Bharatpur district of Rajasthan on September 14, 2011, is one such incident that graphically narrates the horrifying aspect of this problem.

The riot actually broke out between Hindu Gujjars and Muslim Meos over a dispute for six bighas land near a Muslim graveyard. The land belonged to the Muslims that the Gujjars forcibly tried to capture and the turn of event took a communal color.

According to reports Muslims were praying in Gopalgarh town’s main mosque when a Gujjar mob entered the place of worship. The mob was accompanied by local police. It started indiscriminately on the praying worshipers.

According to eyewitnesses, rioters even poured the kerosene oil on the worshipers and set ablaze at least four of them. In this communal mayhem, nine Muslims lost their lives.

A fact finding groups from ANHAD and Jamiat Ulam-e Hind visited the place of violence the very next day. It reported that there were strong evidences to suggest, that police and the local administration in Gopalgarh acted in a partisan manner while dealing with the clash between Muslim Meos and Hindu Gujjars.

The fact finding team stated that the fighting had broken out due to a dispute over a small plot of land. This could have been controlled, if the police had taken firm action against the aggressor.

However instead of acting as upholder of law and order, the police reportedly joined the Gujjar community in gunning down the Muslim Meos. The police watched the burning of many Muslims alive inside the mosque.

The fact finding team reported that there are enough instances to prove that police and Gujjars tried to destroy evidences of the crimes committed against the Muslims.

This is not the first time that a communal riot of such a nature has taken place and one is also sure that this would the last time for the crime of such a nature.

However, one is appalled by the dead conscious of the people that even a crime of such a nature do not jolt them to wake and stand up and press upon the point that for god sake stop this madness once and for all.

Like any other riot, the plot at the Gopalgarh was the same, the script was the same, the aggressors were the same, and the victims were the same. The complicity of the security forces and the belligerent action of the dominant community has resulted in the butchering of helpless people.

Even such a cold blooded murder failed to attract hue and cry from the civil society and preferred to look the other way round, as if nothing has happened and every thing is fine.

The height of idiocentricity was when Congress leader Sachin Pilot refused to accept this event as a Hindu Muslim communal riot. Inspite the fact that the killing had taken place inside the mosque, the Congress Minister refused to accept it as a religious riot. He termed the event a ethnic clash between two communities of Rajasthan the Gujjars and the Meos.

The state government after the riot took some half-hearted actions action to sooth the anger of the victims but it was a case of too little and too late.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too visited the site of the violence and talked to the victims, but nothing has moved beyond such tokenism.

The main problem that is witnessed during every communal flare up is that it occur due inefficiency of the security forces in some cases due to their connivances with the rioters. In Gopalgarh riots, the land dispute was not new one.

Tension was building around it for long time. It was because of the preventive action of the security forces that it was kept under control.

However, this time this was not the case. The police force did not take any precautionary measures inspite knowing the fact that tension over the issue was brewing for long. On the contrary, the police played an active role in killing the Muslims, firing upon them indiscriminately even inside Mosque.

The incident is a pointer to the fact that repeatedly the problem starts with the fight over the graveyard land, the Eidgah land, processions near the Mosques and some other set situations. All along a conspiracy is hatched to punish the Muslims.

The aggressor come in large number accompanied by the police and launch a onslaught over the Muslim and any resistance results in their cold blooded murder.

Its really disturbing to see that even though communal peace is regularly being breached in this country but no action plan is yet in sight to deal with such events.

How long will this go on in this country? What a shame on a nation that boasts of unity in diversity, tolerance, pluralism and co existence and other such words.

One of the promises that the UPA Government had made in the first term in office was to bring an enactment of a legislation to prevent communal violence in the country.

The government did some half hearted attempt to bring such legislation. Contrary to meeting the expectations of the victims of the communal riot, the bill seemed to empower the police and the state machinery with draconian powers as a remedy to “control” riots.

There was no provision in the bill to bring to task of misuse of power by the police and punishing the guilty. There was no provision for the rehabilitation of the victims of targeted violence.

With all these glaring loopholes, the bill was hurriedly withdrawn with the promise to bringing it back in a much more comprehensive format. Its almost eight years to the promise and noting has materialized on the ground.

Now after some efforts and engagements with the authorities by various human rights organizations, the National Advisory Council (NAC) has proposed a bill entitled “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice And Reparations) Bill, 2011.”

The bill supposedly has taken into account the experience of the victims of the communal riots. It has also taken acognizance of the fact that the power invested in the police was either not used or are misused against the weaker sections of the society. The NAC has forwarded the Bill to the Government but so far no action is taken by the government .

The Muslims, Christians and the Dalits who have been suffering for a long time from the atrocities of the majority community are yearning for a legislation to put full stop to such cold blooded murder .

Their agonizing wait is reaching a saturating point. It’s high time that the government bring the much touted “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011.”

The Act will instill confidence among weaker section of the society and build a new rapport with the UPA government. It will be a step in the right direction if this bill is brought in this winter session of Parliament.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Participative Approach to Understanding Gender

Participative Approach to Understanding Gender

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The term gender is quite value loaded term. When we discuss this word, often the context happens to be women. Most often gender is being talked about in terms of discrimination faced by the fair sexes.

In order to create an understanding of the term gender, a workshop was organized by the All India Secular Forum (AISF) in Mumbai on October 30, 2011. The female participants from Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) and some students SNDT college, Mumbai took part in the workshop.

Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, Dr. Ram Puniyani and Dr. Chandrakant Puri were the resource persons of this workshop.

The participants were divided into groups and were posed certain postulations were made and each group was asked to come up with their own understanding of the hypothesis. Some very interesting observations were made during the discussions that were moderated by the resource persons.

Following postulations made were put up for discussion; 1) Difference between gender and sexes 2) Biology makes women weaker than men 3) Women who dress or behave in culturally inappropriate ways are inviting assault 5) A woman who leaves the house because her husband beats her up is over reacting 6) Women are better care givers than men.

Difference between gender and Sexes

The explanation was given in repose to the understanding the term ‘gender and sexes were vague. Some said that gender is the sexes- male and female, some mentioned gender is the discrimination that women face, still other held the view that its discrimination faced by men and women differently.

The resource persons corrected the understanding of the term explaining that gender is a social construct and it’s essentially the roles, opportunities and the expectations of the society from the sexes. These can be changed. On the other hand, sex is a biological construct which is not changeable.

Biology makes women weaker than men

Some of the points that emerged during this discussion were; women are not biologically weaker than men. Some were of the opinion that women were ‘naturally’ more tolerant. They were made in a way that they get less angry and are calm. However, this view was challenged by the other participants and the trainer since this indicates towards bio determinism which is self destructive to feminism.

The point that was underlined was women and men are both inherently violent and tolerant. What makes women more tolerant or calm in certain situations is their socialization and upbringing which essentially discourages women to question or disobey making them submissive and meek.

Women who dress or behave in culturally inappropriate ways are inviting assault

In this, there were also two opinions. Some felt that it was not acceptable for women to outrage the sensitivity of her community and dress in an outrageous manner. Others felt that it may depend on the woman if she was comfortable in what she wore. This was also debated. The discussion led to the larger issue of control over the bodies of women and if deviance in any form is acceptable and if it’s acceptable to oppose this deviance through violence or assault. This discussion was enriched when the participants shared their personal experiences and insecurities and how they all at some level feel the city spaces to be unsafe for women.

A woman who leaves the house because her husband beats her up is over reacting

The next discussion saw less of debate where everyone accepted that violence against women in any form was unacceptable. Here interestingly, the general reactions of society and especially of the police were discussed.

A patriarchal society normalizes violence against women and thus mounts pressure on them to adjust with the abusive husband. Many factors are cited for convincing the woman to put up with violent husband like her economic dependence on the husband, no awareness of legal options, social stigma for the woman’s family etc.

Women are better care givers than men

The last discussion was on women were better care givers than men. There was general agreement on this theme but some participants challenged this notion as swell, One participant cited the example of her own husband who is often ridiculed by the neighbors for doing all household chores like cooking, cleaning, washing etc.

In this context the concepts of masculinity and femininity were explored and subsequently how patriarchy also deprives men of their choices was discussed.

The next session was the film screening of ‘Bol’ a film based on patriarchy in its various forms. The film depicts violence against women. The discussion that followed the screening of the film was very lively.

It was an emotionally charged atmosphere where most of the participants could relate to the oppression faced by the women characters in the film.

The discrimination faced by a girl child in a household in terms of education, opportunities and roles were discussed. It was agreed upon that such discrimination should be studied in order to understand gender based violence.

Also, how religious fundamentalism affects women adversely was discussed, citing examples from personal experiences.

The importance of questioning and critical outlook as well as listening or having an open mind to differences and other perspectives was sufficiently agreed upon during the discussions.

The issues how women are penalized due to deviance is in society was discussed. It was highlighted that women must have control on their bodies and reproductive functions. The participants gave examples of some of the cases they have witnessed where preference to male child is so prevalent that the women are compelled into having multiple pregnancies having detrimental effect on the health and choices of women.

This was the second workshop in the series to consolidate the understanding of communalism. The first workshop discussed the concepts like communalism, religion, identity politics and caste, etc

The next workshop will focus on the theme social identity. This topic will be further explored in terms of the understanding on gender issues and consolidate the understanding of patriarchy.

This report is prepared with the help of the inputs provided by the organizers of workshop who run a forum call secular perspective. Any quries regarding this workshop can be addressed to Mr Irfan Engineer ( or to (

Needless to say that this is a very laudable attempt by some concerned members of the civil society in Mumbai to create peace and harmony in their city. This model is worth emulating in other parts of the country as well.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cleanup Indian Politics of Criminal MPs

Cleanup Indian Politics of Criminal MPs
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Corruption and Criminalization are two distinctive features of the Indian politics. The crusade against corruption was loudly articulated by the social activist Anna Hazare however, there is little noise being made by the civil society about the criminalization of Indian politics.

As a matter of fact, one out of four MP in India face criminal charges. There are 162 MPs in the current Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament that has criminal records. Out of these, there are 76 MPs having serious charges against them.

The total number of criminal cases against the MPs is 522 and out of these 275 MPs face serious IPC sections charges against them.

The Bhartiya Janta Party has the highest number of criminal MPs that is 43, out of which 19 have serious criminal cases against them.

The Congress party comes next with 41 MPs having criminal cases, out of which 12 MPs face serious charges against them.

As compared to 2004, the number of MPs with pending criminal cases has gone up. There were 128 MPs with pending criminal cases against them in 2004 Lok Sabha out of which 58 had serious pending criminal cases. There is an increase of about 26% in MPs with pending criminal cases and 31% increase in the number of MPs with serious pending criminal cases.

Obviously, these are not the type of people that should represent we the people of India, but some how these heavy weight crooks have got themselves elected into the Parliament and have become part of the governing apparatus of the country by default.

The comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG) have lambasted the government on this declining trend. "Governance is at its lowest ebb. The morale of civil servants is low. The situation is too deleterious for the nation. There is too much at stake for too many in such a situation," CAG reportedly has said.

There has been an erosion of people's faith in government. Their confidence in public institutions has declined. National trust in bureaucracy including the police force has collapsed. The integrity and professionalism of civil servants is being questioned," it adds.

"We have chief ministers who have had to vacate their positions allegedly for graft, on whom courts and other judicial bodies have made adverse pronouncements. We have Members of Parliament who are being indicted by the judiciary for various acts including accepting cash for exercising their vote in Parliament." CAG concludes.

So in such a situation the principal issue is how to make it harder for those with criminal cases to contest elections. Obviously, there is an urgent need of electoral reforms in this country that bars any convicted person from holding office till they are finally acquitted by a court of law.

The current legal position relating to a person convicted of criminal charges is that if the criminal charge, and not just the sentence, is suspended on an appeal, he has the right to contest elections.

One has to understand the nuance in the law and that depends on what order the court gives. If the conviction is suspended, then one can fight elections, if the sentence is suspended, which means no jail, but conviction stands, until such time that the appeal is heard, then one can not fight elections.

Union Law Minister Salman Khursheed has drafted a bill that plugs the loopholes and it could make it impossible for any convicted politician to run for office.

At the moment, those convicted of criminal charges have three months to appeal but that will not be available if the structure of amendments prepared by the Minister goes through the motion and get passed. In such a case the convicted members will be immediately excluded from Parliament.

According to the draft bill if one is convicted, then he can not fight elections, irrespective of what the appeal order is, until he is finally acquitted by the court of law.

Another amendment that is proposed in the draft bill is; crimes committed under section 153 (A), which pertains to creating enmity between communities to be put under the category of heinous crimes, and if that happens, politicians convicted under this clause will not have the right to contest elections.

All this is fine. The big question is will these proposals be acceptable to all the political parties. In fact, there is already a law in place to rein in the corrupt MPs, but many of them have found loopholes into it and have got stay order on their conviction to contest election.

Even the proposed amendment bill is being challenged by some unscrupulous MPs. They have threatened to derail the new bill, if and when, it comes for discussion at the all party meeting.

It’s an argument by those who have something to hide and they will use all kinds of tactics to continue their domination in power.

What is needed is to build consensus around the proposed amended in the electoral process initiated by the Union Law Minister. We have seen with the Jan Lokpal movement that people power can force the government to sit up and make changes.

We need to use the same strategy and generate massive public opinion to clean up Indian politics of its criminal crooks.

Unlike the herculean task of weeding out corruption from the Indian system, the task of getting rid of politician facing criminal charges is much easy.

The redemption of Indian politics from all its banes is long haul and cleaning Indian politics of criminal MPs could be a way forward for good governance and betterment of the country.

We have to watch every move about this bill as it gets drafted, placed before the all party meeting and discussed in the in the Parliament.

Even all this happens we have to built a momentum on the lines of Jan Lokpal movement and send a strong signal to the political party bosses to have a consensus on the draft bill and pass it in this winter session of the Parliament.

The figures quoted above are cited by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW).

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Irom Sharmila solidarity campaign growing in India

Irom Sharmila solidarity campaign growing in India

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The iron lady of Manipur, Ms Irom Sharmila Chanu of Manipur is one of the civil rights activists in India better known for her relentless campaign for=
the the repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Irom Sharmila has been on has been on hunger strike since November 2, 2000
demanding that the Indian government repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers
Act 1958 (AFSPA). She has refused food and water for more than 500 weeks,
making her the longest hunger striker in the world.

She caught the imagination of the nation on October 2, 2006, when she held
hunger strike at the historic Jantar Mantar, New Delhi and was joined by the students, human rights activists and other concerned citizens. She was arrested by the Delhi police for attempting suicide.

Since then support to her is growing steadfastly. On June 25, 2011, a candle light solidarity prayer was held at the Rajghat New Delhi where approximately 200 people participated from all walks of life.

It is part of this growing support that Irom Sharmila Solidarity Campaign is being launched in India and under it various programmes and action are being organized through out the country.

The programmes organized under the banner 'Irom Sharmila Solidarity Campaign. have already begun from Oct 2, ( Birthday of Mahatma Gandhi) across states of India and would culminate on Dec 10, 2011. As a part of this campaign a Srinagar to Imphal journey and national signature campaign is also being planned.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) continues to be the most potent repressive tool of the Indian state that empowers even a non commissioned officer of the armed forces to kill on mere suspicion and provide legal immunity from prosecution, thereby causing untold misery and agony among the peoples of the affected regions.

The imposition of AFSPA is synonymous to heavy militarization in the states
where it is promulgated leading to gross civil and political rights violations including enforced disappearances, extra-judicial execution, torture,
inhuman and degrading treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women, arbitrary arrest and detention.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a colonial legacy used against Mahatma Gandhi, was promulgated initially in the Naga areas of Assam (later divided between 4 states) and later in Mizoram, initially in parts of Manipur and later in all of Manipur.

The Ordinance after a brief discussion in the Parliament was endorsed and got the status of Act on August 18, 1958, despite stiff resistance from various quarters who challenged it as a martial and draconian law.

Since then it has been in force in one part or the other of the states of A=
runachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and
Jammu and Kashmir (since 1991).

Even though continuation of the 'disturbed area' status under the AFSPA in
many part of the country is illegal in view of the violation of the mandatory six monthly periodic review directed by Supreme Court in its 1997 Judgement, there is no respite from this draconian law.

This law is more draconian than its predecessor ordinance used by the British to suppress the Quit India Movement. In the pretext of controlling insurgency, this Act has only intensified the insurgency in the region and legitimized thousands of gross human rights violations like rape, torture, murder and disappearances of innocent people in the Northeast and J&K.

The democratic movements in the Northeast states of India and the Jammu and Kashmir have consistently demanded the repeal of the Act and demilitarization for decades but their repeated plea has fallen on the deaf ears and nothing has so far been done to check the state sponsored injustices being perpetrated.

It is in this context Irom Sharmila struggle against Armed Forces Special Powers Act, has become synonymous with the cause. It amazing to see her conviction and courage to take on the might of the Indian state.

Although Sharmila is leading the Manipur people=E2=80=99s movement but her popularity over the years has catapulted her to the national stage. It's her sheer grit and determination that has made her a national icon. She occupies the same space as that Anna Hazare has on corruption, Medha Patkar on Narmada Bacho and similar civil rights activists.

It therefore important for all the freedom loving people who care for human=
rights and human values in this country to render support to 'Irom Sharmil=
a Solidarity Campaign and make it a success.

It wont be improper to mention that Irom Sharmila is one of the faces better known to us, but she is not the only one, there are many more like her who have taken up this cause and deserve salutation.

Here one has to acknowledge the names like; Mukta Srivastava , GG Parikh, Sukla Sen, Daniel Mazgoankar, Asad, Shimanshu, Suhas Kolhekar, Simpreet Singh, Jatin Desai, Guddi S.L who have put up a brave front and has taken up this cause.

One can only wish good luck and best wishes those who are campaigning for the repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in India.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at