PRESS NOTE: JIH press meet on Unresolved Manipur Crisis, New Criminal Laws, new Data Protection Bill, Islamophobia in Indian institutions

September 2, 2023

Unresolved Manipur Crisis

A delegation of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind visited Manipur recently. The delegation was led by JIH Vice-President, Prof Salim Engineer, JIH National Secretary, Maulana Shafi Madani and Abdul Haleem Phundreimayum. Some of the findings of the delegation are as follows: there are around 65,000 people in Manipur who have been rendered homeless, many of whom are living in refugee camps. Of these 14,000 are children. 198 deaths have been recorded in the violence. It is difficult to estimate the economic loss suffered by the state so far. Manipur has been virtually divided along ethnic lines. The people of the valley cannot venture into the hilly areas and vice versa. Houses and business establishments have been either partially damaged or completely damaged by rioters based on ethnicity.


The tragic and violent crisis that erupted in Manipur in May of this year remains unresolved. The Prime Minister has yet to visit the state, and the burning issue evaded a comprehensive discussion in Parliament. The infamous Churachandpur rally on May 3 triggered a destructive cycle of violence. Following the emergence of a video on social media depicting tribal women being paraded naked in Thoubal district on May 4, the Supreme Court of India took suo motu cognizance of the sexual assault depicted in the video. The Court issued a clear ultimatum to both the Union and State governments – either bring the perpetrators to justice or step aside and allow the judicial system to take action. This stern move highlighted the failure of the government to restore normalcy in Manipur. Continuous media attention on the conflict has finally pushed the State government to commit to bringing the wrongdoers to justice. Nevertheless, recent events over the past two and a half months underscore a significant divide between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities. Despite a visit by the Home Minister to Manipur in late May following the upheaval, progress has been minimal in terms of resettling displaced individuals or mitigating ethnic tensions. The state continues to experience sporadic outbreaks of violence.


Jamaat-e-Islami Hind feels that the policies and statements made by the Manipur Chief Minister indicate his inability to transcend identity-based politics. Considering the inability of the state leadership to end the ongoing ethnic hostilities and bring about lasting peace, the Central government must intervene and encourage civil society representatives from various ethnic backgrounds to initiate genuine reconciliation and peace efforts.


New Criminal Laws that will replace IPC, CrPC and the Evidence Act

The government has introduced three new bills in the Lok Sabha aiming to improve India’s criminal justice system. The bills will replace the IPC, CrPC and the Evidence Act. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind has serious concerns around these bills and feels that the amendments are not in tune with the global trends in criminal justice jurisprudence. The introduction of such comprehensive changes in a relatively short span of time without seeking public input and feedback might disturb our legal framework and cause disruption in the legal system raising challenges for law enforcement agencies, legal professionals, and the public. One positive aspect in the bills is that for the first time capital punishment has been introduced for the offence of mob lynching apart from it being made punishable with 7 years of imprisonment or life imprisonment.


Some of the specific apprehensions surrounding the new laws are listed below:


(1) Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill: This bill aims to replace the existing Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860. It will make amendments to 175 sections, add eight new sections, and repeal 22 sections. The bill extends the period of detention without charges from the current 15 days to 90 days and gives the police new discretionary powers such as the ‘right to handcuff’. There are new provisions that could legitimize encounters and violence during arrests. Chapter 7 covers offenses against the State. The sweeping and ambiguous definitions introduced in the new bills for crimes such as sedition, subversive activities, and acts of terror should have been avoided. These vague definitions can lead to ambiguity in legal interpretations and may potentially infringe on personal liberties and result in abuse of human rights due to misuse. The bill has a provision for ‘love jihad’, which has been defined as ‘concealing your identity before marriage’. It has been made into a separate offence and the sentence is 10 years. The word ‘love jihad’ is a misnomer, is deeply offensive to Muslims, and carries a derogatory reference to an important tenet of Islam. It has been coined by anti-social elements and it should not be incorporated as a legal proviso in our statute. This provision may affect Muslims disproportionately and it could be exploited to harass them.


(2) Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill: This bill will repeal the current Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1973. Even though it retains most of the provisions of the Code, there are some major changes introduced like the procedure for arrest, prosecution, and bail for offences under various Acts. The complete repeal and revocation of certain sections without retaining core legal principles raises concerns about the continuity of established legal precedents. This discontinuity could create confusion and disrupt legal processes, particularly in the transition period.


(3) Bharatiya Sakshya Bill: This bill aims to replace the Indian Evidence Act of 1872. It seeks to modernize and adapt these rules to the contemporary legal landscape. The bill accepts the premise of admissibility of electronic or digital records as evidence having the same legal effect as paper records.  It enlarges the definition of electronic records to comprise information like locational evidence and voice mails kept in semiconductor devices and gadgets such as smartphones and laptops. This specific expansion of legitimate evidence can be exploited easily by law enforcement agencies to trap innocent people and accuse them of crimes they never did. This has happened several times in the past that false evidence has been implanted to be used as evidence against innocent citizens. The bill allows joint trials in which more than one person can be tried for the same offence.  The bill states that in a joint trial, if a confession made by one of the accused, which also affects other accused, is proven, it will be treated as a confession against both.  It states that a trial of multiple persons, where an accused has absconded or has not responded to an arrest warrant, will be treated as a joint trial. Once again, there is a grave threat of its misuse.


Jamaat is of the opinion that although the new bill repeals Section 124A, of the IPC, it has made provision for punishing acts of “sedition” albeit in a new form, which is as dangerous as the old law. Jamaat feels that there was no actual need to introduce separate bills: It would have been better to simply amend the IPC, CrPC, and Evidence Act to reflect the changes envisaged by the aforementioned three bills. The idea of “reforming” the criminal laws by completely rewriting them was not necessary or urgent. There is also an element of language imposition in the whole exercise. The proposed names of the three new laws are in Hindi, which is understood only by 44% of the population. 56% of the country’s people is non-Hindi.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind also expresses concern over the new Data Protection Bill

The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023 is likely to lead to increased surveillance by the government. The privacy of citizen’s data will be compromised as the bill allows companies to transfer some users’ data abroad. The government will now have the power to seek information from firms to personal data of individuals without their consent and issue directions to block content posted by citizens on social media platforms upon the advice of a Data Protection Board appointed by the Central government. This again will be counter-productive to civil liberties of citizens and it will weaken our democracy. The bill gives the government powers to exempt state agencies from data protection provisions of the law in the name of investigation and state security. The scope of exemptions also weakens the landmark Right to Information (RTI) law that allows citizens to seek data from public officers, such as salaries of state employees.


 Islamophobia in Indian educational institutions

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind expresses concern over the increasing incidents of Islamophobia within Indian educational institutions. A study conducted by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed that students from Muslim, Dalit, and tribal backgrounds, particularly in towns and Tier-2 cities, are subjected to severe forms of discrimination. An alarming and deeply condemnable incident recently occurred at Neha Public School in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, where a seven-year-old Muslim child was slapped by classmates. The teacher sitting in a classroom made the students perpetuate violence passing racial slurs against other Muslim students. Initially confined to North India, Islamophobia has now gradually spread to Southern India as well. Reports have emerged of Muslim female students being prevented from wearing the hijab during exams in states where there is no ban on hijab. A recent incident in Tamil Nadu involved a 27-year-old Muslim woman being asked to remove her hijab before taking a Hindi examination. Karnataka witnessed a huge controversy last year when government-run pre-university colleges in places like Udupi prohibited the wearing of hijab, citing a violation of policy related to school uniforms. This restriction led many Muslim female students to abandon education due to the unavailability of private colleges in their area or because of their high fees. Another disturbing incident came to light when a Delhi government school teacher made derogatory remarks about the Kaaba and the Holy Quran in the classroom. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind feels that the climate of hate prevailing in the country has entered the gates of schools and colleges. It has not spared students and teachers from its venom. The policy of silence adopted by those in the highest echelons of power and avoiding speaking against hate crimes against Muslims and acts of Islamophobia is having a detrimental effect on the social fabric of our country and it is leading to intolerance and polarization on religious lines. Jamaat feels that the fast-spreading Islamophobia in schools and college campuses should be addressed officially by the government by recognizing it as a social evil and drafting appropriate laws to end its menace. Muslims must do their utmost to reach out to the majority community and clear any misconceptions they may have regarding Muslims and Islam. Media can play an important role in sensitizing the public against Islamophobia.


G20 Summit in New Delhi

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind welcomes the 43 Heads of Delegation attending the final New Delhi G20 Summit in September 2023. Jamaat appreciates the theme set by India on gaining the G20 presidency: “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. India hosting the G20 highlights its growing economic influence, its strong advocacy for climate action, its strategic importance, its role in global healthcare, and becoming the voice of the Global South.  Some of our rankings in important indices that determine the socio-economic status and the global stature of nations are quite poor. We should seriously focus on improving our ranking in various indices such as Democracy Index, Human Development Index, Global Hunger Index, Global Food Security Index, Human Freedom Index, Ease of Doing Business Index, Corruption Perception Index, World Press Freedom Index, etc. The government should exert more efforts in reducing our wealth inequality, protection of its religious minorities and improving public health and education. The G20 Presidency should motivate the government to redouble its efforts towards the welfare of the common citizens.


Himachal environmental catastrophes

The recent monsoon season in Himachal Pradesh witnessed devastating flash floods, causing significant loss of lives and assets. As per the IPCC VI report, the areas most severely affected by climate change will be the Himalayas and the coastal regions of India. The Himalayas have experienced intensified precipitation resulting in extensive rainfall and subsequent flooding. With the advent of economic liberalization, the development landscape shifted towards the exploitation of natural resources, including forests, water, tourism, and cement production. However, an excessive focus on hydropower projects resulted in unchecked construction, altering mountain-rivers into streams and inflicting ecological harm. The drive for tourism-related road expansion often ignored geological limitations, causing landslides and devastation during rainfall. The establishment of large cement plants altered the terrain, diminishing its capacity to absorb water and consequently contributing to flash floods. The transition from traditional cereal farming to cash crops heightened the need for hastily constructed roads without adequate drainage, thereby exacerbating river swelling during rainfall. The government must establish a Commission of Inquiry involving key stakeholders to address policy shortcomings and other ecological concerns. Given the reality of climate change, infrastructure planning must adapt to prevent calamities and mitigate the effects of heavy rainfall. The flash floods in Himachal Pradesh underscore the dangers of both climate change and human-driven development. The government must place environmental preservation at the forefront to safeguard lives and resources in the region.

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