OPINION
HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF
Communal violence cases and tardy justice delivery system of India
- VIPIN PUBBY
Communal violence cases and tardy justice delivery system of India



THE RECENT riots in Delhi would remain a blot on the nation as the national capital faced avoidable violence for three days leaving nearly 50 people killed and several injured. The protest at Shaheen Bagh, which was allowed to continue for two months, was a ticking bomb and the fires were fuelled by provocative speeches. 

All that the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, which had become the epicentre of the protests against citizenship law across the country, wanted was that some senior leader could come to the site and listen to their grievances.
 
No one went to listen to them and by the time the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited the site, it was too late.

The next immediate question is the relief and rehabilitation of those who lost so much during the riots and an inquiry commission to fix responsibilities for those who instigated the riots and participated in violence. 
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India has a poor track record of justice delivery system in the incidents of riots and massacres. Be it in the cases pertaining to Nellie, Delhi, UP, Bhagalpur, Mumbai or Gujarat, the system has been tardy. It takes decades to punish some of the guilty and in most cases the majority of accused go scot free. Let there be time bound inquiry into the Delhi riots and the guilty be brought to book expeditiously.
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Unfortunately the track record of the country dealing with the perpetrators of such riots and communal attacks is very poor. Justice alludes the victims for decades and the guilty manage to play with the law to roam around freely. Here’s a brief account of the major incidents since the independence.

The well known Nellie massacre in Assam on February 18, 1983 had left 1,383 deaths.
 
The massacre continued for eight hours and the security forces had information about a planned attack at least three days before the incident but didn’t take any action.
 
An inquiry commission, Tewary Commission, was set up in July 1983 which submitted its report in May 1984 but the report is yet to be made public.

A total of 688 criminal cases were filed out of which 378 cases were closed due to lack of evidence. However all those cases were dropped as part of the 1985 accord and thus no one received punishment for the massacre.

In the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre, nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed. No less than 11 commissions were formed starting with the Nanavati Commission.
 
Out of the 587 initial FIRs only about 25 have resulted in convictions.
 
Although there were allegations of provocation by several Congress leaders only one of the senior leaders, Sajjan Kumar, has been convicted and that too nearly 35 years after the incidents.

The 1987 Meerut riots, which culminated in the local police picking up about 50 Muslims from Hashimpura village, is another such shameful incident.
 
The victims were later shot dead and their bodies were thrown away in a canal. Later 42 bodies were recovered.
 
It took the courts 19 years to frame charges. After a prolonged 11 year long legal battle, a Delhi court ruled that the killings did take place but the accused could not be proven guilty of the crime.
 
They were, therefore, acquitted by the court. After the order was challenged, the Delhi High Court reversed the judgment and convicted 16 former policemen for the crime.
The Bhagalpur riots in 1989, which left 1070 dead and nearly 200 villages destroyed, an inquiry commission was set up which came out with a report nearly 25 years after the riots and recommended action against 125 officers. Yet no action has been taken against them till date.

Over 900 lives were lost in the Bombay riots during 1992-1993. Justice B. N. Srikrishna Commission was set up which submitted its report in 1998. It said rioting by the Muslims was a spontaneous reaction of leaderless and incensed Muslim mobs and that in the second phase "by the Hindus brought to fever pitch by communally inciting propaganda unleashed by Hindu communal organisations".

The outcome was that while the government accepted the commission’s recommendations to improve policing, it said "it cannot agree with the conclusions of the Commission”.

The 2002 Gujarat riots were triggered by an attack in Godhra on a train carrying Hindu kar sevaks, killing 58 Hindus, including 25 women and 14 children. The backlash led to about 850 deaths as per official figures. Nearly 1200 villages were targeted and about 527 mosques, madrasas, dargahs and graveyards were destroyed.

Shah-Nanavati Commission was set up In March 2002 which got 24 extensions until it submitted the final report in 2019. The Commission found that there was no conspiracy involved in the riots and they were largely the outcome of the anger over the Godhra train burning incident. It concluded that "there is no incident to show that either BJP, VHP or any other political party or its leaders or any religious organisations or their leaders had instigated attacks on Muslims”.

It largely exonerated the state government and found only two cases in which VHP members had taken part in violent incidents. However a special court, in February 2011, convicted 31 of the accused in the Godhra case and awarded death penalties to 11 and life imprisonment to 20 of those convicted. In perhaps the first successful trial pertaining to the subsequent incidents, a special court sentenced 31 people to life imprisonment for the killing of 33 people in the village of Sardapura.

With such a tardy progress of the commissions set up after the tragic riots and massacres, there is not much hope for an early fixing of responsibility and punishment to those who instigated the Delhi riots it took part in the violence. Yet we must learn lessons from the past and act expeditiously to set an example.

 

*(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.) 

 

 

 


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