Justice and Democracy
[10 March 2003]
The Babari Masjid was demolished in 1992 and criminal cases were registered against some people. It is now more than ten years since the event, but no one can say when the cases will finally be tried. They have been shunted from court to court and some of those charged have only grown in prominence. The Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani, is the best known of these eminences, though the Minister for Human Resources Development, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharti, until recently also a minister, are also much in the public eye. Along with the growth in their prominence will have come a growth in their power to influence the very course of justice. It does not redound to Indiaís credit that this is thought natural, inevitable.
Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, has slapped cases under the Prevention of Terrorism Act on all the 131 persons ó all Muslims ó charged with the Godhra railway carriage burning. In the course of a few months last year, Gujarat saw communal violence that left at least two thousand persons ó nearly all of them Muslims ó dead. Killings were preceded by sadism. The particularly heinous crime of rape was committed on many Muslim women and girls. The property of Muslims was systematically destroyed; and no effort was spared to deny Muslims the very means of livelihood. All this happened not just under the gaze of the State but with the Stateís connivance and active assistance. There no dearth of evidence that those who ran Gujarat, planned and orchestrated the violence against Gujaratís Muslims.
Crimes such as these ó and they are the worst crimes under the law of the land, the laws of the civilised world ó do not descend from heaven: they are committed by men and women. In Gujarat, the men and women ó yes, women too ó who committed them have been identified by the hundred. Has Narendra Modiís administration, so thorough in dealing with the purported perpetrators of Godhra, even begun to prepare for taking action under the law against these eminent butchers, rapists and arsonists, all Hindus and many of them known to be associated with declaredly Hindu organisations? Of course not. Nearly no FIRs have been allowed to be registered. The hoodlums continue to preen and swagger and parade before their victims. Some of them have been recently re-elected law-makers. And their victims are told that they may return to their own homes only if they accept a series of humiliating conditions.
None should be surprised if Indiaís Muslims feel that the scales of justice are tilted wildly against them, if they have lost faith in Indian democracy, such as it was before the watershed of Gujarat 2002. Even Muslims in West Bengal, who cannot be said to be victims, look disbelieving when people speak of justice and democracy. Muslims in Andhra Pradesh, who are relatively safe from the depredations of rampant Sangh Hindutva, are at the very least confused that their Chief Minister, who ever proclaims himself to be secular, yet sides in Delhi with the political wing of the Parivar of Butchers.
The writing on the wall is clear from the relief efforts undertaken in Gujarat. The State did not run these efforts as it was duty bound to do. Most observers say that it only grudgingly permitted them. Several point to instances where it actually obstructed them. In a sane society, victims receive sympathy. In Gujarat they were harassed, herded and spat upon. Correction: they are being harassed, herded and spat upon.
The enormous but still pitifully inadequate relief efforts in Gujarat were the work almost exclusively of Muslim organisations and individuals. Hindus did not come forward to help, though the victims were their victims. Should Indiaís Muslims be blamed for concluding that they cannot count on anyone else for any kind of help or justice? That Indian democracy under Sangh Hindutva is but a cruel farce?
Should I, an Indian, go on making a virtue of my impotence? Should I not spit on myself? History will, for sure.
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