NCM Chairman Wajahat Habibullah tells Kunal Majumder that the Communal Violence Bill will benefit all minorities
The police firing in Forbesganj in Bihar was not a communal incident, yet you visited the place in your capacity as National Commission for Minorities chairman. Why?
Bhajanpur is a Muslim village. In the beginning, it wasn’t clear if it was a communal incident. Then we visited the place and came to the conclusion that it was not at all communal. The village happens to be entirely Muslim. This matter concerns the commission because a village belonging to the minority community has been reduced to landless labourers and abject poverty due to land acquisition over the years. The police claimed that the villagers attacked them. But videos shot by the police themselves show no signs of such violence.
Are you suggesting that the NCM intervened only because the incident involved Muslims?
This may be hard for you to believe, but it didn’t attract the same kind of attention as the firing in Pune did. In Bhajanpur, you had a wounded boy lying on the ground and a policeman jumping up and down on him. It created no kind of furore or criticism. The local police have registered a case against the errant cop. I commend them for that. We went there to find out whether people were killed because they were minorities. We are satisfied this was not the case. Social and economic factors created the problem.
You agree that it was not a communal issue. So why did you recommend compensation on the lines proposed in the draft Communal Violence Bill?
I’m also a member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) governing body. In the last meeting, I had suggested that victims of all violence should be paid similar compensation as recommended under Schedule 4 of the Communal Violence Bill. The NCM is of the view that this compensation should be paid to anyone who is a victim of some kind of violence. Whenever there is a terrorist incident or accident, different compensation amounts are announced for the victims. There is a need to have a standard package. The NHRC asked me to prepare a scheme. That scheme stems from the Communal Violence Bill.
The Communal Violence Bill has caused a lot of controversy. Some right-wing parties have called it a move to appease minorities.
That’s one of the objections that even we raised with the National Advisory Council (NAC). But no one is taking objection to Schedule 4. The problem is with the definition of ‘group’. In reference to our recommendation, the NAC has incorporated internally displaced persons among the group. This will help the Kashmiri Pandits. I’m concerned about their rights and this Bill will certainly benefit them.
The NCM wants an FIR against Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy for his provocative article in a leading daily. What’s your issue with the article?
I don’t think I have spent much time on Swamy, just half an hour. It was an item on the agenda of the NCM and the commission has taken a view. It is a matter that has deeply concerned one of our members, Vinod Sharma, who is not a Muslim. On his view, we asked for legal advice. We were told that Swamy’s article was in violation of the Indian Penal Code. So if it is a violation of the law, then law must take its own course. The article was written by the head of a political party and it is on the website of the Janata Party. This means it is the policy of the Janata Party. It talks about a Hindu State — that is obviously a violation of the Constitution. Therefore a party that is propagating abrogation of the Constitution itself can’t be registered as a party. We have referred it to the Election Commission.
Kunal Majumder is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.