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Secular India faltering

by Kuldip Nayar, 11 November 2011

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The Daily Star, November 12, 2011

OP-ED

Massacres recede into history. But their memory haunts us. A strain of music, candlelight in the wilderness or a sad face re-enacts the tragedies once again. If concrete evidence emerges, it leaves us forlorn and helpless.

Two instances this week have brought back before me the killings in Gujarat and Delhi. Nadeem Saiyed, a key witness, was murdered in a street at Ahmedabad. Some thousands held a candlelight vigil at India Gate to commemorate the memory of the 3,000 Sikhs killed in Delhi alone. Both are disconnected, but in a way they are not because both tell a sordid story of government’s hand in the killings of Muslims in Gujarat and the Sikhs in Delhi.

Not only that, every trace of official involvement has been erased. Records have been destroyed, FIRs burnt and till today the government continues to support the perpetrators of loot, murder and rape. On the other hand, the government has been hard on whistleblowers. Nadeem was killed because he refused to fall in line. He feared for his life and asked for more security but did not get it.

Another witness, Sanjeev Rajendra Bhatt, a senior police officer, also wants more security for his family and himself but there is no response. Bhatt had the courage to say in the open that he was present at the official meeting where Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said he wanted to let the Hindus "vent out their anger" during the clashes and that he wanted Muslims to be "taught a lesson." Hats off to Gujarat IPS Association for standing by Bhatt. But Modi became harder. In a letter to the chairman of the Special Investigation Team, Bhatt said: "Despite the passage of nearly eight months, the government of Gujarat continues to play truant with respect to my security concerns."

The point that has been posed again and again is that even after the intervention by the Supreme Court, the guilty have remained unpunished since 2002 when the pogrom was completed. The irony is that L.K. Advani’s rath, ostensibly to highlight corruption, was in Gujarat when Nadeem was murdered. I wish the rath yatra could have been to bring the culprits of the 2002 massacre to book. Instead, Advani praised the chief minister for his "excellent governance."

When I was at the candlelight vigil, I came face to face with Nirpreet Kaur. She was 16 years on November 2, 1984, when the mob came for her father, Nirmal Singh. The gurdwara next to their house in south Delhi’s Raj Nagar had been set ablaze and a mob of about 450 was looking for more Sikhs to butcher. The Sikhs of Raj Nagar decided to confront the mob.

An hour later, Nirpreet recalled, a Youth Congress leader came to her father requesting him to "settle the matter." A day earlier, when violence against Sikhs broke out following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikhs bodyguards, the youth leader had sworn to the Sikhs that they would be protected from violence. The youth leader went straight for the mob and handed Nirmal Singh over. The oldest of three siblings, Nirpreet, ran to the mob but could only watch helplessly as her father was tied up and set ablaze. The family then fled to safety. When they returned to collect his ashes for Nirmal Singh’s last rites, the area had been swept clean.

Nirpreet unthinkingly joined the Khalistan movement to avenge the brutal killing of her father. She married a militant in November 1985. Twelve days after her wedding, the Delhi police picked up her husband. He was never heard of again. Nirpreet, then pregnant with her son, was declared an absconder. She went into hiding. In December 1986, Nirpreet’s mother, Sampooran Kaur, was sentenced to three years in Delhi’s high-security Tihar jail for "sheltering a terrorist." She didn’t even have an inkling of what her daughter was up to when they arrested her.

Nirpreet’s tale of woes is not different from what happened to Mrs. Zakia Jafri whose husband was cut into pieces at their residence in Ahmedabad and burnt in a bonfire. He was a former Congress MP. Even his contacts and calls to New Delhi when a Hindu mob was surrounding his residence brought him no help. Many people from the area had taken refuge at Jafri’s house. They too were burnt alive.

The Supreme Court has sent her case to the trial court for disposal. This is not fair. The court could have said something on the role of the chief minister. At least, Bhatt’s affidavit against Modi required some comment because he remains suspended from service. The SIT had given some report and so had amicus curie. The Supreme Court should have taken notice of them because both were its creatures. And then there are numerous cases which remain without being pursued even though they are many years old. There was a massacre at Maliana near Meerut some 17 years ago. The then superintendent of police, Bhaputhi Mishra, himself had filed an FIR. The case is pending in a law court in UP and no appeals to high authorities have resulted in any movement of the case.

The story of Malegaon blasts is tragic. It once again shows the bias of authorities against Muslims whenever a bomb blast takes place. None of the suspects were released after they were wrongly jailed. A special Maharastra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) last week granted bail to all the nine accused in the 2006 Malegaon blasts case after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said it had no objection to any of their bail pleas.

It was only after the former RSS activist Swami Aseemanand’s confession about the alleged involvement of the right-wing Hindu fundamentalists in the blast was leaked that the line of investigation changed. The NIA took over the investigation on March

22, 2011. Justice demands that all the nine are compensated for illegal detention. After all, a wrong case was framed against them and their families carried a tag of terrorism.

Another way the police have evolved is to kill a person in encounters and declare him a terrorist. Coming down heavily on the police, the Supreme Court has expressed its serious concern over the fake encounters saying "tolerance of police atrocities would amount to acceptance of systemic subversion and erosion of the rule of law." There is no reason to believe that the home ministry will do anything to lessen the number of "encounters."

Indeed, India is a pluralistic society. But it has a long way to go before it can be considered "secular," a word written within the preamble of the constitution. At present the government seems to be faltering.

The writer Kuldip Nayar is an eminent Indian columnist.

P.S.

The above article from The Daily Star is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use