Who is guilty when they are ac­quit­ted?

The Nar­oda Patiya case fol­lows the fa­mil­iar pattern cases of col­lec­tive crime take

Governance Now - - OPENING | COMMENT - Ajay Singh

Maya Kod­nani, a BJP leader who was the MLA from nar­oda when this lo­cal­ity on the out­skirts of Ahmed­abad wit­nessed one of the most grue­some episodes dur­ing the gu­jarat ri­ots of 2002, was ac­quit­ted by the gu­jarat high court. Her ac­quit­tal in the nar­oda Patiya mas­sacre case is only a sequel to a se­ries of such ex­on­er­a­tions of those named in col­lec­tive crimes.

The supreme Court-ap­pointed spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion team (sit) is be­lieved to have metic­u­lously col­lected ev­i­dence and ar­raigned Kod­nani, Babu Ba­jrangi and 59 oth­ers in the killing of 97 per­sons, mostly chil­dren and women. Though the sit court had con­victed 32 per­sons, in­clud­ing Kod­nani and Babu Ba­jrangi, it set free 29 oth­ers for want of ev­i­dence. The high court has now largely up­held the sit court’s de­ci­sion on ac­quit­tal but mod­i­fied the sen­tence on Ba­jrangi and pro­nounced ac­quit­tal of Kod­nani – again for want of ev­i­dence.

Kod­nani’s ac­quit­tal fol­lows a fa­mil­iar pattern that raises se­ri­ous doubts about in­dia’s crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and ex­poses its in­abil­ity to deal with crimes of col­lec­tive na­ture. More re­cently, the courts have ac­quit­ted the up­per-caste ac­cused ar­raigned for per­pe­trat­ing the killings of lower-caste peo­ple in Bi­har. Though the state government has promised to take the is­sue to higher courts, jus­tice for the vic­tims ap­pears to be an il­lu­sion rather than re­al­ity.

let us take some more ex­am­ples to bring home the stark re­al­ity that stares us on the is­sue of col­lec­tive vi­o­lence. in May 1987 ut­tar Pradesh’s provin­cial armed con­stab­u­lary (PAC), an armed force of the state po­lice, was ac­cused of killing 72 Mus­lims in Maliana and 42 in Hashim­pura of Meerut. in Hashim­pura, able-bod­ied Mus­lim youth were rounded up by armed po­lice and brought to the Hin­don canal in the ad­ja­cent ghaziabad and shot at in cold blood.

That was the time when Bir Ba­hadur singh was the up chief min­is­ter. The events made scream­ing head­lines at that time. But more than three decades later, none of the ac­cused has been pun­ished yet. in the Hashim­pura case, all the ac­cused were let off re­cently while the Maliana case has been drag­ging end­lessly in the court. in the mean­time, many wit­nesses to the crime have dies and tes­ti­monies stand di­luted be­cause of the time lapse.

now take the case of the 1984 anti-sikh ri­ots in delhi, Kanpur and Bokaro where thou­sands were killed fol­low­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion of prime min­is­ter indira gandhi. The ra­jiv gandhi government ap­pointed a judicial com­mis­sion headed by Jus­tice ran­ganath Mishra. His re­port sub­stan­tially wa­tered down the cul­pa­bil­ity of many Congress party lead­ers rang­ing from HKL Bha­gat, Jagdish Tytler and saj­jan Ku­mar to Ka­mal Nath whose names ini­tially fig­ured in one of the worst case of col­lec­tive vi­o­lence in­dia had wit­nessed since in­de­pen­dence.

The Mishra com­mis­sion and the sub­se­quent crim­i­nal in­quiry by the po­lice could hardly pin the blame on cul­prits in Kanpur and Bokaro where all the ac­cused (most of them were known to peo­ple) were let off for want of ev­i­dence. In Kanpur even of­fi­cials who were ac­cused of pro­mot­ing vi­o­lence could not be brought to book. sim­i­larly in Bi­har, the most in­fa­mous killings of Mus­lims in Bha­galpur in 1989 –known as the Bha­galpur case – could make progress and show a sem­blance of jus­tice only af­ter 2005 when ni­tish Ku­mar be­came chief min­is­ter and formed a com­mis­sion. Till then, lalu Prasad, who iron­i­cally used to pro­ject him­self as a mes­siah of the mi­nori­ties, re­fused to take any step as most of the ac­cused be­longed to his caste, Ya­dav. While driv­ing down the roads in cen­tral Patna, one still finds a large ac­com­mo­da­tion oc­cu­pied for re­lief op­er­a­tions for those vic­tims. in thirty years’ time, the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem mis­er­ably failed to de­liver jus­tice to those who have lost their kith and kin in com­mu­nal vi­o­lence.

There are many such in­stances which prove ab­ject in­ad­e­quacy of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in deal­ing with the cases re­lated to col­lec­tive vi­o­lence. Kod­nani’s ac­quit­tal is a con­tin­uum of that fail­ure. ir­re­spec­tive of the po­lit­i­cal denom­i­na­tion of the government, the in­abil­ity of the state’s in­sti­tu­tions to bring cul­prits to book and hold them ac­count­able for their mis­deeds is quite ev­i­dent across the coun­try. no doubt, Kod­nani’s ex­on­er­a­tion read with the ac­quit­tal of the ac­cused in var­i­ous such cases like the Mecca Masjid blasts in Hy­der­abad reaf­firms our worst fears, that “more the things change, more they re­main the same”.n

ajay@gov­er­nan­cenow.com This com­ment has first ap­peared in First­post.com

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