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Gujarat government indicted by NHRC
|In a severe indictment the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), India's official human rights watchdog, severely criticized the Modi government in Gujarat for its comprehensive failure to control persistent violation of the rights of life, liberty, equality and dignity of the people of the state. The commission has demanded that the guilty be brought to book and has asked for handing over the investigation of the riots to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s premier intelligence agency.
In its final report, the commission has documented the manner in which criminal cases arising from the violence are being fudged. The commission pooh-poohed most of the claims Gujarat government made in its April 12 reply to the commission’s preliminary report.
The NHRC has taken the state government to task for failing to respond to its earlier confidential report. It said that there was a comprehensive failure of the state to protect the constitutional rights of the people of Gujarat. Gujarat government's responsibility, according to the commission, is "tacit if not explicit."
The commission squarely blamed Modi government for the Gujarat carnage. "The Godhra tragedy should have itself demanded a higher degree of responsiveness from the state government to control the likely fallout, especially in the wake of the call for Gujarat bandh (strike) and the publicly announced support of the state government to support the call. Regrettably immediate and stringent measures were not adequately taken; the response of the government thus proves to be unequal to the challenge, as vividly illustrated by the numbers who lost their lives or were brutally injured or humiliated as the violence spread and continued," the commission noted.
Even in its preliminary report, made public on April 1, the NHRC had asked the government to transfer the investigation of the worst cases of carnage to the CBI. It had also asked for the establishment of special courts to try the culprits.
The commission had spent three days in Gujarat from 19-22 March, when the anti-Muslim pogrom was still in progress. The commission later came out with a 27-page confidential report and asked the Gujarat and central governments to file their reply to its comments. Modi-led Gujarat government responded with a report on April 12 which the commission rejected and asked for another report. The state government has failed to submit its second report so far.
In its final report the commission says, "Despite the measures reportedly taken by the state government which are recounted in its report of April 12, that report testifies to the increasing numbers who died or were injured or deprived of their liberty and compelled to seek shelter in relief camps… the commission has, therefore, reached that there was comprehensive failure of the state to protect the constitutional rights of the people of Gujarat."
Quoting the central principles of criminal justice, the report says, "Those against whom allegations are made should not themselves be entrusted with the investigation of those allegations…it should be travesty of the principles of criminal justice if such cases were not transferred to the CBI."
The commission has urged the central government to intervene under Article 355 of the Constitution and "go beyond a mere invocation of the existing rules" on cases when the CBI should take investigation. "Politically connected persons named by the victims of the crimes committed remained at large, many defying arrest. These are grave matters that must not be allowed to be forgiven or forgotten," the commission says.
The commission also questioned the state government’s claim of arresting 27780 people. On the pattern of arrest it says, "The questions that arise, however, are when and where were the arrests made, who were arrested and for how long were they kept in custody, and were those who were specifically named arrested." It refers to the report given by its special representative in Gujarat, PGJ Nampoothri, who said that almost 90 percent of those arrested even in heinous offences like murder, arson etc have managed to get bail."
This is in total contrast with the assertions made by Modi government in its April 12 report that bail applications of all accused persons are being strongly defended and rejected.". The commission also criticizes the government for failing to file first information reports (FIRs) with the police and demands the immediate booking of all violators of law through proper registration of FIRs.
Naroda Patia was the worst case of massacre where around 100 people were burnt alive. On arrests in this case, the commission says that though 22 have been arrested, the government is silent on whether they had been released on bail or were still in custody. The commission alleges that in sensational cases the FIRs show accused persons as "unknown."
The report clearly says as to how partial the government has been while arresting people. It says that till May 10, of the 16245 people arrested for substantive offences, all but 2100 have been granted bail. Of the 11363 Hindus arrested for such offences eight percent remain in custody while 20 percent of the 4882 Muslims arrested remained in custody.
On atrocities against women and children the commission said that "the report (of Gujarat government) also testifies to the assault on the dignity and the worth of the human persons, particularly of women and children, through acts of rape and other humiliating crimes of violence and cruelty." It also said that such victims were facing problems in "having FIRs recorded, in naming those whom they had identified and in securing copies of their FIRs." The report also says that due to the lack of policewomen and insensitive questioning many women were not coming forward for recording FIRs.
Yet despite the repeated indictment of Modi government and demands for his removal the centre has refused to remove Modi from the chief minister’s post.
The BJP president Jana Krishna Murthy who was in Ahmedabad on May 31, has denied that there was any plan to replace Modi. He also denied that there was discontent brewing among party workers over Modi’s continuance in the office.
The BJP, on the other hand, is hinting that it is contemplating an early assembly polls in the state. "I had negotiations with party workers and office bearers and told them to be prepared for elections as it can be held any time," the BJP supremo said. The BJP president was accompanied on his Gujarat tour by Pyarelal Khandelwal who is the party general secretary in charge of elections.
An assessment of the ground political situation is expected to be made before the party makes it mind. The party fears that it can fail to utilize the so-called political gains from the pogroms if it does not go for polls immediately. It believes that it will not be able to capitalize on the communal carnage if elections are held too late and the level of frenzy comes down.
Meanwhile, the continuing violence in the state has entered its fourth month. Intermittent violence keeps erupting at various locations. The police suspects that the renewed violence and the recent series of bomb blasts in Ahmedabad were handiwork of the extremist VHP and Bajrang Dal goons who do not want the violence to end. q