Saturday, November 24, 2012

Justice delayed but not denied

By D. P. Bhattacharya in Gandhinagar
AT A time when violence is fast posing a serious challenge to the multi- ethnic fabric of the country, more than 50 per cent conviction in a 10- year- old riot case in Gujarat restores the celebration of pluralism in the corridors of India's premier business state.
A special court in Ahmedabad on Wednesday convicted 32 people in the Naroda Patiya massacre case, including BJP MLA Maya Kodnani -- a former MoS ( women and child development) -- and Bajrang Dal strongman Babu Bajrangi.
Lawyer- activist Mukul Sinha, whose NGO Jan Sangharsh Manch has been representing the victims in the court, described the judgment as the light at the end of a long tunnel.
For those left devastated by the violence, it meant a sense of closure.
“ Nothing will bring back the loved ones we have lost, but after 10 years this judgment has brought some sense of solace,” Shakila Bano, who lost three of her children in the massacre, said.
But for Dildar Umraav Saiyed, the journey wasn't over. “ This is half- justice. Only when the court awards strict punishment to them, we will get full justice,” he said.
Victims of the violence have been playing host to an inquisitive media ever since their neighbours turned on them on February 28, 2002.
On that day, during a strike called by the VHP, a large crowd gathered in the Naroda Patiya area and attacked Muslims, resulting in the death of 97 people while 33 others were injured.
In Bajrangi's conviction rests the solace of Nazir Master, who had lost everything to the rioters.
“ It has been a long wait, but a worthy one,” he said. “ Though 10 long years have gone by, it does bring some peace when you see the guilty being punished,” he added.
The narrative largely mirrors the ones seen in the earlier cases such as the Godhra train burning, the Sardarpura massacre and the Ode massacre.
“ The raw courage of the witnesses, especially women who deposed fearlessly while still residing in Naroda Patiya, is a reflection of the confidence generated with the Supreme Court monitoring the case and protection from central paramilitary forces provided by the apex court,” activist Teesta Setalvad, working with the victims since the riot days, said.
But the developments have put one man in a tight spot -- Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
With a one- time member of his government being convicted, uncomfortable questions such as why Kodnani was inducted in the ministry even after it was alleged that she played an important role in the massacre, are being raised.
Most of those convicted belong to the Patel community, who believed the establishment will save them in their time of need.
But with every conviction, the community feels they are being systemically betrayed. This isn't the best case scenario for the CM of a state where elections are likely to take place at the end of the year.
Gujarat BJP spokesperson I. K. Jadeja has already distanced the government from Kodnani saying she wasn't a minister in 2002.
But both he and Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas chose to not explain why she was inducted into the ministry.
Vyas also dismissed demands for Modi's resignation following the verdict.
Court convicts BJP ex- minister Maya Kodnani & Bajrang Dal strongman Babu Bajrangi, along with 30 others, for Naroda Patiya massacre
THE prosecution has demanded death sentence for all 32 convicted by the trial court, calling it a “ rarest of rare case”. They have been convicted under Sections 120 ( B) ( criminal conspiracy), 302 ( murder) and 307 ( attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code. The minimum punishment is imprisonment for life, while the maximum punishment is the death penalty