Gujarat: Muslims Still Await Justice

The judgment delivered recently by judge Jyotsna Yagnik, convicting 32 accused for Naroda-Patiya massacre of 97 people in anti-Muslim Gujarat pogrom of 2002 has been welcomed across the country. Certainly, though it has taken Indian judicial system around 10 years, at least this judgment does send the message that communal criminals are not likely to be spared. It is a warning for other rioters who were also responsible for brutal targeting of Muslims but have yet to face any punishment.

Sadly, the slow speed with which the judicial process is moving cannot be ignored. It may be recalled that rioters had their way in Gujarat for several months, from end of February to mid-June. Despite being well aware of Muslims being brutally targeted, why were the rioters allowed to indulge in this communal violence for such a long period of time? Why did the national and state political as well as administrative system fail to take adequate action to prevent continuance of such communal activities?

It is not as if the Indian system is not well equipped to take needed action when and if situation demands. But continuity of anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat only suggested that during that period Indian secularism was deliberately allowed to bow down before what the communal rioters desired. True, the situation may have been different if Bharatiya Janata Party was not in power in the state with Narendra Modi as chief minister. And this raises questions on whether the state machinery, including the government, judiciary as well as the police are expected to give importance to the constitution ruling the country or to communal whims of rioters and their sponsors?

There is the fear that if judicial conviction of rioters is allowed to move at a slow pace, secularism may always remain to a degree subdued by communal actors. In fact, considering the alacrity with which action has been taken against alleged terrorists and actual terrorists before, during or after actual or fake encounters, India has the required capacity to control and check rise and spread of communal violence. Why was this not put to use when Muslims were being literally butchered in Gujarat?

Naturally, one is posed to raise the question as to why is swift action taken when Muslims are assumed to be criminals, particularly terrorists, but it is delayed when they happen to be victims? Perhaps, the time has come when the government should ensure, irrespective of the nature of criminal activity, whether it is described as terrorist or communal rioting, that swift action is taken against perpetrators of such activities. Humanitarianism demands that prime importance should be given to the nature of crime, number of persons killed, harmed and/or dislocated. Irrespective of whether the criminals are defined as terrorists or as communal rioters, their criminal activity should be graded in accordance with the havoc, loss of lives, homes and injuries that the same has led to.

It is indeed a shame that little time was spent in gunning down alleged terrorists in Batla House encounter, without there being any substantial proof of the criminal activities that they had supposedly indulged in. Yet, it has taken 10 years for a few of rioters responsible for killing more than thousand Muslims in Gujarat carnage to be judicially convicted. Yes, many of the rioters are still roaming around freely.

Besides, punishment announced for a few and that too after a long gap does not suggest that the Muslim victims have finally been ensured some justice. No, it does not. The dead cannot be brought back to life. But what about the property damages suffered by Muslims? Whenever a serious accident takes place, the government does not take long in announcing compensation for the injured and relatives of those dead. How much compensation have the central and state governments actually handed out to date to the sufferers of Gujarat-carnage? Barely any.

More than 21,000 people are still living in transit relief camps in Gujarat. In other words, 10 years have passed by and they are still awaiting to return to their homes and lands. Earlier this year, according to an Amnesty report, these people were facing “forced evictions” as the transit relief camps were built on land claimed by government authorities as that of the state. The authorities wanted them to vacate the land. Where does the state government expect these victims to move to, without their having received any adequate compensation? Is this the nature of “justice” being assured for victims of Gujarat carnage?

The situation would have been different if Gujarat had not witnessed the heinous scale of violence against Muslims. This should be regarded as sufficient to ensure speedy trial and adequate compensation for the victims. Communal terrorists had their way in 2002 and Muslims have yet to recover even partially from what they faced then in Gujarat. Against this backdrop, punishment announced for a few criminals can be held at most just a symbolic display of efforts being made to ensure “justice” for victims of Gujarat carnage.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2012 on page no. 11

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