Of the several fears that haunt Indian Muslims today, the worry of being “picked up” by law enforcement agencies is the most compelling. At the end of a three-day national meet in the capital on Monday on the status of Muslims in contemporary India, community representatives from across the country voiced fear and despair as their immediate concerns.
Victims who had either been accused of being involved in terror activities or have relatives behind the bars for alleged involvement in acts of terror shared their experiences before a panel of eminent people who have now come up with a set of 12 recommendations.
Referring to the feeling of “despair and fear” among the Muslims, former bureaucrat, Harsh Mander, who was also a panelist said Muslims feel let down by the police and the judiciary in particular and by the media and the political parties to some extent as well.
Mr. Mander said the ongoing war on terror has emerged as a pattern that can be seen not just in Gujarat, but in several other States as well. “Muslim youths with no criminal records are picked up illegally by policemen in plainclothes taken to farmhouse etc. and kept for days on end and tortured brutally.”
Taking note of the feeling of discrimination felt by Muslims in various spheres, the recommendations put forth by the panel suggests a high-power judicial commission headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appointed to examine all cases of terror across the country. “Those that seem doubtful or fabricated should be handed over to a special investigation team. It should complete its task in a year so that prolonged detention of persons against whom there is little convincing evidence is not prolonged,” the recommendations said.
Prosecution of police officials who have tampered with evidence in cases which can result in capital punishment, compensation for victims who were detained but found innocent, concerted drive to recruit in larger number Muslims to all levels of the police, civil administration and judiciary have also been recommended.
The jury members after studying the submissions, which include complaints like discrimination in matters of renting houses in non-Muslim dominated areas, prejudices and biases of public institutions against Muslims and reinforcing stereotypes by the media also recommended the enactment of the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill with changes suggested by the civil society groups.
“Strong action should be taken under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code against organisations which indulge in hate campaigns and communal propaganda. The requirement of prior sanction of the State government before a complaint is registered under this Act should be waived,” the recommendations state.
The panel has also sought a law against communal discrimination on the lines of the SC/ST Act to recognise specific crimes of discrimination against minorities and punish these severely.
“The Prime Minister should nominate a 10-member committee to undertake a nationwide campaign against communalisation of society, akin to the literacy campaign and temple entry campaigns of the past. This committee should also study and document these social processes of structural discrimination, some of which came to light in the national meet,” said the recommendations.
The panel has also called for suitable allocation to cover the largely deprived population in a minority sub plan-like the tribal sub plan and special component plan, which is proportionate to the population of the communities. It also wants the committee to be empowered also to ensure that the Waqf properties are managed in ways that their incomes are converged with public investment to ensure further topping up of resources.
Pointing out that the India society at present is not truly secular, film maker Mahesh Bhatt, who was also on the jury, said there is an immediate need to “implement an anti-discrimination law.”