India is a vast country, with people belonging to different religions living amicably for centuries together. The rich traditions of tolerance, perseverance, plurality and assimilation have kept the identity of the country intact, and civilization thriving.
Declared a secular country in the constitution, India has several provisions for protection of minority communities. The State does not discriminate on the basis of any particular religion. There are constitutional provisions for equality of opportunities for all. Despite precautionary, preventive and positive measures having been envisaged in the constitution, to rule out any feeling of being left-out, communal disturbances keep recurring. The Government had, often expressed its commitment toward maintaining communal harmony in the country, and has been taking steps- statutory, legal, administrative, economic, and so on. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, while speaking at the Communal Harmony award ceremony, 2009 reiterated the need for communal harmony and national integration. He said “India has been home to all the great religions of the world. While some were born here, others took root in this ancient land of ours. The sub-continent has for centuries provided a unique social and intellectual environment in which many distinct religions have not only co-existed peacefully but have also enriched each other. It is the sacred duty of each one of us to carry forward this great tradition. I believe that both the government and civil society groups must continuously watch and raise our voice against groups and individuals who use violence in the name of religion. No religion sanctions violence. No religion preaches hatred. No religion endorses animosity towards another human being. Those who use religious symbols and forums to talk of violence, sectarianism and discord cannot be said to be true spokesperson of their respective religion. However, we also know that all societies, including ours, have to contend with such preachers of disharmony and disagreement. That is why it is all the more important to recognize and applaud those - like today's distinguished award winners - who work selflessly for communal harmony and national integration. It is our obligation to nurture such voices of sanity”. Gandhiji, the father of the nation, commented “Communalism of the virulent type is a recent growth. The lawlessness is a monster with many faces. It hurts all, in the end, including those who are primarily responsible for it”. The Government has taken initiatives to promote communal harmony. These include constitution of the National Integration Council (NIC) (1960s), setting up of the National Foundation for Communal Harmony (1992) and laying down of the guidelines for the promotion of communal harmony from time to time. The NIC, comprising of prominent members of various sections of society, besides several union ministers and chief ministers of states, has been meeting regularly, to discuss and sort out the issues of discord. Since the decision makers at the Centre and the States are members of the council, a patient hearing is given to the grievances of various sections of society. The vision of the National Foundation for Communal Harmony (NFCH) is to have India free from communal and all other forms of violence, where all citizens especially children & youth live together in peace & harmony. For this, the Foundation promotes communal harmony, strengthens national integration and fosters the spirit of unity in diversity through collaborative social action, awareness programs, reaches out to the victims of violence especially children, encouraging interfaith dialogue for India’s Shared Security, Peace & Prosperity. It provides financial assistance to the child victims of societal violence for their care, education & training, aimed at their effective rehabilitation. It promotes communal harmony and national integration by organizing variety of activities either independently or in association with State Governments, NGOs & other organizations. It confers awards for outstanding contribution to promotion of communal harmony and national integration. It undertakes activities to highlight and strengthen the bonds of unity and affinity between different religious groups in the country, and encourages activities to promote belief in the principles of non-violence in resolving disputes. There is no denying the fact that the maintenance of communal harmony, and the prevention/avoidance of communal disturbances/riots and, in the event of any such disturbances occurring, action to control the same and measures to provide protection and relief to the affected persons, is a prime responsibility of the State Governments. The Central Government has issued guidelines for maintenance of communal harmony, which cover preventive and Administrative Measures, Personnel Policy, and relief and rehabilitation measures. They reiterate the fact that if due vigilance is maintained, careful planning done and preparatory measures put in place, many possible incidents of communal violence can be pre-empted and prevented; and, wherever, despite this, communal violence does occur, it can be contained effectively, and much human suffering avoided, if it is tackled with promptness, grit and determination. Utmost care and attention requires to be given to the planning and implementation of a range of measures to alleviate the sufferings of those affected by any incidents of communal violence, including the provision of relief and rehabilitation assistance to the victims of such violence. The guidelines underline the fact that preventing a communal riot is far more important than containing it. It is the duty of the District Administration to carefully assess the communal situation in the District on a regular basis and prepare a profile of the District, identifying the areas which are prone to communal sensitivities and tensions. The police officers should keep a close watch on the situation in such areas, periodically visit them for promoting public contact and interface with the civilian population and community leaders. Manpower requirements for these areas should be realistically assessed, and all vacancies filled up and manned. In the sensitive/hyper-sensitive areas, detailed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and contingency plans to deal with escalated situation/riots, etc., should be kept ready. The unregulated use of loudspeakers, which is often a cause for arousing passions and evoking violent reactions among different groups of people, need to be checked. Various kinds of religious processions, which very frequently lead to communal confrontation and clashes as often various organisations tend to organise, and view, processions on religious occasions as a show of strength, which could itself become a cause for provocation, should be checked. There should be involvement of identified respectable members of the community, in the peaceful conduct of processions. The use of technology, like Video/Audio coverages of events and processions could also act as deterrent. Effective and meaningful action needs to be taken to curb and check rumours, and proper assignment of nodal responsibility and modalities for information management needs to be ensured. Adequate steps need to be taken to ensure that no damage is caused to places of worship, The guidelines stipulate that composition of the police force, especially those deployed in communally sensitive areas, should be representative of the social structure of the region so as to ensure its credibility, and help in creating a feeling of confidence among all sections of the people. In communally sensitive and riot prone areas police and administrative officials of proven integrity, efficiency, impartiality and non-partisan outlook should be posted. Every public servant should exercise the lawful authority vested in him/her to prevent commission of any communal violence, protect or provide protection to any victim of communal violence in a strictly neutral manner, and any malafide act or omission should be severely dealt with. Due recognition should be given to the services rendered by the district administration in preventing and dealing with communal disturbances. In a communally-sensitive area, small shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and daily-wagers are most prone to loss and damage to life and property, if the situation goes out of control, leading to arson or violence. They are most likely to face economic burden, due to loss of income or property, most of which is not covered under any type of insurance. They can thus be the most willing partners in maintaining peace and communal harmony in the area. Similarly, women who are the worst sufferers in such situations may also be keen to ensure communal harmony. The district administration can tap the resources and energy of these people/groups in ensuring peace. Many voluntary organisations in the country are working in the field of promoting peace, national integration and communal harmony. Such Organisations usually have motivated and well-intentioned volunteers and workers. The district administration should mobilize support of, and encourage, such organisations, in their efforts to maintain communal harmony, and diffusing tension if a communal situation arises Whenever any communal incidents are apprehended or occur, prompt and immediate preventive/enforcement action may be taken, including, imposition of prohibitory orders/ curfew, and strict and neutral enforcement of the same, apprehension /arrest of the potential miscreants/ those indulging in violence, arson, etc., registration/institution of cases. Prosecution of all offences relating to communal violence/ rioting should be carefully monitored and, wherever necessary, Special Investigation Teams (SIT) may be constituted for ensuring fair and impartial investigation. A lot of resentment is generated on account of non-payment of timely relief/ex-gratia to the riot victims. Interim relief may be provided immediately to the individuals for any loss or damage suffered due to communal violence. While providing assistance and relief to the victims of communal violence, it should be ensured that there is no discrimination on the ground of sex, caste, community, descent or religion. The district administration should ensure timely provision of essential supplies/services such as food, milk, medicines, water and electricity, etc., in areas affected by communal violence. Wherever it becomes necessary to set up relief camps, proper arrangements for security and other appropriate amenities should be made, including arrangements for medical examination/ assistance, etc. Wherever required, on account of damage to residential and commercial property, an appropriate mechanism may be established for speedy disposal of insurance claim and assistance from financial institutions by way of loans/ rescheduling of loans, etc. The Central Government has launched a Central Scheme for assistance to victims of terrorist and communal violence, whereunder there is provision for one time payment of Rs.3 lakh to the affected families in addition to any ex-gratia relief that may be provided. The Government has enacted “The Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988”, with a view to maintaining sanctity of religious places and to prevent their misuse for political, criminal, subversive or communal purposes. It casts responsibility on the manager to inform the police in the event of misuse of the place of worship. The Act also prohibits storage of arms and ammunition inside any place of worship. The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991, is the law to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947. According to it, no religious institution or manager thereof shall use or allow the use of any premises belonging to the institution for the promotion or propagation of any political activity, or for the harbouring of any person accused or convicted of an offence under any law for the time being in force. No arms or ammunition can be stored, nor can it erect or put up any construction or fortification, including basements, bunkers, towers or walls without a valid licence or permission. Such premises can’t be used for the carrying on of any unlawful or subversive act prohibited under any law, or for the doing of any act which promotes or attempts to promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities. All the religions have the fundamental teaching of love and the feeling of brotherhood towards fellow beings. When such is the basic tenet of each religion, where is the scope of discord, hatred and violence. It is amply clear that some people misconstrue or misinterpret the religious teachings for their selfish, egoistic and short-term gains, and sometimes fan communal feelings. It is also commonly known that usually the communal disturbances sprout from small, trivial incidents but with vested interests, they take the shape of a giant. India is a developing country, and an emerging economy. The vision of our leaders to make India a developed nation and an economic powerhouse, can’t fructify unless the internal security of the nation, particularly communal harmony, is intact. Maintenance of Communal peace and tranquillity occupies lot of Government attention and energy, and in case peace prevails, an ambience of trust will develop between various communities, leading the nation on the path of development and economic advancement.
*Director, Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP).