Travesty of justice in India
AFTER 14 years of Gujarat riots, a Special Investiga tion Team (SIT) court awarded life imprisonment to 11 of the 24 persons convicted in the Gulberg Society massacre of 69 people, including former Lok Sabha member of the Congress Ahsan Jafri in the violence. Twelve of the convicts were sent to jail for seven years and one was given 10-year imprisonment. It is indeed travesty of justice. Special Court Judge P.B. Desai in his remarks called the Gulberg massacre as the darkest day in the history of civil society; yet he rejected the demand for death sentence for all the convicts. The prosecution had argued that all the 24 convicts should be given the death penalty. Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri was not happy with the sentence. “This case is not over for me today. This is not justice,” said Mrs. Jafri.
The riots had started on February 28, 2002 after a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire in Godhra station in Gujarat. Hindu zealots had attacked Muslims with the rumors that Muslims had set afire the train coach. Within hours and without a shred of evidence, Narendera Modi had declared that the Pakistani secret services were involved. He then had the charred bodies paraded in the main city of Ahmedabad and had let his own party support a state-wide strike for three days. What followed was mass bloodshed: 1,000 dead on offi- cial estimates, but more than 2,000 by independent tallies. The vast majority of those who died were Muslim. Mobs of men dragged women and young girls out of their homes and raped them. In 2007, the investigative magazine Tehelka recorded boasts from some of the ringleaders. One, Babu Bajrangi bragged about how he slit open the womb of a pregnant woman.
Indian state of Gujarat was governed by then chief minister Narendra Modi, which witnessed one of the country’s biggest pogroms. The riots flared up again on 15 March; killing, raping and looting continued until mid-June. More than 2,000 Muslims were murdered, and tens of thousands rendered homeless in a planned and coordinated attacks. The killers were reportedly in touch with police and politicians and were provided protection. According to the 2011 Amicus report, two cabinet ministers even sat in police control rooms, and Narendra Modi explicitly instructed civil servants and police not to stand in the killers’ way. Special police squads were called from Punjab, who had the experience of controlling the Sikh rebellion through use of brutal force. A senior police officer’s sworn statement to India’s Supreme Court in 2011 had alleged that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi deliberately allowed anti-Muslim riots in the state.
Sanjiv Bhatt, then a senior officer in the Gujarat Intelligence Bureau said he attended a meeting at which Narendra Modi said that the Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger. In a sworn statement to the Supreme Court, he said that his position allowed him to come across large amounts of information and intelligence both before and during the violence, including the actions of senior administrative officials. He also alleged that in a meeting in the night before the riots, Narendera Modi told officials that the Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson following an attack on train carrying Hindu pilgrims. The pogrom was extensively televised by India’s TV channels. Many Indians were shocked to hear how even the very young had not been spared – the slayers of Muslims were seen smashing the heads of children against rocks.
In a sting carried out in 2007 by the weekly magazine Tehelka, politicians, businessmen, officials and policemen were caught on tape, delightedly recalling how they murdered and raped Muslims with the blessings of their superiors. Anyhow, coordinated attacks on Muslims soon followed. Some 98,000 people were displaced in Gujarat by the 2002 riots that were put up in relief colonies. Following the initial incident there were further outbreaks of violence in Ahmedabad for three weeks; statewide, there were further outbreaks of mass killings against the minority Muslim population for three months. Some commentators hold the view that the attacks had been pre-planned and well-orchestrated, and that the attack on the train was stage-managed. In February 2011, the trial court convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 others based on the murder and conspiracy provisions of the Indian Penal Code, saying the incident was a preplanned conspiracy.
The death penalty was awarded to 11 convicts; twenty others were sentenced to life imprisonment. Despite substantial evidence of state’s backing, in 2012 Narendra Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India. In July 2013, allegations were made that the SIT had suppressed evidence; yet in April 2014, the Supreme Court expressed satisfaction over the SIT’s investigations in nine cases related to the violence, and rejected as baseless a plea contesting the SIT report. This explodes the myth of judiciary’s independence in socalled largest democracy of the world. Since Narendra Modi’s coming to power, Hindu extremists have been on the rampage, and there have been reports of forced conversions of Muslims and Christians. Last year, they killed one Muslim alleging that he slaughtered cow, and there have been cases of killings and harassment to butchers.
Violent extremist Hindus had killed a Muslim declaring him Pakistani terrorist in Kanpur last year. Incident occurred three days before a Muslim was lynched for suspected beef eating, but Indian media maintained silence over this heinous crime. In another incident, Rashtria Rifles during a search operation brutally killed a Muslim young man for having a beard and demolished houses of the Muslims in IOK. Wide scale protests were organized in the valley and Pakistan flags were hoisted in Srinagar against atrocities of occupied forces. In 2015, Hindu students had attacked Muslim students in Udaipur University Rajhastan. Earlier, in January 2015 three Muslims were burnt to death after Hindu assailants set fire to dozens of homes of a Muslim community in an attack in eastern India. NDTV had reported that for about an hour the police could not enter the village, as thousands of attackers went about destroying property. —The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.