Justice has a sense of irony. In one corner of the world, as Dr. Muhammad Haneef was being released from the prison with terrorism charges dropped against him, Yaqub Memon in another corner, Mumbai to be precise, was being sentenced to death for his involvement in the 1993 Bombay blasts. Within 24 hours, Indians were greeted with two different set of good news, each being seen as a positive manifestation of the due process. Due process, however, has a due to those to whom justice has been denied by either political machinations or simply utter contempt of law. The victims of Bombay riots that preceded the blasts fall in this category. Times of India hits the nail in the head in its editorial (emphasis mine):
Justice is also as much about perception as it is about delivery. Delays in delivering justice colour the perceptions of the victim, the perpetrator of the crime and the observer. Each feels the strain of delay which arouses feelings of grievance. People under trial in the blasts case have reportedly asked the TADA court judges why there has been very little action on the justice Srikrishna report. Justice Srikrishna, who was appointed by the government to investigate the communal riots in Mumbai after the demolition of Babri masjid in December 1992, held several police officials and Shiv Sena leaders responsible for facilitating and actively taking part in the riots. Successive governments, including Congress-led ones, have failed to act on Srikrishna’s findings. Many people have cited this inaction on the part of the government as evidence of discrimination against Muslims, especially now that guilty verdicts are being handed out in the blasts trials. [TOI]
The previous BJP-Shiv Sena government first tried to scuttle the investigations by disbanding the commission and re-constituted it only under public pressure. When report finally came out they dismissed the findings as anti-Hindu when it was a just a corroboration of what people have seen with their eyes: Sena leaders and police personnel actively participating or abetting violence against Muslims.
“The response of police to appeals from desperate victims, particularly Muslims, was cynical and utterly indifferent. On occasions, the response was that they were unable to leave the appointed post; on others, the attitude was that one Muslim killed was one Muslim less…Police officers and men, particularly at the junior level, appeared to have an inÃ¢â‚¬â€œbuilt bias against the Muslims which was evident in their treatment of the suspected Muslims and Muslim victims of riots. The treatment given was harsh and brutal and , on occasions, bordering on the inhuman…The bias of policemen was seen in the active connivance of police constables with the rioting Hindu mobs, on occasions, with their adopting the role of passive onÃ¢â‚¬â€œlookers on occasions, and, finally, their lack of enthusiasm in registering offenses against Hindus even when the accused was clearly identified and post-haste classifying the cases in Ã¢â‚¬ËœAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ (True but not detected) summary”. [Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission Report]
Manohar Joshi, the erstwhile Sena chief-minister of Maharastra, is on the record saying that he would prefer to resign than take any action against Bal Thackeray or Shiv Sainiks. As soon as Shiv Sena-BJP alliance lost the elections in Maharastra, Bal Thackeray dared the newly formed Democratic Front (Congress-NCP) to take action on report’s findings:
“This is not an empty threat. I really mean it. If the new government decides to implement the report, which has already been rejected by the previous government, it will have to face the consequences. Though we were in power for four and half years, we never played politics of revenge. I hope better sense will prevail and the new chief minister will take decisions judiciously,” Thackeray thundered.
Thackeray recalled an incident to prove that he was not one to make empty threats and that once he takes a decision, he was not used to backtracking like other politicians.
During the emergency, he related, there was a message from Rajani Patel that within hours, all the top leaders of the Shiv Sena will be behind the bars since they were against the Indira Gandhi government. “I specifically told the messenger, Shantilal Mehta, that if the decision is implemented, by the time he reaches Patel’s residence, he will have to witness Patel’s funeral,” boasted Thackeray with complete lack of taste. [Indian Express]
The Congress led government in Maharastra chickened out for whatever reasons. In the past eight years of its rule has done virtually nothing to ensure justice to the victims of Bombay riots. 31 policemen were indicted by the Srikrishna Commission for their role during riots. No significant action has been taken against any of them yet. A Public Interest Litigation filed by Shakeel Ahmed has shed some light on the present status of these policemen.
However, petitioner Shakeel Ahmad (and also Jyoti Punwani as a journalist), on looking into the Action Taken Report of the Maharashtra government, found that most of the officers against whom Justice Srikrishna passed severe strictures were in fact promoted. Many were granted anticipatory bail. All were released on bail with the public prosecutor often not arguing for their detention. RD Tyagi, a joint-commissioner of police at the time of the riots, was, according to Srikrishna Commission, not at all justified in killing unarmed and innocent nine bakery workers on January 9, 1993; he merrily continued in service and retired as DIG. He has also been discharged from a case that was initiated against him. He was appointed to this high post by the Shiv Sena-BJP government at the instance of Bal Thackeray. [Communalism Watch]
Bombay riots of 1993 were different from the previous riots in the sense that it led to the migration of Muslims from the Hindu-dominated localities and vice-versa. City demographics have changed a lot as a result and now Muslims prefer living in Muslim localities and it is quite difficult for them to find a house otherwise. It is also widening the gulf between the communities, creating misconceptions and reinforcing stereotypes.
So far, 12 people have been sentenced to death in the Bombay blast cases. On the other hand, the perpetuators of Bombay riots roam free and so far have been able to subvert the system with impunity. It is high time that justice is done to riot-victims instead of false promises and empty rhetoric. Lack of action by the government in such cases goes a lont way to augment the victim mentality many Indian Muslims feel towards the system.
Images Courtesy: Times Relief Fund
Update: Indian Express has an editorial on an issue today which I think deserves to be quoted in full.
After one and a half decades, the perpetrators of the Mumbai blasts are being brought to justice. Sure, delayed justice is better than no justice. But to bring a measure of closure to the tragedy, we need to ensure credible justice is also delivered to the victims of the riots that preceded those blasts. This means dusting down the Justice Srikrishna Commission report. The Commission, after five years of relentless inquiry, painstakingly pieced together a shocking story of communal politics, administrative apathy and police impunity. The contents of the report seared the conscience of the nation but could not, it appears, shame the political guardians of Mumbai into taking necessary action.
The Shiv Sena did all it could to sabotage the Commission. When it was in power, the party changed the CommissionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s terms of reference, prematurely and arbitrarily wound it up and rejected its findings. When out of power, its leaders did all they could to browbeat the rulers of the day into inaction. This is entirely unsurprising. The commission had passed strictures against the Shiv Sena supremo, Bal Thackeray, former chief minister, Manohar Joshi, and several other senior leaders of the party.
But while the Shiv SenaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s animosity towards the commission can be explained, what can account for the CongressÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s complete indifference to the Srikrishna report? A party that has been in power in Maharashtra in coalition with the NCP since 1999 has deliberately and persistently stalled any attempt to punish the guilty Ã¢â‚¬â€ ranging from politicians who provoked and encouraged crowds to massacre and pillage to trigger-happy, communal policemen. The Commission, in fact, indicted 31 police officers, ranging from the rank of deputy commissioner of police to constables, for their roles in the riots. The Congress has been extremely vocal about the Gujarat riots of 2002 and justifiably so. But the unfinished business of justice delivery in the Mumbai riots, which had occurred under its watch a whole decade earlier, may yet come to haunt the Grand Old Party and its leaders. [Indian Express]