A+| A| A-

Best Bakery Case: Welcome Judgment

Welcome Judgment Communal riots in post-independence India have recurred with a vicious frequency. The trajectory they have followed in almost every instance has rarely also varied. The minority community is rendered a victim twice over, for more often than not justice is either elusive or follows a tortuous course towards final restitution. The Gujarat riots of 2002 were arguably among the most violent in modern India. Certain events stood out starkly in the bloodletting that was unleashed, demonstrable evidence of a violence that mocked every institution of the state and also every democratic principle, especially those that are expected to assure the security of the citizen. The Best Bakery carnage in Vadodara took place on March 1, 2002; it led to a loss of 14 lives. For those who survived, accused and witness alike, ways of living would never be the same again, while the site of the violence itself was reduced to charred, misshapen remains, characteristic of scenes that mark similar catastrophes in the Gujarat of 2002

BEST BAKERY CASE

Welcome Judgment

C
ommunal riots in post-independence India have recurred with a vicious frequency. The trajectory they have followed in almost every instance has rarely also varied. The minority community is rendered a victim twice over, for more often than not justice is either elusive or follows a tortuous course towards final restitution. The Gujarat riots of 2002 were arguably among the most violent in modern India. Certain events stood out starkly in the bloodletting that was unleashed, demonstrable evidence of a violence that mocked every institution of the state and also every democratic principle, especially those that are expected to assure the security of the citizen. The Best Bakery carnage in Vadodara took place on March 1, 2002; it led to a loss of 14 lives. For those who survived, accused and witness alike, ways of living would never be the same again, while the site of the violence itself was reduced to charred, misshapen remains, characteristic of scenes that mark similar catastrophes in the Gujarat of 2002 – whether it is Naroda Patiya or Gulbarg Society.

Now, almost four years later, the Best Bakery trial judgment delivered in Mumbai by a special sessions court on February 24, constitutes a significant deliverance of justice. Moreover, that justice was delivered despite the many twists and turns the trial took and the serial flip-flops by key witnesses endows the judgment with a significance more seminal than the immediate. It was Zahira Shaikh, a key witness, whose deposition was crucial in the filing of the FIR soon after the carnage occurred. However, in May 2003, Zahira and several members of her immediate family turned hostile in a fast-track court set up to try riot-related cases in Gujarat; the court also acquitted all 21 accused. Following a petition by the National Human Rights Commission (July 2003), to whom Zahira had appealed, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial and the case transferred out of Gujarat (April 2004). The trial witnessed setbacks, as notable witnesses, including Zahira and her family, turned hostile yet again (November 2004). After examination of 75 witnesses, and the recording of 3,000 pages of evidence, the special court in Mumbai sentenced nine of the accused to life-term in prison, eight were acquitted while four still remain at large. The court also issued notices to Zahira and other witnesses, who turned hostile, to show cause as to why they should not be prosecuted for perjury.

The successful conclusion and convictions secured in the Best Bakery case have made it one of the finest moments for the judiciary and the civil society. The case has highlighted issues of state responsibility and their negligence by state institutions, notably the police. It has drawn renewed focus on questions of witness protection, especially in instances of communal violence, when an entire community becomes a victim, and where the state itself finds it convenient to protect perpetrators of violence and to threaten and coerce witnesses. But the judgment also holds out hope, a warning that crimes of similar proportions, as in Delhi (1984) and Bombay (1992-93) will perhaps be accounted for. Already, the Bihar government has called for the reopening of 29 cases relating to the 1989 Bhagalpur riots, which had been closed by the police. However, wider issues that Gujarat 2002 raised still need to be settled – the question of whether those really guilty of directing and inciting the violence have been punished.

Recently the action taken report (ATR) submitted by an inquiry committee in Gujarat, set up by a Supreme Court order, called for the reopening of 1,242 out of nearly 2,000 cases closed after the riots. Action will also be taken against 39 errant police officials, accused of “mishandling” the violence during the riots, and for not acting on information provided by witnesses in several instances. The Nanavati-Shah Commission set up by the NDA government to probe the riots is to present its report in mid-2006. It has sifted through an impressive array of evidence, including recorded phone conversations of the police and several members of the ruling BJP state government and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

The far larger fallout of a communal outbreak – where livelihood patterns are indelibly affected, and urban living takes on a more ghettoised appearance, as well as issues of compensation and rehabilitation – still remains, however, to be satisfactorily settled. The communal violence bill, now at a draft stage, is expected to address some of these concerns. Guilt, however, remains strangely disconnected from existing political realities. Despite the allegations that have dogged him throughout his chief ministership, Narendra Modi recently led his party, the BJP, to an impressive victory in the state’s civic elections. So far, there has been little systemic support in ensuring for the political class some degree of accountability for its involvement in mass violence. The case filed in local courts, last June by survivors of Ahmedabad’s

Economic and Political Weekly March 4, 2006

Gulbarg Society massacre, in which 38 persons lost their lives, seeking damages of Rs 7 crore from the VHP, RSS and

EPW
BJP is thus another welcome precedent.

Economic and Political Weekly March 4, 2006

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Economic planning requires well preparedness to meet the challenge of a better growth rate.

Ownership of banks by industrial houses will cost the economy dearly.

Using ordinance to protect freedom of expression from foul speech may result in damaging decent communication.

Only an empowered regulator can help boost production and cut coal imports.

Biden’s policy of the “return to the normal” would be inadequate to decisively defeat Trumpism.

*/ */

Only a generous award by the Fifteenth Finance Commission can restore fiscal balance.

*/ */

The assessment of the new military alliance should be informed by its implications for Indian armed forces.

The fiscal stimulus is too little to have any major impact on the economy.

The new alliance is reconfigured around the prospect of democratic politics, but its realisation may face challenges.

A damning critique does not allow India to remain self-complacent on the economic and health fronts.

 

Back to Top