People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 02, 2007
CONVENTION ON SRIKRISHNA COMMISSION REPORT DEMANDS
PROVIDING justice to victims of communal violence must be brought on to the agenda of the nation by political parties, civil society and all progressive forces. National institutions with constitutional mandate like National Commission of Minorities (NCM) and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) must take up this issue as a challenge and avail all avenues of intervention to accomplish this task.
This was the message emanating from a convention held in New Delhi on August 25, 2007 to discuss the inaction against perpetrators of the riots in Mumbai in 1992/93 and the non-implementation of the Justice Srikrishna Commission recommendations. The meeting was jointly organised by SAHMAT and Communalism Combat and the speakers included Teesta Setalvad, Rajeev Dhavan, Zoya Hasan and Yusuf Muchala.
Should we not consider communal/hate crime also as terror? Can we ignore cause and just treat the effect? Is the government’s discretion in rejecting a commission of inquiry’s findings absolute? Or is it guided and controlled? Such questions were posed and discussed thoroughly during the four hour long meeting.
It may be noted the death penalties and other convictions awarded to the accused in the 1993 Bombay blasts case brought to the fore the issue of discriminatory justice. More than three times as many Mumbaikars were killed in the riots that had preceded the bomb blasts but the lack of action against the perpetrators of the riots, who have been named in the Srikrishna report, is clear evidence of the operation of a double standard of justice, one for the majority community and the other for the minorities. Successive state governments of Maharashtra, no matter what their political persuasion, have decided to shield the guilty. The motivations of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena parties in refusing to implement the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission are obvious: among the individuals named in the report are several of their leaders and cadres, including Bal Thackeray, Manohar Joshi, Gopinath Munde and Madhukar Sarpotdar.
What is more shocking is the role of the so-called secular parties. Though the manifestos of both the Congress Party and the Nationalist Congress Party in 1999 and 2004 promised to implement the recommendations of the report, these promises remain unfulfilled.
In this background, the meeting organised by SAHMAT and Communalism Combat demanded immediate justice for the victims of Mumbai riots. Well known advocate of Mumbai High Court and one who has made tremendous contribution in documenting the victims’ plight before the Srikrishna Commission, Yusuf Muchala, made a passionate appeal for fighting the communal forces. Detailing the atmosphere of terror prevailing when he decided to take up the cases of victims before the commission, Muchala said that hordes of Shiv Sainiks would throng the court room and openly intimidate the relatives of victims. It was so difficult to find junior advocates to find vakalatnama as they were terrified of consequences. In fact, many tried to dissuade Muchala from going ahead with his work before the commission.
After seeing the terms of reference of the Srikrishna Commission, he felt that there could be intangible benefits of the commission in terms of pinpointing exactly what ails our system/society. He praised the commission for completing its work with total objectivity and impartiality as seen in its findings and recommendations. Despite its clear cut conclusion that the police have played a spectator role and facilitated the violence, the state government refuses to acknowledge the truth and facts. He criticised the Congress-NCP parties for doing nothing to implement the commission recommendations despite coming to power twice during this period. Muchala said that they were urging the Supreme Court to set aside the then Shiv Sena-BJP state government’s Action Taken Report on Srikrishna Commission.
Raising the issue of discretion of the governments in rejecting the commission of inquiries reports, Muchala said the civil society must take up this issue of making this discretion guided and controlled. He felt that there is institutionalised prejudice against Muslims as was seen during and after the riots. He referred to the gruesome killing of innocent, daily wage earners in Suleiman Usman Bakery during the riots by police officer R D Tyagi. Not one weapon was found from them nor were there any history sheets against them although they were labelled as terrorists. Muchala said even the Special Task Force (STF) concluded that it was a cold blooded murder and that the FIR filed by the police was concocted in order to cover up their crime. Despite this successive state governments took no action against the guilty policemen. Muchala called upon civil society to fight against such institutionalised prejudice against Muslims and to seek accountability from the government. He ended his speech by stressing the need for people to shed apathy and participate in the struggle to defeat the communal forces.
Supreme Court lawyer Rajeev Dhavan began his speech by throwing up two propositions: one that Indian governance in general is displaying diminishing responsibility towards minorities and two that politically protected and sponsored violence is emerging as a distinct trend. He lamented that it has become the norm for governments to appoint commissions of inquiry, place a wishy washy ATR, debate it loosely and forget. He singled out Srikrishna Commission for going into the root of the issue. It meticulously documented how Shiv Sena orchestrated the violence and how communalised police personnel indulged in wanton killings. Dhavan said the killings by policemen were worst form of murder as they used official positions to commit these murders. He said despite the commission recommending action against 31 policemen, only 9 have been chargesheeted. The senior most among the chargesheeted, R D Tyagi, has been discharged. So the message to the policemen from government seems to be: Go and kill some Muslims. We will only hold your promotions for one year or cut an increment. He demanded strict action against the guilty policemen and cleansing of police force as recommended by Justice Srikrishna. Dhavan ended his speech by stating that Indian governance is not offering succour to its own secularism and its minorities.
INACTION OF THE JUDICIARY
Communalism Combat editor and well known anti-communal campaigner, Teesta Setalvad, said that the vehicle of criminal justice system is being used to target the victims. She said there is a frightening similarity with what happened in Mumbai during that period and what happened in Gujarat in 2002.
Terming the Mumbai High Court judgement condoning the
incendiary writings in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna, Setalvad said time has come
to confront the inaction of judiciary relating to communalism and underlined
that the bogey of contempt must also be risked for this sake. She wanted
constitutional bodies like NCM and NHRC to take on the judiciary in this regard.
She criticised the judiciary for picking and choosing the cases and called for
bringing functioning of judiciary and its accessibility into focus. She raised
the issue of Liberhans Commission formed to go into Babri Masjid demolition
still not being accountable to its mandate despite change in government at the
Setalvad ended her speech by making an impassioned plea for secular political parties to bring communal violence on to the centre stage of nation’s political discourse.
National Commission for Women member Zoya Hasan in her presentation stated that absence of justice is an indicator of our attitude to minorities. She cited lack of political will as one of the important reasons for this lack of justice. In this regard she compared the situation in Maharashtra and Gujarat to that of Left Front ruled West Bengal and even Bihar. She also felt that the complicity of political class, bureaucracy and police due to infiltration of communalism into State structure as another reason. Hasan felt that this immobilises institutions/structure. She called for increasing the presence of minorities in institutions in order to counter institutional communalism. Without confronting communal politics and communal discrimination, this issue of lack of justice cannot be addressed, she emphasised.
Artist Ram Rahman thanked the speakers and audience on behalf of SAHMAT for participating in the convention.
(N S Arjun)