People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 11, 2007
FIVE YEARS AFTER
Gujarat: Whither Justice
THE customary address of the President of India to the joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha signalling the beginning of the budget session of the parliament provides a balancesheet of the developments in the preceding year and outlines the government’s priorities and the directions for the coming period. Given the fact that this year’s address was coming on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the State-sponsored communal carnage in Gujarat, it is, indeed, a serious omission that the Address does not refer to the growing spate of communal incidents in the recent months.
Through these columns, we had recorded how communal passions are sought to be whipped up in various cities in Karnataka, in various locations in Madhya Pradesh and, more recently, in important centres in eastern Uttar Pradesh. These are not sporadic or unrelated incidents. They are part of a larger design and strategy adopted by the RSS/BJP to seek the revival of its political base through a sharpened political polarisation. The BJP has openly declared that its electoral mascot henceforth shall be prakhar (aggressive) Hindutva. This dovetails into the RSS nationwide campaign observing the centenary of its longest serving sarsanghchalak, Golwalkar that culminated recently.
The UPA was born out of the necessity to save the country from this communal onslaught which is a prerequisite to preserve and strengthen the secular democratic foundations of the modern Indian republic. In the Common Minimum Programme, of the six basic principles governing the UPA, the first reads as follows: “To preserve, protect and promote social harmony and enforce the law to deal with obscurantism and fundamentalism”.
It naturally follows that the victims of communal violence should be given due justice with the guilty being punished and the victims being compensated and rehabilitated. Today, five years after the genocide in Gujarat, the overwhelming majority of those responsible for heinous crimes go unpunished. A full one and a half years after the carnage on September 1, 2003, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) approached the Supreme Court demanding re-trial and transfer of cases involving incendiary and inhuman attacks leading to multiple deaths outside Gujarat. Finally, in March 2006, the Mumbai High Court delivered its judgement in the by now infamous Best Bakery case, the first of the cases relating to genocide in Gujarat tried outside the state on the directions of the Supreme Court. However, fifteen cases related to mass murder, including the Godhra mass arson case, the Gulberg society massacre, the Naroda Gaon and Patiya massacres, Sardarpura and Ode carnage, lie awaiting justice in the Supreme Court. Justice delayed is, indeed, justice denied!
The Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) – whose main protagonist Teesta Setalvad’s relentless pursuit for delivery of justice has led to the unprecedented Supreme Court direction for trying the two major cases of massacre outside the state – informs that in February 2006, the Gujarat government was forced to re-open, at the apex court direction, 1594 cases which it had previously closed on grounds of unsubstantiated charges. However, by February 2007, only 13 convictions are reported to have taken place and a further 40 cases have been closed for `lack of evidence’.
While the complicity of the state government in engineering and conducting the genocide is largely believed, though may not have been legally proved in all cases, now its complicity in protecting the perpetrators and denying justice to the victims has been meticulously compiled by the CJP. Bodies dug out from mass graves and subsequent DNA analysis confirm them as victims of the genocide. This Pandharwada mass massacre victims were buried and all records erased. The state government records 228 missing persons. Of these, 21/22 have now been identified as victims of the above massacre. How many more victims are lying buried, unidentified and unrecorded?
Further, the record of compensation, leave alone rehabilitation, of the victims is a shameful testimony questioning the competence of the Indian State in ensuring the delivery of justice. In February 2003, the Gujarat government returned Rs 19.3 crore to the centre stating that enough has been paid to the victims! Victims of sexual assault, victims of serious injuries not resulting in serious disability and others except those dead or seriously injured are not considered suitable for compensation by the state government! The figures of those injured and dead are seriously questionable. Thousands of victims of the carnage continue to live in pathetic conditions in camps, in inhuman sanitary and uninhabitable conditions. After considerable persuasion and legal wrangling, the central government had announced Rs 4 lakh each for those who lost their lives in the genocide calculated on the basis of the Delhi High Court judgement granting reparation to the Sikh victims of the 1984 massacre, in November 2006. However, no details of the scheme have been announced and no orders passed so far.
The Sachar Committee report, currently being debated intensely across the country, notes that Gujarat continues to be under a state of “economic apartheid and ghettoisation” of the minorities, especially the Muslims.
Given this, it is high time that the UPA government at the centre pulls up its socks and ensure that justice is finally delivered to the victims and the perpetrators of the crime are punished. This is absolutely essential to restore the confidence of the people in our justice delivery system and regain the confidence in India’s secular democracy. This is all the more necessary at a time when the communal forces are sharpening their weapons to once again plunge the country into communal strife to advance their electoral fortunes. The UPA’s raison d’ete is the safeguarding and strengthening of India’s secular democratic foundations. If this task is not seriously undertaken, then the UPA would be reduced to a coalition with no character.