Friday, August 03, 2007

On Democracy and Justice... the Bombay Blasts vedict...
(This was published in the Economic Times on Saturday, August 4, 2007)

There was considerable excitement in the media this week and the cause for that was the pronouncements by two Special Courts; the pronouncement by the TADA Court in Mumbai (that tried the accused in the March 1993 blasts) sentencing Sanjay Dutt to six years rigorous imprisonment and the acquittal of Abdul Nasser Madhani by the Fast Track court in Coimbatore (that tried the accused in the February 1998 blasts) were met with reactions that were expected.

In both cases, the reactions were mixed. Sanjay Dutt drew sympathy from a section and there were others who felt that the law has taken its course. In case of Madhani too, the media’s concern was whether the lower court’s verdict would help the CPI(M) and the DMK (for both the parties were seen wanting his release from jail), the BJP hastened to demand an appeal against the acquittal.

Well. There is cause for appeal in both the cases and it is likely that the battle for ``justice’’ in both the cases will be taken up to the Supreme Court very soon. It is also likely that the apex court deals with the issue at a different plane and alters the course. The point is that while the Special Court or the Fast Track Court deals with cases only on the basis of the text of the law and refuses (for all the right reasons) to get into the spirit of the law, the apex court is meant to go beyond the text and interpret the law and its application.

In other words, it is in the scheme of things for the higher judiciary to delve beyond the facts of the case and place the issue in perspective. This happened in the past too. Recall the Special Court verdict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case; the Fast Track Court in Chennai had sentenced as many as 26 accused in the case for death. But the apex court altered the course and only 4 out of the 26 were sentenced to death and the others were pronounced guilty of offences that warranted milder sentences.

Be that as it may. The issue now is not about the intensity of the crime and the sentence thereof. This is for the higher courts to determine and it is prudent that it is left to the learned judges at that level. There is, however, a larger dimension to the two cases that excited the media and to some extent the polity this week. And that is about the cause of justice and the future of Democratic India and its secular polity.

It is a fact that the blasts in Mumbai and in Coimbatore were not isolated events. In both these cases, there was large-scale violence against members belonging to the Muslim community. It is also a fact that the police, whose job is to ensure the safety and the security of the citizens and deal with those who infringe upon the right to life of the citizens, not merely failed to do that but were also found to have participated in the violence, actively in some cases and as passive witnesses in many, when the violence was carried out.

In Coimbatore, for instance, 18 men, all Muslims, were killed in the two days on November 30 and December 1, 1997. It is also a fact that the killings, in some cases, took place inside premises of the Government Hospital in Coimbatore. In other words, some of those injured who managed to reach the hospital were allowed to be killed even when the hospital premises was swarming with policemen during that time. The names of police officers on duty are not official secrets in any sense of the term. But nothing has been done, in all these years, to even hold an enquiry into their acts.

The Mumbai blasts case is more serious. Unlike in the case of the violence in Coimbatore, a Commission of Enquiry under a sitting judge of the Mumbai Hight Court was instituted on January 25, 1993, within weeks after the pogrom. Justice B.N.Srikrishna, took up is job with all seriousness and went about collating evidence and concluded that the proportion of Muslims among those killed in the violence that rocked Mumbai was too high and that this indeed was one of the dangerous messages that cannot be glossed over by all those who cared for Democratic India.

And apart from naming Bal Thackeray and his aides in the Shiv Sena and the effete political leadership symbolized by Sudhakarrao Naik and the partisan political schemes of Sharad Pawar (then Union Minister for Defence) as factors that contributed immensely to this attack on Democratic India, Justice Srikrishna, in his report, had listed out the names of several police officers in the various police stations who had not only failed in their duty but had actively connived with the rioters against the Muslims. These names are contained in Section 30 of Chapter Five of the report. And Justice Srikrishna’s intention behind putting out the list was in order to ensure that such onslaughts on Democratic India is not allowed to repeat itself.

Among the terms of reference for the Commission was that it recommend ``measures, long and short term, required to be taken by the administration to avoid recurrence of such incidents’’. And chapter 5 of the Report where the Commission recommended action against the police officers remains unattended to this day. Nor has the State Government, despite being headed by the Congress-NCP coalition since 2000, bothered to initiate prosecution of those behind the December 1992-January 1993 violence that left 900 people dead (575 of them were Muslims) till date.

Well, the argument that the Mumbai blasts cannot be seen in isolation was also raised by Justice Srikrishna in this report. The Commission’s terms of reference were expanded on May 24, 1995 to include the March 1993 blasts. And Justice Srikrishna made it clear: and he relies on the report placed by Mahesh Narain Singh, who headed the Investigation team on the blasts: ``that the serial blasts were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993.’’

It is baffling, to say the least, that the Vilasrao Deshmukh Government in Maharashtra has done nothing to prosecute those behind the killings and still fancies itself as secular!


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