Summary of Findings and Recommendations

A national meet was organised on the theme ‘What it Means to be a Muslim in India Today’ by Anhad in collaboration with Siasat and other organisations Delhi from 3 to 5 Oct 09. A large number of individuals as well as representatives of organisations participated and spoke about their experiences and problems late into the evenings. A detailed report is under preparation. However, this is a very brief summary of some of the major findings and recommendations that emerged from the hearings.

Overall

The predominant finding of the meet was that there is an intense, almost universal sentiment of fear and growing despair among Muslim citizens of the country. Many of those who testified in the meet went so far as to declare that they felt reduced to second class citizenship. They shared their mounting disillusionment with all institutions of governance, and more so with the police and judiciary, as well as with political parties and to some extent the media.

There is on the one hand the constant dread of being profiled as a terrorist, or of a loved one being so profiled, with the attendant fears of illegal and prolonged detention, denial of bail, torture, unfair and biased investigation and trial, and extra-judicial killings. There is on the other hand the lived experience of day to day discrimination, in education, employment, housing and public services, which entrap the community in hopeless conditions of poverty and want. This is fostered in a situation of pervasive communal prejudice in all institutions of the state, especially the police, civil administration and judiciary; and also the political leadership of almost all parties; large segments of the print and visual media; and the middle classes, and the systematic manufacture of hate and divide by communal organisations.

It was repeatedly emphasised that this is not simply a problem of victimhood of or injustice to a particular community. It is a grave challenge to the basic values of the Indian Constitution, including democracy, secularism, fraternity and the rule of law.

Major Findings

1.      The pervasive sense of insecurity reported from various corners of the country derived greatly from the prejudice, illegality and impunity with which police forces across the country deal with the challenges of terror. This is a regular pattern that occurs after every terror attack, and sometimes even when there have been no actual terror episodes but the state authorities claim that there was a conspiracy which they detected and prevented. Testimonies from many states in the country outline this chilling pattern, of Muslim, mostly male youth, usually with no criminal records, being illegally picked up by men in plain clothes, and taken blind-folded in unmarked vehicles to illegal locations like farm houses which are not police stations. There they are tortured to coerce them to confess to terror crimes. Many men testified in the meet to brutal and terrifying torture. A few are killed in extra-judicial killings or ‘encounters’. The rest are ultimately produced after several days of illegal detention before magistrates, who ignore injuries that suggest torture. They are then officially remanded to extended police custody, and ultimately charged with a range of crimes of terror and treason. Many are charged with multiple crimes of terror, sometimes 20 or even 50, in many states, making it impossible for the youth charged with these grave crimes to defend themselves. Even if the legal justice system worked efficiently, it would take many years, sometimes decades, for these cases to be heard and concluded against each of the individuals. For all these years, the youth would continue to be held in detention. Almost no one who bears a Muslim identity is exempt from the fear that they, or members of their families, can be subjected to the same allegations of terror links, and to similar processes of detention, torture, encounter killings or prolonged, multiple and biased trails. It was noted that completely different standards are applied in the cases of the Hindutva terror organisations which have come to light.

2.      The testimonies underlined the aspirations of the people of the community to participate in economic and social development in the country, as equal partners as people of other communities. Many women and men who testified in the national meet spoke of the importance to them of modern and high quality schooling and higher education, and sought much higher levels of public investment in their education. There was careful and thoughtful analysis of the design and implementation of measures announced by the central government to address the low social and economic indicators documented by the Sachar Committee. It was pointed out that the per capita levels of investment for the community are still low. The scheme for investment in districts with high minority population, at best cover 30 per cent of the total population. The programmes are for area development rather than programmes focussed on the minorities; therefore they prove blunt instruments as much of the expenditure is on general infrastructure and little to directly benefit deprived people of the community. They are not consulted about their priorities. The scholarship programme is welcome, but also suffers from infirmities of procedure and targets which limit its impact. Financial institutions including nationalised banks are still reluctant to extend credit to Muslims.

3.      There were many testimonies about open prejudice and bias of public institutions towards Muslims, but it was confirmed that these prejudices are equally evident outside government as well. There were also reports of profiling against Muslims by the criminal justice system even beyond terror crimes, reflected in disproportionately high Muslim populations in jails. Many sensitive and senior positions in both central and state government departments, including in the home, education, social welfare and information departments, continue to be held by officials with sympathies with communal ideologies and organisations, and the UPA government has done little to identify and replace them. In particular, sections of the media were examined for their role in reinforcing communal stereotypes, as well as for uncritically broadcasting the police version in terror-related arrests and encounter killings. Textbooks often show similar bias, and this is particularly dangerous because for millions of poor and especially rural children, the textbook is the only source of the printed word which they can access.

4.      People reported from many parts of India of difficulties in getting homes on rent or on sale in non- Muslim localities, or admissions in schools and institutions of higher education. People spoke in many corners of the country of systematic efforts to destroy and boycott the livelihoods of Muslims. Sustained decentralised hate campaigns are organised which portray Muslim men as predators against Hindu girls, and people who slaughter the cow which is sacred to the Hindu community, and vigilante groups supported tacitly by the police target Muslims for these alleged social violations. There were reports, again from many corners of the country, about ejection from cemetery and waqf lands. The latter are valued at billions of rupees, and if managed with efficiency and integrity, could yield large resources for education and livelihoods for the community.

Recommendations

1.      There should be a high-powered 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 fabrications should be handed over to a Special Investigation Team appointed and supervised by the high-powered judicial commission. It should complete its task in one year, so that prolonged detention of persons against whom there is little convincing evidence is not prolonged further.

2.      In cases in which it is obvious that false cases were framed and evidence fabricated, the police officers should be prosecuted (tampering with evidence in cases which can result in capital punishment is itself a capital crime). Victims who were detained and ultimately found innocent should be paid compensation by the state for the suffering and lost years of their lives.

3.      There is a perceived slowdown in investigating and prosecuting cases of alleged terror activities by right wing Hindutva organisations. These investigations should be resumed, and placed under the leadership of officers of impeccable secular credentials and integrity.

4.      There should be a concerted drive to recruit much larger numbers of Muslims to all levels of the police, civil administration and judiciary. For this, all the recommendations of the Sachar Committee for affirmative action should be notified in 6 months, and implemented in 3 years.

5.      The UPA government must immediately redeem its pledge and enact the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, but not in its present form. It must incorporate the major elements suggested by civil society groups. Communal violence, is by its very nature, a targeted crime and a mass crime, perpetrated on a community of persons. As such these crimes do not find themselves reflected in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and other extant penal laws. Because of their nature as `targeted mass crimes’, they need to be recognized as such, drawing upon the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity.

6.      When persons in positions of official power deliberately fail to prevent the eruption of communal violence, or to stop its continuation, the responsibility for the eruption, or continuance, in the penal law as is stands, does not provide for prosecuting or punishing them. ‘Command responsibility’ has to be built into the law if the perpetrators of violence are to be drawn into a legal scheme of punishment and deterrence. The law should explicitly recognize and punish communal crimes that result not just from active participation or abetment of state authorities, but also crimes of omission, or what may be described as ‘culpable inaction’.

7.      Any proposed law on communal violence must use the concepts of restoration, reparation and compensation, depending on the scale and nature of mass communal violence, which includes rescue, relief (including establishing relief camps for as long as affected people feel insecure), compensation, restitution, rehabilitation including assistance of soft loans and land allocations to rebuild livelihoods and shelters to levels not less than before the violence and in conformity with the wishes of the affected persons, and the reconstruction of places of worship destroyed in the violence. It should also contain internationally accepted norms for the internally displaced. These should be inviolable, legally enforceable rights of the victim-survivor, and extended according to national framework/policy of entitlements for victim-survivors of communal violence, rather than leave it to discretion at the state level.

8.      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 in registered under this Act should be waived.

9.      A law against communal discrimination on the lines of the SC ST Act should be enacted to recognise specific crimes of discrimination against minorities and punish these severely. Such crimes of communal discrimination would include organising social and economic boycott, communal propaganda, propagating communal stereotypes in textbooks and the media, and denial of housing and employment on communal considerations. The Act would contain provisions for compensation, and punishment of public officials.

10.  Officials who carry communal prejudices should be identified, and removed from sensitive positions in which their decisions have bearing on minorities, such as in the departments of home, education, welfare, information, and in financial institutions.

11.  The Prime Minister should nominate a 10 member committee to undertake a nationwide campaign against the communalisation of society, akin to the literacy campaign and temple entry campaigns of the past. The features of discrimination in everyday life have not been sufficiently acknowledged, let alone studied, by government, even in the otherwise laudable Sachar Committee. This committee should also study and document these social processes of discrimination, some of which came to light in the national meet.

12.  The Prime Minster’s 15 point program should be given statutory status. The government should constitute a high-level Empowered Committee in the Prime Ministers’ Office with senior non-officials who have worked on this issue constituting at least half the membership, to monitor implementation of measures to improve the socio-economic conditions of Muslims, including implementation in letter and spirit the recommendations of the Sachar Committee.

13.  Allocations should be sufficient to cover the large deprived population, in a Minority Sub Plan – like the Tribal Sub Plan and the Special Component Plan – which is proportionate to the population of the communities. The Plans should be not to simply develop districts with high minority population, but directly benefit them with high quality education at all levels, health care, and support for livelihoods and employment.

14.  The Committee should be empowered also to ensure the Waqf properties are managed in ways that their incomes are converged with public investment to ensure further topping up of resources for the development and benefit of the deprived members of the community, with special focus on children, youth and women. We should build institutional mechanisms to use Waqf property incomes also to protect human rights.

Members of Jury: Ahmad Saeed Malihabadi, Asghar Ali Engineer, Admiral Ramdas, Colin Gonsalves, Gagan Sethi, Ghanshyam Shah, Hanif Lakdawala, Harsh Mander, Kavita Srivastava, Mahesh Bhatt, Prashant Bhushan, Ram Punyani, Rooprekha Verma, Sukumar Murlidhran, Tarun Tejpal, Uma Chakravarthy, Zafar Agha, Zahid Ali Khan, Zoya Hassan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *