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Mumbai Crimes: Justice Denied

Justice Denied Mumbai has not stopped paying for the demolition of the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992. The heaviest payment was the lives destroyed during the 1992-93 riots, the retaliatory March 12 serial bomb blasts of 1993 and the socio-economic and demographic wounds that have been cleaved in the city in their aftermath.

MUMBAI CRIMES

Justice Denied

M
umbai has not stopped paying for the demolition of the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992. The heaviest payment was the lives destroyed during the 1992-93 riots, the retaliatory March 12 serial bomb blasts of 1993 and the socio-economic and demographic wounds that have been cleaved in the city in their aftermath.

While the past week has seen the bomb blasts case accused convicted and a closure of sorts has been arrived at, the same

Economic and Political Weekly September 23, 2006

cannot be said of the 1992-93 riot cases. In fact, Yakub Memon, who was convicted in the blasts case, made a public statement in the special court, demanding that those indicted by the Srikrishna Commission report, which had investigated the riots, be brought to trial.

It would be good at this point to recall the history that the Srikrishna Commission created. It was constituted soon after the riots, by the then Congress government in Maharashtra. However, as soon as the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in 1995, it increased the scope of the commission to cover the 1993 bomb blast cases as well. But the coalition government abruptly scrapped the commission in 1996 accusing it of undue delay. It felt that the report would “re-open old wounds that had healed”. The report had been delayed because though the commission had been given six months by the previous Congress government, it had received nearly 2,000 affidavits from the relatives of the riot victims, recorded evidence from 23 police stations in the city, and interviewed every official who was on duty during that period of Mumbai’s communal madness. The Shiv Sena-BJP government’s decision was met with protests and a number of writ petitions filed against it. Then, in May 1996, the commission was reinstated, only to have its report submitted in 1998, described by the Shiv Sena and BJP as “anti-Hindu”.

However, the independent view was that the Srikrishna Commission had done a completely thorough job in meeting its terms of reference and that its report was a comprehensive investigation of the mindless violence that swept what was then Bombay. The report went into painstaking details and its recommendations on the police force – the need to refurbish its image, its functioning and the censure of policemen’s role in the riots – are together a study in candour. The commission spoke sharply about the political interference in police work during the riots, recommended de-communalising the force and even named the officials who had participated in the violence and against whom action was necessary.

Sadly for the city and the body politic, no government has been serious about following up on the Srikrishna Commission’s report. Nearly a decade after the report was submitted, no serving policeman censured by the commission stands punished. And the politicians who had made outrageous statements about the Babri masjid demolition and congratulated their rank and file for their role in this shameful episode have been left untouched by the law and its machinery. A majority of the cases against rioters were closed because it was claimed that it was difficult to get evidence. Contrast this with the statements from police officers following the conviction of the bomb blasts accused last week. They saw the verdict as the “culmination of their hard work” and recalled their slaving away at collecting evidence that led to a charge sheet 10,000 pages long.

Following the riots and the bomb blasts, mental and physical walls have come up in the city, which increasingly separate the two communities. A ghettoisation of the Muslims has taken place, with the minorities – the poor and not so poor – living in identified areas. It is now commonly known that Muslims will not be rented or sold homes even in the so-called cosmopolitan areas of Mumbai. And those who exult that no riots followed the many blasts in the city – at the Ghatkopar bus depot, the Gateway of India and the more recent train bombings – do not take into consideration the Muslim community’s numbing weariness and cynicism.

One of the inevitable fallouts of communal riots where the perpetrators are seen to be moving around freely is that the victims begin to believe that the system is loaded against them. This, in turn, creates the ideal breeding ground for a thirst to take revenge and a feeling of persecution. Who will compute the cost of such strained relations to the nation-building project?

Lost lives cannot be brought back and it is a Herculean (but not impossible) task to break down the psychological barriers that have been built in the last 14 years. But justice has to be done and it must also be seen to be done.

EPW

Economic and Political Weekly September 23, 2006

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