Naroda Patiya Case: Victims’ Faith In Justice Reaffirmed

The convoluted logic is that if Sikhs could be killed, why not Muslims? The moot point is: why any Indian citizen should be killed at all?

The Naroda Patiya verdict has for the first time convicted a minister in the Modi government. Maya Kodnani got 28 years in prison. Babu Bajrangi, a boastful and psychopathic murderer, was sentenced for life imprisonment till death. A total of 32 accused received various sentences for their role in the massacre while 29 were acquitted due to lack of adequate evidence.

The brutal killing of 97 people during 2002 Gujarat carnage, including men, women and children, had shocked the world. It was one of the nine cases investigated by the SIT under Supreme Court orders. The veridct has raised the hope of other victims who still await justice. The faith of the minorities in judiciary has been reaffirmed across the country. The mischief mongers are aghast at the turn of events and are forced to hide or cower under the weight of guilt.

The BJP in Gujarat endlessly justifies its shameful failures in controlling the communal conflagration that nearly engulfed the entire state.  Now judicial activism witnessed in the recent court verdicts has unnerved it and its apologists claim credit that it was under the BJP regime that the courts are active. It is forgotten that the Supreme Court had to step in to order special investigations in some cases to frustrate the state government’s attempts to interfere in the investigations.

For too long the state government had been hunting with the hounds and running with hares. Its spokespersons hide their embarrassment behind cliches and platitudes. They now very fondly recall what Modi said recently in an interview to an Urdu paper, “Hang me if I am found guilty”. It is a clever way of saying catch me if you can. Modi did not go around killing people with a gun smoking at the barrel in 2002. He was the chief minister of the state. He allowed Hindutva goons to slaughter Muslims. His ministers, who had no business to be present in police stations and police control rooms, were directing the police. The then home minister (Zadaphia) who was expected to oversee the police to control murder and destruction, is himself facing serious allegations.

The cumulative consequences of riots cannot be swept under the carpet. They include murders of 2000 innocent persons including women and children, a huge loss to property (described by the then chairman of Human Rights Commission, Justice Verma as war zone), displacement of hundreds of thousand of refugees (some are still displaced a decade later), lack of proper camps and lack of compensation, riot-related truma to thousands, fear stalking the Muslim community for months, failure of police to save them from murderous mobs,  sudden closing of 4000 cases against the rioters (which have now been reopened), Modi’s pre-poll uttarances and the testimony of police officers that he wanted them to let Hindus vent their anger on Muslims.

The Naroda Patiya case was the result of the probe conducted by SIT under orders from the SC and not because the state administration was keen to pack off Kodnani to jail. Her name was not allowed to be mentioned in early FIRs. She was made a minister though there were accusations against her for committing grievous crimes.

Whenever the issue of Gujarat riots pops up, the BJP puts up the self-serving, lame defence by citing the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and the failure of the Congress government to book and punish culprits. It is like you scratch my back, I scratch yours. The convoluted logic is that if Sikhs could be killed, why not Muslims? The moot point is: why any Indian citizen should be killed at all? Congress’s failure need not be replicated by the BJP. Are the minorities just cannon fodder condemned to suffer endless torments resulting from the failures of government to protect them which is a constitutional duty of the state chief minister irrespective of his ideological moorings?

While citing anti-Sikh riots, the BJPs’ memory plays tricks and it forgets the Mumbai riots of 1992, Baroda, Bhiwandi, Meerut, and many others (the list could be endless) where Muslims suffered and culprits went scot-free. Almighty God knows what happened to Madan and Shrikrishna commissions reports.

The reason why the 2002 riots have resulted in convictions are:

1. The brutality and extent of communal carnage were unprecedented and it attracted national and international attention.  

2. The media, especially the TV channels, played a major role in bringing details of killings and mayhem to every house-hold in India. This was not the case during the anti-Sikh riots.

3. A host of applications were filed in courts including the SC against the Gujarat CM for his failure to control the riots, e.g., the Gulberg Society killings.

4. NGOs and brave individuals like Teesta Setalvad and Mukul Sinha did an excellent job by collecting evidence and representing the victims in the courts inspite of the fact that witnesses were fearing for their lives. Teesta Setalvad was even harassed and threatened.

5.  In several cases, prosecutors with rightist leanings had to be replaced with neutral lawyers.

6. The dilly-dallying by the police in registering crimes and collecting evidence suggested of a communally charged atmosphere which was not conducive to prompt delivery of justice. This led to SC’s intervention.

7. The cases against the accused were specific crime-related but what loomed large in the background was the failure of the state administration in controlling those crimes. The moral responsibility lay with the Gujarat CM but he never expressed any regret. This was also the reason for the SC to order fresh probes under specially formed SITs. In the end, it needs to be pointed out that at the Nuremberg trial held after the Second World War, Nazi officials were sentenced for their crimes. Though a huge body of evidence was brought to bear on the delivery of justice, what essentially clinched the trials was their membership in the Nazi party and its fascist ideology, their public speeches and their angst against the Jews.

As of now, Naroda Patiya has shown the way. Things might move further and peg a benchmark in the delivery of justice in India in similar cases.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2012 on page no. 4

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