Friday, April 20, 2012

The verdict

The verdict

The Ode judgment is a glimmer of hope for the riot victims, SC has been their guiding light
The special court's verdicts on the killings in Ode over two days in the aftermath of Godhra in Gujarat 2002, convicting 23 and upholding the conspiracy charge, could be seen as unexceptionable in a system governed by the rule of law. But that would be missing the fraught context of the still unfolding process in Gujarat. It would be underplaying the tremendous grit and commitment the Supreme Court has shown in ensuring, against all odds, that justice is done. A little over a decade after it was convulsed by violence in 2002, two narratives can be seen to be playing out simultaneously in the state. In one, the state is smoothly moving on from its past, as it posts achievements in governance and development. In the other, the process of justice for the victims of the mass communal violence of 2002 moves ahead, but less smoothly, in fits and starts. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi strenuously projects himself as the hero of the first narrative. But there can be no doubt that the leading role, in insulating and protecting the procedures of justice from possible derailment, in the second story is played by the judiciary, led by the Supreme Court.
Look again at the Ode cases and the apex court's role stands out at every turn. In 2003, on a petition alleging bias in police investigations, the SC stayed proceedings in cases, including the Ode massacres. Then in 2008, it appointed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe nine of the most serious cases. Ode was one of them. SIT chief R.K. Raghavan was given full powers to pick the probe team and special public prosecutors. Crucially, the apex court also directed the SIT to ensure witness protection. In 2009, the SC ordered special fast-track trial courts for the SIT cases. It went further than that. At one point, in an extraordinary move, the court appointed an amicus curiae, a “friend of the court”, to go through investigation papers, meet witnesses and police officers and submit his own report, bypassing the SIT.
Verdicts, and some semblance of closure, have been delivered in three of the nine key Godhra and post-Godhra cases. Countless others await conclusion, including Naroda Patiya, in which former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani and VHP leader Jaideep Patel are among the accused, and the Gulbarg Society massacre, in which VHP and Bajrang Dal workers allegedly played a role. In the end, for it to be meaningful or enduring, the narrative of development must find a way to connect to the story of justice in Gujarat.