Wednesday, November 28, 2012


MM 02AUG2012


As the country celebrates the Naroda Patiya verdict, we bring you the remarkable story of people who’ve powered the fight for justice in Gujarat for ten years now


Over 2,500 victims, close to 5000 police complaints, nearly 2000 of these complaints committed to trial courts, a police force that delayed filing FIRs, fudged records and even threatened witnesses, a government machinery so biased it would not mind all these cases falling through, and an environment so thick with fear that the Supreme Court had to devise a special witness protection programme, the first of its kind in the country. 
    While the world celebrates the path-breaking judgment in the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre, in which a member of legislative assembly has been sentenced to 28 years in jail, it is not short of a miracle that anybody, forget a powerful politician, is being handed down a punishment for Gujarat riots. It is never easy to prove guilt in riots cases because every case involves a large number of people. And then, if the administration, overtly or covertly, sides with the accused, the task becomes so much more difficult. You have the examples of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, where the big fish were never caught, and the 1989 riots of Bhagalpur, where the victims never had any real closure. 
    In Gujarat, the riots cases initially dragged on for so long and produced such callous acquittals that the Supreme Court had to direct setting up of special fast-track courts. In the Kauserbi case, where the pregnant victim was slashed to death and then burnt, cops took 45 days to register the case. There are several incidents of judges chiding human rights activists for not letting riot victims reach a compromise with the accused. 
    It was in this environment that a clutch of lawyers and activists fought relentlessly to deliver justice to those wronged in 2002. They raised funds to fight cases, identified witnesses and then made sure they were not intimidated or bought over, collected evidence, made sure the survivors did not give up in the toughest of times, and abandoned their own lives for the sake of those who needed help. 
    It's been 10 years and people like human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, lawyers Mukul Sinha, Govind Parmar, and Yusuf Muchhala and retired IAS officer Harsh Mander and many more like them have put everything else on hold to pursue justice in Gujarat. 
    As the Naroda Patiya judgment renews hope that acts of fanaticism will not go unpunished in a country where our commitment to secularism is enshrined in the Constitution, we bring you the stories of these remarkable people powering this hope. As Parmar says about the Naroda Patiya judgment, "They (accused) have been seeing the slow, torturous clutch of law catching up with them…the wait kills them. Fear of law is a healthy sign."

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