Christian & Proposed Communal violence Prevention Bill 2005/10

Observations of the Christian Community on Proposed Communal violence Prevention Bill 2005/10


National Advisory Council meeting 24th June, 2010


The Christian community, approximately 2.4 per cent of the Indian population, is yet to emerge from the trauma of the violence against it in Kandhamal District of Orissa in 2007 and 2008, which saw mass murder, unprecedented arson, gang rapes and coercive change of religion, among other crimes, and the continuing acts of violence against its members, individual pastors, priests, nuns, institutions, prayer meetings and tract distribution, across the country but more viciously in Karnataka, Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and occasionally even in the National Capital Region of Delhi.  This experience is marked by our understanding of the protection given to the aggressors, issues of command responsibility and impunity, and a callous attitude towards Christianity which is seen even in official circles as an alien religion, and its faithful as so much lesser citizens in the exercise of their Constitutional rights. This experience, as much as our empathy with the experiences of our brothers and sisters in the Dalit community, the Tribal people and members of the Sikh and Muslim faiths, guides our understating of communal violence, and our response to the Communal Violence Control and Prevention Bill through its various incarnations from when it was first moved in Parliament in 2005 till the last Cabinet note of December 2009.


The Catholic Bishops Conference of India gave a detailed note to the Government some time ago. On behalf of the All India Christian Council, its office bearers also conveyed to Government our feelings. Other denominations and groups have also communicated with the government. The Christian community consists of several ecclesiastical groups and denominations, apart from ranging across all linguistic and ethnic groups in the country as is proper for its 2,000 year old history of existence in this great country.


It may be mentioned that we entirely support the major recommendations made by the Muslim community groups and by concerned Civil society. We strongly feel any Law to be relevant must empower the people, specially the survivor-victims.  It must in no way further empower the State and the political apparatus to harass religious minorities.


This note therefore covers not just the experience of the Catholic and Episcopal groups in all their diversity as already enunciated by them, but also the experiences and needs if the membership of the All India Christian Council from the Evangelical and Pentecost churches, Independent Church groups and pastors, and above all, the common Christians, specially Tribal and Dalits, who may worship in their house, or go to a Church, and who are untied in their faith in the Salvation assured by Jesus Christ.


B. Needless to say, the proposed CV Bill is ignorant of the diversity of the minority communities, and specifically of the following issues of the Christian Community.


 1. Dalit Christians: 60 per cent of all Christians in India trace their origins from the Dalit communities, now called the Scheduled Castes. They live with their fellow Indians in Dalit colonies, semi urban hovels, and village Cheris. They are subject to all atrocities faced by the others. In addition, they are targeted for being Christians, taunted, vilified and subject to sustained hate campaigns. And yet they do not get the hope or the security provided by anti-atrocity laws, or other provisions of the IPC.


 2. TRIBALS: A large number of tribals are Christinas in the States of Rajasdthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra, Chhatisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand, apart from the Tribals of the North-Eastern region. The tribals of the so-called Chhotanagpur region particularly suffer from administrative and communal action, and find little or no recourse in the law. The experience in Kandhamal has brought this to the fore.


3. PLACES OF WORSHIP: While large cathedrals are landmarks in cities, the churches in small towns and villages may be just a kutcha hut or a log cabin. Often, both in Catholic and Protestant traditions, prayers are held within the house together with family members and neighbours. Sometimes, prayers are also held in the open on Sundays and other special days. Increasingly house churches have been targeted and often the police has been a party to the violence.


4. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Nuns of the Catholic, Orthodox and of some Episcopal churches, as well as wives of Evangelical and Independent pastors have been particularly targeted in Madhya Pradesh, up to and including gang grape and sexual coercion, with the police entirely inactive, if not complicit.  The Nuns can be identified at a distance and are therefore vulnerable all the more.


5. DIFFUSED POPULATION: Apart from certain districts, the Christian population is widely dispersed, and ingle families or a small cluster becomes very vulnerable.


6. PATTERN OF VIOLENCE: Though populations are dispersed in the major states – barring Kerala, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Goa, -- the violence is consistent. And yet authorities, especially the police dismiss it as "sporadic" unrelated and unconnected violence. The overall Pattern of Violence is never taken into account while taking preventive or curative measures.


HATE CAMPAIGNS:  For the last forty years, there has been a consistent and sustained hate campaign against Christians, often officially supported. Where huge temples exist in government building and even in police stations, it is perhaps difficult to expect a secular approach from subordinate officials and policemen. The hate campaign in media is supported by partisanship in the district administration, further aggravating the communal harmony in those regions.  These include refusal to distribute religious tracts and refusal of permission to sell or distribute Bibles, permission for holding Healing Ministries and Prayer meetings on public or private grounds and fields, and mis-reporting in the mass media painting the Christians in a negative light.


 The following is an internal commentary by the All India Christian Council and its expert associates, which takes into account the above and assesses the new Bill with its suggestions.




 The government has proposed a law to prevent control and deal with the aftermath of communal violence, which would include caste-based or religiously-motivated violence.  Communal violence is recognised as a problem which runs deeper than simply undermining law and order.  The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief echoed the NCM in emphasising that communal violence is most likely to occur in a situation in which the following elements are present:


v     Long-standing antagonism along religious lines;


v     A specific occurrence triggering an emotional response among members of religious communities;


v     A sense among perpetrators and the religious community to which they belong that communal violence is justifiable;

v     A sense among perpetrators that the reaction of police to communal violence would be absent, partisan or ineffective.


The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2009, was first introduced on 26 November 2005, and has undergone a series of revisions, which include the adoption of a number of recommendations issued by the NCM.  It is expected to be introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2010, having received Cabinet approval in December 2009.




The purpose of the Bill is outlined in the Statement of Objects and Reasons:

"Communal violence threatens the secular fabric, unity, integrity and internal security of a nation.  With a view to empowering the State Governments and the Central Government to take effective measures to provide for the prevention and control of communal violence and to rehabilitate the victims of such violence, for speedy investigation and trial of offences including imposition of enhanced punishments, than those provided in the Indian Penal Code, on persons involved in communal violence and for matters connected therewith, it has been decided to enact a law by Parliament."


The current version of the Bill sets out a series of measures to these ends, and includes the following provisions:


v     Article 3(1) groups a number of offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and other laws in a schedule.  If one or more of these offences are committed "in such manner and on such a scale which involves the use of criminal force or violence against any group, caste or community, resulting in grievous hurt, loss of life, or extensive damage or destruction of property" and where "such use of criminal force or violence is committed with a view to create disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups, castes or communities", resulting in an imminent "threat to the secular fabric, integrity, unity or internal security of India", a state government is required to notify this as a "communally disturbed area".


v     Article 4 specifies that a state government may request the central government to deploy armed forces in these circumstances.


v     Article 5 provides for preventative measures to be taken by a district magistrate prior to any outbreak of communal violence.

v     Articles 6-10 provide for preventative measures to be taken by the "competent authority" after an area has been designated as communally disturbed.


v     Articles 11-16 proscribe and stipulate punishments for certain acts associated with communal violence, including possessing weapons or threatening witnesses;


v     Article 17 stipulates punishments for public servants or competent authorities who act in a mala fide manner or wilfully fail to exercise lawful authority, and thereby fail to prevent communal violence.


v     Article 19 provides that punishments stipulated for scheduled offences must be doubled if the offences are committed on a scale and in a manner which constitute communal violence.


v     Article 21 provides for the declaration of police stations within the scheduled area, and for the provision of women police officers to investigate scheduled offences committed against women or children.


v     Article 22 provides for the review of cases where the investigating officer does not file a charge sheet within three months of a First Information Report (FIR) being registered.


v     Article 23 provides for the constitution of "Special Investigation Teams" if the state government believes the investigation of offences was not carried out in a fair and impartial manner.


v     Articles 24-37 provide for the establishment and procedure of "Special Courts" for the trial of scheduled offences, and for the appointment of public prosecutors.  Article 32 provides for concealing the identities of witnesses testifying before a special court.


v     Articles 38-41 provide for the creation and functions of a "State Communal Disturbance Relief and Rehabilitation Council" by the relevant state government, including several ex officio members and several members nominated by the state government, including representatives of all major religious communities.  Article 40 stipulates the functions of the council in planning relief efforts, including advising the state government on compensation and the establishment of relief camps, taking a range of remedial measures for the welfare of victims and the reparation of damage, recommending measures for activating a "district communal harmony committee" and reporting to the government on shortcomings in remedial measures.  Article 41 stipulates the preparation of a plan "for promotion of communal harmony and prevention of communal violence" to be recommended for adoption by the council to the state government.


v     Articles 42-44 provide for the creation and functions of a district equivalent of the state committee, to act as the implementing body for relief and rehabilitation measures.


v     Articles 45-48 provide for the creation and functions of a national equivalent of the state committee, with responsibilities including advising relevant state governments on relief, rehabilitation and compensation and making recommendations to the central government.


v     Articles 49-52 provide for state governments to establish schemes for the compensation of victims of communal violence.


v     Articles 53-54 provide for the payment of compensation for damages by offenders.


v     Articles 55-56 set out special powers of the central government to deal with communal violence.  These include directing the relevant state government to take appropriate measures, and declaring a "communally disturbed area" if the state fails to do so when necessary, and deploying armed forces under the authority of the central government.


v     Article 58 provides that there should be no discrimination in the provision of relief or compensation "on the ground of sex, caste, community, descent or religion".





The principle of a CV Bill has been welcomed by religious minorities in India, and it has the potential to add positively to India's excellent body of legislation protecting against acts of discrimination or prejudicial violence.  However, there exist legitimate concerns about the effectiveness of the 2005 and the 2009 drafts of the Bill, which have been voiced by civil society and religious minority organisations, by the NCM and by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in the report of her 2008 visit to India.   The Special Rapporteur recommended specifically that the legislation "should take into account the concerns of religious minorities" (paragraph 67).


The most serious, substantive and prominent concerns about the Bill in its current form include the following:


1. The Bill does not define "communal violence" adequately, and therefore cannot protect against it effectively.  Firstly, it construes communal violence as disharmony between two different communities, or mass rioting by one community against another, but it does not recognise the process by which communal tension or hatred is incited, and it does not recognise the phenomenon of state complicity in the incitement or execution of communal violence.  Secondly, the premise of the "communally disturbed area" does not do justice to the reality of communal violence as experienced by some religious minorities, especially Christians: certain states see frequent, well-targeted, single incidents of religiously-motivated violence, which are often orchestrated by extremist organisations, and this pattern of violence would not be addressed under the provisions of the Bill.  Thirdly, the Bill inadequately covers the possible range of offences which might constitute "communal violence" (including specific forms of sexual violence), and the implications of this context for evidentiary standards in the investigative process.


2. The Bill does not provide for sufficient safeguards against the poor or discriminatory exercise of power by those responsible for protecting the rights of victims, which is a recurrent problem in cases of communal violence.  The Special Rapporteur noted that civil society organisations have "voiced their concern that the sweeping powers given by the Bill to state governments could be misused to intimidate members of the minority community" (paragraph 40).  Article 17 provides for the prosecution of public servants for the dereliction of duty, but this requires the prior sanction of the state government, and if the state government is complicit in (or not unfavourable towards) the communal violence, it becomes extremely unlikely that discriminatory behaviour or the dereliction of duty by public servants will be prosecuted.  Article 22 of the Bill provides for the review of every case in which the investigating officer does not file a charge sheet within three months of an FIR being registered, but this may be circumvented by the common tactic whereby police officers fail to register FIRs according to proper procedure.  Article 57, the so-called "good faith" clause, provides immunity for officials; however, the standard of mens rea, or command responsibility, should be enshrined in the Bill, so that superior authorities are held accountable for the unlawful activities of their subordinates.  The NCM made a number of relevant additional recommendations to increase accountability: That the reports of any commissions of inquiry should be made public as a matter of course; that the National Human Rights Commission should be mandated to monitor the performance of special courts; and that those found guilty of involvement in communal violence should be debarred permanently from government jobs and from contesting any office.


3. The Bill should provide additional measures to protect witnesses or victims from intimidation.  Article 15 criminalises acts which threaten witnesses, and Article 32 provides that the identity of witnesses may be concealed.  However, the Bill should draw upon the guidelines of the Supreme Court and recommendations of the Law Commission.  It would be strengthened considerably by providing for the police protection of witnesses at risk of threat or intimidation.  Incentivising witnesses by providing travel and maintenance expenses (as recommended in Article 21(2)(ii) of The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act), would further protect against witnesses preferring to stay silent rather than risking intimidation as a consequence of giving evidence.  In addition, the rights of persons displaced into camps as a result of communal violence, as outlined in Article 40(b), should be in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,  including the provision of education to displaced children (principle 23) and ensuring that camps continue until the establishment of suitable conditions and the means for the displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes, or to resettle voluntarily (principle 28).


4. The Bill should set out a uniform, binding scheme for the provision of compensation to victims of communal violence, to address the inconsistencies shown in previous cases.  It should establish the rights of victims or their dependents to financial compensation, and should also provide compensation to rebuild places of worship damaged or destroyed as a result of communal violence.  This was among the recommendations of the NCM not included among the amendments in the 2009 version of the Bill.


E. Aftermath of 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa


In August to October 2008, Orissa witnessed the worst spate of communal violence ever faced by the Christian community in post-independence India, including brutal murders and rapes, widespread destruction of churches and property, and forcible conversions to Hinduism.  The attacks, centred in Kandhamal district, were catalysed by the assassination on 23 August 2008 of Lakshmananda Saraswati, local head of the radical Hindu nationalist group VHP, by assailants believed to have been Maoists.  On 24 August, when his remains were paraded around the district, mobs began setting up roadblocks, shouting Hindu nationalist and violent anti-Christian slogans, openly blaming Christians for the murder and calling for revenge as they attacked Christian targets.  Although rural poverty and underlying issues of ethnic tensions over entitlements in Kandhamal played a role in the violence, these were not the primary causes but provided a context for the radicalisation of one community and the incitement of violence.  The Orissa chief minister publicly acknowledged the role of extremist Hindu nationalist organisations in the violence in the legislative assembly for the first time in November 2009.


The violence which started in August 2008 continued for over eight weeks.  At least 50,000 were displaced and 70 were killed; among the victims were Hindus opposing the rioters.  Widespread anti-Christian attacks had also taken place in Kandhamal in December 2007, impunity for which laid the foundations for the second more serious wave of violence in 2008.  The state government failed to implement detailed recommendations made by India's NCM in early 2008.




Rural poverty is endemic in southern Orissa, the area in which the violence was centred, and the rural poverty ratio actually increased in this area during the period 1983-2000.   There exist deep underlying issues of entitlement in Kandhamal, which created a context for the instigation of the 2008 violence: one such issue is the classification of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, which was formalised in 1950.  Both communities trace their ancestry to the indigenous inhabitants of the land, and constitute a single ethnic, linguistic and cultural group.  However, Kandhamal is designated as a 'Scheduled Area' under the provision of the fifth schedule of the constitution, and as such, certain entitlements are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, including freehold (patta) ownership of land.  This is a potential cause of tension between Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  Moreover, Christians of Scheduled Caste background or ancestry are not eligible to the same entitlements as Scheduled Castes (see section 4.3 above).  It is in the interest of those Scheduled Castes who profess Christianity to be reclassified as Scheduled Tribes, as this would reverse their double disenfranchisement, so tensions among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes can therefore take on a religious colouring in the right circumstances.


Although these factors of ethnicity and entitlement provided a context for the violence, it is important to emphasise that Christians in the area have been drawn from both Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities.  During the violence, Christians from both communities were attacked.


The extremist Hindu nationalist presence in Kandhamal has played upon existing sensitivities, and co-opted them onto a religious nationalist template.  Extremist Hindu nationalists have been operational in the area for around 40 years, and they originate from a non-indigenous, caste Hindu, trader community.  Their agenda has been the preservation of Hindu purity, including the prevention of cow slaughter and of religious conversions.  Christians, as the largest religious minority in the area, constitute a threatening 'other', and provide a ready scapegoat.


The local prominence of Naxalites, or Maoist insurgents, creates an additional layer of complication.  Naxalites were almost certainly responsible for the assassination of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, which precipitated the mass violence against Christians.  There are numerous theories about the Naxalites' motivation for the murder, one of which is that it was an act of retribution against his activities, and that it was calculated to gain support from disenfranchised people in the area, including Christians.  The palpable absence of state machinery from the area, means that the scene has been set for something of a 'turf war' between Hindu extremists and Naxalites.



We had welcomed the Fast track courts and had high hopes from the two Additional Sessions Judges and the Public prosecutors. We feel betrayed after the lapse of one year. Out of 12 deaths by murder, where judgement is pronounced, there was only one conviction; and accused in 11 deaths are acquitted. Justice, reconciliation and peace remain an unfulfilled objective. There are legitimate fears of impunity on a large scale.  Local lawyers suggest that the majority of crimes have not been registered properly by the police, and the majority of cases which reach the courts have resulted in acquittals.  There is also widespread evidence of endemic bias and dereliction of duty in the investigation and prosecution of offences.  As of now, lawyers in Kandhamal said that of 3,223 complaints submitted to the police; only 831 had been registered as First Information Reports (FIRs).  The judicial system in place has been partially successful, but the realities of trying cases in a rural situation amidst widespread fear, combined with poverty and illiteracy, create special needs which the current system is failing to address adequately.  Many witnesses or victims are reluctant to testify in court for fear of retribution and lack of confidence in the efficacy of the system, and they have been intimidated and threatened, sometimes by mobs outside courtrooms;


We suggest that the new CV bill take care of the following issues:


1.                     The Fast Track courts should be set up outside the affected area, preferably in a neighbouring district, and in special cases, in an adjoining state to remove any inference with the course of justice.


2.                     The Judges appointed should be subjected to review for their performances by superior courts to weed out bigotry and vested interest, if any


3.                     Special public prosecutors be appointed at government expense out a panel whetted by civil society and survivors-victims


4.                     Survivor-victims are allowed to arrange their own lawyers to assist the Special PPs.


5.                     Survivor Victims be allowed to file additional FIRs other than those filed by police suo motu


6.                     Survivor-Victims' lawyers be allowed to cross examine defence witness and intervene properly in the judicial court process.


7.                     Witnesses security and transport be taken care of by government in a foolproof witness protection programme


8.                     In case of gender violence cases, in camera proceedings be arranged


9.                     Adequate security be provided in court premises and environments


10.                 Legal observers / amicus curie be allowed to monitor the course of the trial


11.                 Special Investigation Teams be set up in case police investigations are found to be inadequate.