Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gujarat '02 riots: Widening the net

EDIT 30AUG2012

An opening has appeared that brings up the prospect of senior figures in the ruling establishment in Gujarat being similarly exposed

The verdict of a trial court in Ahmedabad on Wednesday convict ing Maya Kodnani, a former minister considered close to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, and Babu Bajrangi, a leader of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal in the state, in the Naroda Patiya massacre case, should reinforce the faith of the people in our judicial system. In this worst single episode of massacre of Muslims in the postGodhra violence that consumed Gujarat in 2002, 97 persons were killed in cold blood by rampaging mobs. The wanton killing of members of the minority community occurred not because the state had lost control but, as many feared, owing to the fact that many at the highest levels in the state government were fanning the fires of hatred, permitting bands of Hindu extremists to go berserk over a period of many weeks. But the involvement of top political figures or ministers in these repugnant events, euphemistically called riots (which otherwise signifies the existence of two warring sides), was hard to prove.
There were grounds for strong suspicion based on specific circumstances but not what might be called legal evidence. The denouement in Ahmedabad changes that.
The conviction of Ms Kodnani raises the possibility of the transference of a former minister of the Modi government (now an MLA) from her place under the lens to the gallows, or at the very least to a jail cell for life. This particular individual was wont to issue vile statements that seemed self-congratulatory. She was no different in this from leading figures of hate groups like the Bajrang Dal, one of whose leaders has also been convicted, besides 30 others.
Another 29 persons have been let off. The judge is to pronounce sentence on Friday.
It is noteworthy that Ms Kodnani and the others have been convicted of murder as well as criminal conspiracy. Since the latter has been legally established in this case, an opening has appeared for the first time that brings up the prospect of senior figures in the ruling establishment in Gujarat being similarly exposed.
Those convicted naturally have the right to appeal. Should they exercise it, the judiciary ought to hear the case on a speedy basis. So much time has already been wasted in this case and other post-Godhra trials which have brought shame to the country. The terrible Naroda Patiya episode occurred on February 28, 2002. The crime branch in Ahmedabad moved in a lackadaisical manner that was typical of the response of the state government to violent crimes against Muslims. A sense of purpose came to be detected only after the Supreme Court set up a special investigation team, and the trial could begin only in 2009.