Sunday, November 25, 2012

Serving Justice


The law must deal with communal riots at all levels

A special court’s handing out life sentences to the 30-odd accused in the Naroda Patiya killings in Gujarat in 2002 is a significant moment given India’s largely abysmal record of delivering justice in communal riot cases. Some measure of justice, indeed, has been handed out in what was one of the most horrific cases of post-Godhra organised violence. The fact that a former minister in Narendra Modi’s government is among those sentenced is a rare instance of a member of the political class, almost always involved at some level in such riots, being held accountable. For Modi, this verdict is another pointer to his regime’s alleged active collusion in the carnage in 2002, and, hence, nothing short of an extremely serious setback to larger ambitions. But this judgment also, by contrast, highlights the failings of the law in addressing the challenge of communal violence — which is a de facto assault on the foundational principles of the Indian republic. Even the partial convictions in the handful of cases relating to the post-Godhra killings, that too after a decade, could only come about due to the Supreme Court’s direct intervention. In effect, this means some measure of delayed justice will percolate down from the highest levels. The point, however, is to ensure that institutions and systems lower down the order also function as they are supposed to. But the unique challenge in Gujarat has been how to deliver justice in a situation where virtually the entire state machinery is seen to be complicit in crimes.
In that context, the proposed Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill assumes critical importance. For, the aim should be to not only end the culture of immunity fostered by the political class in communal riot cases and come down with full force of the law on instigators and perpetrators of riots but also ensure the rehabilitation of victims. Some justice, like the Naroda Patiya verdict, is but one part of that rehabilitation.