Justice Muralidhar Points to Mumbai 1993, Gujarat 2002, Kandhamal 2008, Muzaffarnagar 2013...
Justice Muralidhar Points to Mumbai 1993, Gujarat 2002, Kandhamal 2008, Muzaffarnagar 2013...
Earlier this week, a teary eyed Justice S.Muralidhar while delivering the Delhi High Court’s judgment on the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 said, “There has been a familiar pattern of mass killings in Mumbai in 1993, in Gujarat in 2002, in Kandhamal, Odisha in 2008, in Muzaffarnagar in U.P. in 2013 to name a few.”
“Common to these mass crimes were the targeting of minorities and the attacks spearheaded by the dominant political actors being facilitated by the law enforcement agencies”. The people involved in these “mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment. Bringing such criminals to justice poses a serious challenge to our legal system. Decades pass by before they can be made answerable. This calls for strengthening the legal system,” he added.
In the light of the judgement, The Citizen revisits the mass murders mentioned by Justice Muralidhar, and speaks to persons involved in the struggle for justice, in an attempt to reflect on the systematic administrative failure in the face of violence promoted by the political will.
Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Bombay (renamed Mumbai in 1995) was the scene of serious Hindu-Muslim violence. Events in December 1992 constituted the first phase of a communal riot that would be repeated on a larger scale in January 1993.
On January 6, exactly a month after the demolition, there was an unexpected emergence of violence in various parts of Mumbai, especially in Muslim dominated areas. There were cases of arson in slums of Mumbai. People were burnt alive and seriously injured.
As per archival records and media reports, on that day mobs of Hindus were walking through the city, killing and burning people only because they were Muslims. The New York Times recorded, “No Muslim was safe, not in the slums, not in high-rise apartments, not in the city's bustling offices - in an orgy of violence that left 600 people dead and 2,000 injured. Many details and cases were unreported.”
According to witnesses, “Muslim men were pulled from their homes, slain or burned alive, while mobs of chanting, cheering Hindus danced around the blazing bodies. Mosques and Muslim stores were firebombed. Men on the street were made to drop their trousers so Hindu mobs could see if they were circumcised or not thus revealing their religious identity.”
The 2002 Gujarat riots resulted in a prolonged period of inter-communal violence in the state. Following the Godhra incident, when a train coach was set on fire on 27 February 2002, causing the deaths of 58 Hindu karsevaks or religious workers returning from Ayodhya, there were outbreaks of violence in various districts of Gujarat, especially in Ahmedabad. These attacks led to sustained violence against the state’s Muslim population for the next year.
Many brutal killings and rapes were reported, as well as widespread looting and destruction of Muslim property.
According to official figures the riots ended with 1,044 dead, 223 missing, and 2,500 injured. Of the dead, 790 were Muslim and 254 Hindu. However, unofficial records estimated death to be in the range of 1900 to 2500.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had become Gujarat chief minister just a few months before, was accused of conspiracy to commit genocide. The case is currently pending in the Supreme Court.
As reported by The Caravan, K.Chakravarthi was director-general of the Gujarat Police when the riots broke out. R.B.Sreekumar, who was then the additional director-general, submitted to the courts that Chakravarthi had told him about a meeting convened by Modi after the Godhra incident, in which the chief minister made a statement about letting the Hindu community “vent their anger”. But Chakravarthi refuted Sreekumar’s claim.
The Citizen spoke to Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist who has been fighting for justice for survivors of the Gujarat riots. She said, “Many powerful persons got convicted including a former minister [Maya Kodnani] thanks to our persistent legal aid and the strength of the eyewitness survivors, many of whom were women. However, as the political climate changed and the perpetrators rose to Delhi, the higher courts granted bail and even acquitted the minister. We are fighting the appeal now in the Supreme Court.”
She added, “the cost of the struggle for justice has been high as my organisation [Citizens for Justice and Peace] and I have been relentlessly targeted with over a dozen false and malicious cases being filed against us. Desperate to incarcerate me, the political nexus have gone to any length.
On the Delhi High Court’s conviction of Sajjan Kumar, Setalvad said, “We are somberly overjoyed by the verdict,” adding, “What India needs is a law against mass and targeted violence - something a compromised political class has resisted. Our battle to this end will continue.”
At least 39 Christians were killed and 232 churches destroyed in this Odisha district, in the wake of the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Laxmananda Saraswati.
Over 600 villages were ransacked, 5600 houses looted and burnt and 54,000 people left homeless, according to the National People’s Tribunal headed by retired High Court judge A.P.Shah.
An affidavit filed by the Odisha government stated that of the 827 cases registered, charge sheets were filed in 512 and final closure reports submitted in 315. Referring to a 44-year precedent which holds that “minorities are as much children of the soil as the majority”, the Supreme Court asked the Odisha government to re-investigate the closure of 315 cases related to the anti-Christian violence, and to “see that the offenders are brought to book”.
The bench of Chief Justice T.S.Thakur and Justice U.U.Lalit said, “It was disturbing that of all the trials that have been completed only 78 have resulted in conviction… The concerned authorities must see to it that the matters are taken up wherever acquittals were not justified on facts.”
Speaking to The Citizen, John Dayal, a human rights activist and member of the National Integration Council said, “Kandhamal is the biggest violence, genocide that Christians had to face in 300 years.”
Recalling the event, Dayal said “it began on August 24, 2008, after the assassination of Laxmananda Saraswati which was set up by the Sangh Parivar. We never killed anyone, yet Christians were brutally killed.”
He added, “Kandhamal continues to have a profound impact on the Christian community. The RSS led by BJP leaders targeted 460 villages, 66000 people fled to the forest as it was a metre away, 6000 houses were burned and churches were destroyed. Less than 800 complaints have been registered. So far one person has been punished and no death penalty has been given. We will continue for justice.”
What happened in Gujarat, Delhi, Maharashtra, said Dayal, “have the same end result. The government of India has no policy on how to compensate for the lives that are loss in violence. There is no concept of compensating for half destroyed houses which are unfit to live. Also there is no witness protection programme.”
In the last week of August 2013, systematically targeted attacks were perpetrated on Muslims by the Jat community in Muzaffarnagar and the adjacent Shamli districts in Uttar Pradesh. This was in accordance with the orders of a ‘mahapanchayat’ called by Jats for the protection of daughters and daughters-in-law (bahu-beti bachao).
The meeting was widely reported to have been planned, supported and facilitated by Hindu right wing groups.
Although 13 members of the Jat community were reportedly killed during the violence, the Muslim community was disproportionately affected in terms of loss of lives, injuries, sexual assault, destruction and damage of homes, loss of land, property, livestock and livelihoods.
Reports indicate that the killings were brutal, and many Muslim girls and women were raped, gangraped and subjected to varied and brutal forms of sexual assault. Many were also reported missing.
According to official statistics submitted by the state government to the Supreme Court in September 2013, at least 44 people were killed, 97 injured and 41,829 displaced across Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts.
Some 600 FIRs have been registered, but more than 80% of the perpetrators named in them have yet to be arrested.
Political leaders - MPs and MLAs who gave hate speeches which were broadcast across the media - have either not been arrested or were released on bail soon after their arrest.
The Citizen spoke to Harsh Mander, a former IAS officer and member of the National Advisory Council, who said, “Shahnawaz, a Muslim man believed to have been stalking a Jat Hindu woman was stabbed to death. But that was not the truth. Following the incident around 35 panchayats were held to ‘teach Muslims a lesson’. Despite living together, the people turned upon each other.”
“The Delhi High Court is right,” Mander said, about the pattern followed in every massacre. The story of impunity comes with the incidence of violence. Moreover, only a few people have been punished. The whole system works under a majoritarian belief. The outcome of this systematic bias, is unequal justice.”
“Investigation to trial is infinity,” he added.