Saturday, November 24, 2012

Where law wins out

The arc of history may finally be bending towards justice for the victims of communal violence that gripped Gujarat in 2002. Thirty-two people, including Maya Kodnani, formerly women and child development minister in the Narendra Modi government, and Babu Bajrangi, a Bajrang Dal leader, were convicted by a special court in Gujarat for their roles in the Naroda Patiya massacre in Ahmedabad.
This is the first time, after exhaustive investigations, that convictions have touched Gujarat’s powerful. In April, the special court convicted 23 in the Ode case, another flashpoint in the 2002 violence. The Supreme Court has gone to great lengths to insulate the legal process from powerful vested interests — setting up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in 2008 at the request of Zakia Jafri and the NHRC to examine nine of the most critical cases, and also sending amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran, to conduct independent investigations. The divergences in those two reports point to the complexity of assigning culpability in these cases. Kodnani, in fact, had been arrested by the SIT in 2009. This is a moment to admire the judicial system that has wrested some resolution for the trauma of Naroda Patiya.
And yet, it must be asked why justice and reparation are still missing for another scar in recent history — the 1984 riots in Delhi, in which Sikhs bore the brunt of the violence as retaliation for Indira Gandhi’s assassination, under the watch of the Congress government. The police and administration were co-opted in similar ways; prominent Congress leaders were implicated in the violence. However, no powerful figure has been convicted yet. While the 1984 riots and the 2002 riots have become rhetorical tit-for-tats between political forces, the fact remains that one is inching towards answers and the other has been treated as a matter best forgotten and transcended. What, also, of the Nellie massacre, which is not even invoked as a political talking point? In 1983, Muslim settlers were killed and injured in an ethnic clash during the Assam agitation — the All Assam Students Union and other activists had whipped up sentiment against “foreign nationals”. But the investigation reached nowhere, legal proceedings were soon dropped, not a single person has faced trial. As the legal process unfolds in Gujarat, bringing at least a partial justice for the events of 2002, it also casts a sidelight on these other sites of violence, still painfully unaddressed.