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Reform the system and initiate dialogue

In the wake of the Gujarat carnage, there is again widespread condemnation of violence, expression of horror over communal brutalisation of the society, and outpouring of sympathy for the victims. One is struck by a sense of deja vu. From Ahmedabad 1969 riots, which took a toll of more than a thousand lives under a Congress government, with political and police complicity, to the 1984 massacre of Sikhs and Meerut-Mallina killings of 1987, Bhagalpur carnage of 1989 and widespread riots in 1990 and 1992-93 -- on all the earlier occasions similar grave concern and pious resolutions and noble sentiments were expressed. Through Citizens’ Tribunal Report on Ayodhya and Independent Initiative’s People’s Verdict: Bombay Riots, the facts about the tragic events in Ayodhya-Mumbai were brought to light. Then we have official inquiry commissions, from Justice Madon Commission Report on Bhiwandi Riots (1970) to Justice Shri Krishna Commission Report on Mumbai Riots (1992-93).

A similar exercise has been performed again in the form of official and voluntary facts-finding commissions and other investigative reports. They reveal the same causes and patterns of failure. This time active political encouragement to the massacre is more blatant than, say, in 1984 anti-Sikh riots. But what will all inquiries amount to -- unless-- identification of systemic and behavioural causes of periodic bloodbaths lead to reform of the system, ensuring impartial law-enforcement during inter-group conflicts, so that the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of life and liberty of minorities and other weaker sections becomes a reality?

Even a resolution by parliament condemning the RSS threat to Muslims to behave or else be prepared to face periodic pogroms will not help the vulnerable communities feel any more secure. 

All those who are now spending their precious energies on sadbhavna (goodwill) and political mobilisation against Hindutva -- acts that are very commendable per se -- may keep in view the following incident that happened in Salempur village, 45 km from Aligarh, where 700 Muslim labourers had been living in complete harmony with 1,500 Hindu neighbours of various castes for ages. 

On March 31, 1993 all but a couple of Muslims, including a blind imam of the local mosque, had to flee their homes and live in exile for six months because an armed group of 600 VHP-BD activists from neighbouring villages led by the local BJP MLA came in a procession to “teach them a lesson” for the sin of alleged cow slaughter by some Muslim miscreants. The Hindu neighbours expressed solidarity with the Muslims of the village, but frankly advised them to better leave the village, as they could not guarantee protection of their life and limb. Since tension had been building up after March 25, police had been informed. The SO and CO, after visiting the place, had posted a section and a half of the PAC. Neither the good Hindu neighbours nor the terrified Muslims could trust the police, as it is common knowledge that the PAC would not act impartially to protect innocent Muslims.

Muslims of Salempur saved their lives and the honour of their women, in spite of sadbhavna of Hindu neighbours, by fleeing their homes to escape from the terrorists who destroyed a part of the mosque and looted movable articles worth twenty thousand rupees and also damaged the eidgah. As a token gesture the MLA was arrested and released; the SO was suspended and reinstated. No culprits were brought to justice. 

After a thorough inquiry into the incident, the Aligarh Citizens For Democracy (CFD) submitted a report to the Central CFD with a copy to Rajesh Pilot, then Union minister for internal security, who marked it to the DM, Aligarh, who spoke to me on telephone and just told me that for the administration’s purposes the file had been closed. 

It is instructive that representatives of political parties and Muslim organisations paid only political visits to impress upon the Muslims that they cared for them. The district administration quickly got the mosque cosmetically repaired but did not pay compensation for the looted property. 

The case of the forgotten massacre of more than 40 Muslims of Hashimpura (Meerut) by the PAC in 1987, which had been compared by Nikhil Chakravarty with “Nazi pogrom against the Jews to strike terror and nothing but terror in a whole minority community”, and for which IK Gujaral, Rajinder Sachar and Kuldip Nayar had raised the demand of trial for treason by special court, needs to be recalled now when similar concern is being expressed for victims of Gujarat. 

Much before the submission of the inquiry report by CBCID (UP) in 1994 indicting more than 60 PAC-police personnel, all human rights groups had lost interest in it. A "secular" government of UP promoted some of the indicted police officers and filed charges against 19 PAC men of lower rank in the court of the CJM Ghaziabad on May 20, 1996. They were not produced in the court even though they were in service and the CJM continued issuing bailable and nonbailable warrants for more than three years. Though they surrendered after publication of the story in a major daily of Delhi in May 2000, their trial is yet to start. More pathetic is the case of the next of kin of those killed, who have been so far paid only Rs 40,000 as relief compensation. The writ petition filed in 1995 for payment of adequate compensation is still lying in the Allahabad High Court. 

All citizens’ groups involved in social and political reform should ponder over these incidents and consider giving priority to reforming the system so that rule of law becomes a reality, ensuring all weak and vulnerable groups, like poor marginalised Muslims of Salempur and Hashimpura, security of life, property, places of worship and honour and also ensuring punishment of the guilty and adequate compensation under law to victims in the event of violence. This will require a human rights perspective to gain centrality in India’s social-political discourse, and a consequent framework of law and policy based on respect for and observance of human rights standards, making governance citizen/human-centric. 

The human rights movement in India needs to take stock of things to assess its own performance and plan its future priorities, policies and progrommes. Now is the time for a concerted and coordinated campaign for administrative and police reform and reform of the justice delivery system, for which guidelines are available in the Reports of the Law Commission, the National Police Commission (NPC) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) but more comprehensively in the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Report of 1999. All these reports require the police to function independently accountable to law. Socially diverse composition of the police and its training in human rights, and humane methods of riot control are considered equally important. Eradication of communal prejudices is again an important area of reform. It is also required to provide for mechanism to fix responsibility for failure of governance causing loss of life, limb and property and for restitution of all rights of victims including damages for all losses suffered to be realised from officials found derelict, as recommended by Justice Anil Dev Singh’s judgement of July 5, 1996 on 1984 anti-Sikh riots, and as required by the international principles of justice for victims of crime and abuse of power. 

Apart from institutional measures for impartial law-enforcement, equally important is the promotion of dialogue, for which there should be a statutory Community Relations Commission (CRC), as recommended by the NCM Report, and civil society initiative for conciliation (not confined to extremists of the concerned communities). There is a role of law and law-enforcement and a role for dialogue between authentic representatives to satisfactorily resolve emotive ethno-religious issues, including Ayodhya, that have been festering for a long time. Agreeing with our proposal for the CRC, the National Commission to Review Working the Constitution (NCRWC) has made recommendation for establishing a mechanism of inter-faith harmony under the National Human Rights Commission. Let a beginning be made with the creation of a unit for inter-group harmony under NHRC, which may later develop into a full-fledged commission.

¯ Iqbal A Ansari

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