People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 04

January 27, 2008

After Bilkis Bano Ensure Justice For All



After Bilkis Bano

Ensure Justice For All


FINALLY, at least in one case amongst the thousands that occurred in the State-sponsored communal genocide in Gujarat in 2002, justice appears to have been done. The special court in Mumbai, designated by the Supreme Court, to conduct the trial in some of the most gruesome incidents of communal carnage, has sentenced eleven out of the twelve guilty to life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gang rape and massacre case. In addition, one police officer was sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment on charges of complicity.


In one of the many inhuman atrocities in Gujarat in 2002, a pregnant Bilkis Bano was gang raped and her child crushed to death. Fourteen members of her family, including six women and four children, were massacred when they were trying to escape their riot-affected village. Bilkis, demonstrating a rare determination and fortitude, had petitioned the judiciary stating that the Gujarat police were hand-in-glove with the accused, evidence was being tampered with and witnesses were being threatened.


In response to this, the Supreme Court transferred the case to a special court in Maharashtra from Gujarat. Bilkis deserves all praise and support for refusing to succumb to threats and rejecting all inducements in doggedly pursuing this case.


Though this judgement has come after six cruel years of agony and wait, justice nevertheless seems to have been finally delivered. In this context, several points need to be considered. There are several hundreds of pending cases relating to the Gujarat carnage. Given the track record of the system of delivery of justice in our country, particularly in relation to justice to the victims of communal riots, it is imperative to ensure that justice in the remaining cases is delivered at the earliest. Apart from delivering justice to the victims and punishing the guilty, which is the basic norm in any modern civil society, this is imperative to generate a sense of confidence amongst the people in our justice delivery system. Needless to add, the break down of such confidence amongst the people is the surest recipe to undermine the legality and authority of our parliamentary democracy.


The judgement in this particular case proves, once again, a very discomforting fact that justice to the victims of the communal carnage is not possible in the state of Gujarat. The Gujarat government had already closed more than 1600 cases claiming lack of any evidence. It was only in 2004 at the express intervention of the Supreme Court that these were reopened. Of the six specific cases where the apex court had asked the CBI to investigate, apart from this case, the only other is the Best Bakery massacre case. Justice continues to elude the victims of other massacres like the Naroda Pataya case. The wife and family of the former Congress member of parliament, Ehsan Jaffri, continue to knock doors seeking justice. Ehsan Jaffri, readers will recollect, was set on fire while alive by a mob after various parts of his body were chopped off. Many of these cases are yet to reach the stage of a trial, leave alone judgement in the courts.


There are many other cases which continue to remain pending before the courts. 84 of the allegedly accused in the Godhra train burning case continue to languish in custody with bail being denied. This is despite the fact that the Central Review Committee on POTA cases had decreed in May 2005 that none of the alleged offences in this case warranted the invocation of POTA. Consequently, the courts were to decide on the matters relating to bail for the accused. Finally, in February 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that these accused could file bail applications before it. Yet, to this date, these have not been heard.


While these need to be expedited, the real challenge facing the judiciary, in fact facing the Indian democratic system itself, is to demonstrate the promptness and the efficacy of the justice delivery system. This will be determined by the manner in which the judiciary deals with the remaining large number of unresolved cases relating to the Gujarat genocide.


It is imperative that the CBI must speed up the process of investigation in certain other cases under directions from the apex court. It is, indeed, a travesty of Indian democracy and its justice delivery system that there is little faith in the Gujarat state government’s administration and police on this score. The complicity of the State apparatus in protecting the guilty and denying justice to the victims is being repeatedly demonstrated.


In this context, it is, indeed, ominous that the BJP should continuously invoke the refrain that it shall turn all states in India into Gujarats. The RSS/BJP’s `prime minister in the waiting’ designate has continuously repeated this on every possible occasion since his anointment. As it rolls out the communal juggernaut in its urge to capture power at Delhi in the next general elections, the RSS/BJP increasingly portrays the Gujarat communal carnage as the assertion of `Hindu pride’ seeking to negate the fact that this remains the most organised communal pogrom that undermines the very foundations of secular democracy in India. It is clear that in its urge to consolidate the Hindu vote bank, the RSS/BJP will leave no stone unturned to sharpen communal polarisation in the days to come. Alongwith ensuring that the justice delivery systems delivers, this larger challenge to the secular democratic foundations of modern India must be met resolutely.