Even as over 24,000 people continue to live in refugee camps in Shamli and Muzaffarnagar districts as a consequence of communal riots, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have been urged to take a fresh initiative to enact a Bill against communal and targeted violence.

Civil liberty and women rights activists, legal experts, academics and civil society groups have petitioned them and the Union Home Minister, reminding them that the promise of a “comprehensive legislation” against communal violence remained “unfulfilled” even a decade after the United Progressive Alliance Government coming to power in 2004.

The National Advisory Council had drafted Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill but it was later sidelined. This was due to its two controversial elements – the definition of “group” and the proposal for the establishment of a National Authority, which several State Governments held went against the federal principals of the Constitution.

The Bill drafted by Sonia Gandhi-led NAC had defined “group” as “religious or linguistic minority or the Scheduled Caste or the Scheduled Tribe”, something which triggered accusations especially from the BJP and Right-wing Hindu groups of the Bill being “anti-Hindu”.

The demand for a fresh initiative for the law seeks to do away with both the controversial provisions.

“The recent outbreak of communal violence in Muzaffarnagar once again reminds us of the urgent and dire need for a law against communal and targeted violence. We are of the view that a fresh initiative to draft the Communal Violence Bill is required and that law must provide protection to all victims-survivors, and it should respect the federal framework,” said their petition.

“It is not that the executive does not have the powers needed to prevent and control a situation of communal and targeted violence,” argued human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover during a press conference on Tuesday, “it is the lack of accountability of public servants, officials and others exercising political, executive, administrative and law enforcement powers, further aggravated by institutional bias and complicity, which leads to the non-use or misuse of such powers by State functionaries”.

Shabnam Hashmi from ANHAD said: “What we need is a law to protect all persons from communal and targeted crime through making persons in positions of public authority accountable; punishing all those responsible for perpetrating, planning, inciting, abetting and conspiring to cause the violence, harm and loss; and just, fair and equitable reparation to all affected persons.”

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