Governance · Public Policy

The Emerging Trends in Communal Dialogue

The “unabatable  problem of class divide” is, as we all know today, the repeating keynote of our Parliament’s untimely post-riot deliberations, but behind this constructed articulation lies hidden the dangerous agendas of our revered politicians. The term ‘minority’ is nowhere defined in our Indian Constitution, but when it’s time to have the big electoral debates the political chorus is almost unified in their expression of this term. Our Government has an erred perception of how a minority sect should be defined and a clear reflection of this is found in the way the original draft of the Communal Violence Bill was drafted. Criticisms coming in from different sections of the civil society followed subsequent to which a new draft of the Bill was recently formulated that removed this distinction between the two classes that the UPA Government is said to have intended to create. However, it still remains relevant to dissect the intricacies of the old Bill because the communal ideology from whence the Bill was produced remains at large and may be replicated in future legislations relating to minority rights.

In the 2011 Bill, communal and targeted violence was defined as being ‘any act or series of acts, whether spontaneous or planned, resulting in injury or harm to the person and or property, knowingly directed against any person by virtue of his or her membership of any group’. Here, the term group refers to “ a religious or linguistic minority, in any State in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes within the meaning of clauses (24) and (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution of India”. The whole Bill rests on the concept of this word “group” and any person who is a victim or subject of an atrocity or any of the other offences as covered under this Bill, including but not limited to sexual assault, hate propaganda and torture, would have been considered as being a victim or subject of such offence if and only if he belonged to this anomalously conceived “group”. However, the social reality is actually far removed from the settled constitutional, legislative, judicial and political positions on minority definition.

With a diverse distribution of language, ethnicity, culture and religion, it seems reasonable to conclude that our country is indeed a country of minorities. Take a closer look and you will find that if a person, whether he be a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, lower caste or upper caste, is living in an area as member of a community that is lesser in strength than the other dominant communities residing in the same area, then that person, by virtue of his membership to the respective community, becomes a minority in that particular area. In light of the recent violence that unfolded in Muzaffarnagar, legislative discourse on the so called “minority-majority conflict” needs to tilt towards more practical considerations. The concept of minority population must be geographically determined in respect of a specific unit or area of land in order to avoid a larger conflict of interests.

For the purposes of introducing anti-communal violence measures we must not simply depend on nationwide estimates but instead ensure that a proper and systematic categorization is done in such a manner as has been discussed above. Communal politics is not the outcome of an already existing minority-majority divide as everyone is led to believe. It is a carefully devised administrative move that is structured around the central idea of collective constituencies. This philosophy follows from a rather British set up that aims to first divide a given area into two or three separate groups of electorates, based on language, religion or caste, and then appeal differently to different electorates for their votes. The primal focus will be on whichever group that forms the single largest majority in a particular constituency with the exclusion of the other minority communities that are scattered, dispersed or un-notified. A clear example of this shows in the increasing ghettoization of Muslims in certain districts or states, such as Bombay and Gujarat, where Hindu Nationalist organizations much like the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party have for decades been operating with the main political upper hand.

Religious segregation is a result of the constant political interference with contemporary societal attitudes and this is happening in a country whose history otherwise records tolerance and respect towards differences. The majoritarian prejudice channels itself from within the very legal framework that is supposed to protect the interests of all citizens in our country in accordance with the spirit and word of articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of our Indian constitution.  For instance, housing co-operatives are entitled to a strange and archaic legal right to deny residence to any individual falling outside of the chosen class of people for which the co-operative was intended. Religious divisions are an inherent feature in the social evolution of a country like India and the role of a political factor cannot be singled out as being the only contributor to this reality, but politics does withhold a tremendous potential to influence the way in which socio-ethnic communities are formed.

Politicians need to commit to the citizens of India that they are willing to work towards the goal of attaining a common social welfare model that panders to national interest not regional or sectarian interest. In a 1995 judgement, the Supreme Court read that the word ‘Hindutva’ should not be interpreted as being the promotion of Hindu fundamentalism but that it should be understood as meaning a way of life and a state of mind instead, thus incorporating the principle of secularism in a concept that is predominantly employed otherwise to incite the sentiments of people belonging to the Hindu faith. Political parties, though not coming under the definition of ‘State’ under article 12 of our Constitution, are very much an integral part of the federal structure in our country and as such it must be obliged upon them to act in accordance with the secularist interest that flows down from the words which have been drafted into the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. That could be the only way forward for this country, for what it seems, in the immediate times itself.

About the Author

 dipayanDipayan Chowdhury

He is a student of Symbiosis Law School in Pune. An  optimist at heart with a penchant for public speaking  he had decided to join law school out of an intensive interest to make significant contribution in the area of  human rights work in the country. He is currently pursuing a diploma in the field of Human Rights   Jurisprudence which involves a comprehensive study of the interface between International law and Human rights law. Having been a science student he also holds a special interest in the field of Intellectual Property Rights and particularly in exploring the human rights aspect in it. His other interests include Criminal Justice and Feminist Jurisprudence. An avid dreamer, Dipayan hopes to go a long way in the fight for the realization of his vision and also hopes for the right people to join him in this effort.

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