Striving for Just Society

Ram Puniyani

The verdict of magistrate Dr. Jyotsna Yagnik, sentencing Dr. Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and others to long imprisonment (31 August, 2012) has come as a big relief to the victims of Naroda Patiya, for whom it was like return of Eid to their houses. Naroda Patiya had witnessed horrific carnage and acts of rape in 2002 and this judgement will give a solace to the victims and their near and dear ones’. This judgement came as a culmination of the mammoth efforts of the human rights activists, the victims, the witnesses and the team of legal activists who stood all the opposition form every conceivable quarter to ensure that justice is done in the case. The adage that ‘there can’t be peace without justice’ has been redeemed with this court judgement.

This judgement also puts right various misconceptions deliberately propagated by communal forces. First and foremost was that the Gujarat violence was a reaction to the Godhra train burning. By now this is believed by most of the sections of society, more so by the communalized sections of society all over and more so in Gujarat. The judge made it clear that “thousands of persons…attacked weaponless and frightened victims with intention, pre planning while sharing common objects”. It was not a spontaneous reaction to burning of train in Godhra. Rather Godhra train burning was used subtly as a justification for the preplanned pogrom. Communal forces tried to pass it off as ‘natural anger’ which the state could not control. Contrary to this perception, now court has ruled that it was a deliberately planned carnage, using the Godhra incident as a mere pretext to consolidate communal polarization in the state of Gujarat.

India has witnessed so many communal riots, acts of violence. Lately these riots have been assuming the form of well organized pogroms. This finding of Human Rights groups and the report of Citizens for Justice and peace gets validated through this judgement, for sure. So far the trend has been that the innocents have been killed in the violence and the perpetrators of violence have gone scot free. Now it seems that with the human rights defenders tightening their belts can set right the adverse trend, where guilty were getting away without any punishment. In this case human rights defenders have put in all the efforts to reverse the prevalent trend due to which the perpetrators of crime were more or less sure that they can get away with their crimes and consolidate their politics.

For once the message is loud and clear that the automatic mechanisms of justice delivery system are not effective and a super human efforts by dedicated human rights defenders like Teesta Setalvad, Gagan Sethi, Harsh Mander, Yusuf Muchala, Mukul Sinha, Govind Parmar and many others like them, working through different angles, supplementing each other’s efforts can ensure that justice is done. They had to plug the leaks in the system to ensure that victims are protected, witnesses are protected, the complaints, FIRs are properly recorded, and to see that all the hurdles to justice are overcome.

The first question which comes to mind is, will this state of affairs continue like this where nothing short of super human efforts, protecting-sustaining the victims and witnesses against heavy odds will be needed for getting justice. Society and the nation needs to plug the loopholes in the policing system, in the bureaucratic apparatus and in the attitude of political leadership so that the justice delivery becomes a matter of routine rather than an exception. Victims of so many riots, pogroms are still awaiting justice, Bhagalpur, Delhi and Mumbai to name the few, still have not got the justice.

This brings to our attention another aspect of the violence, those who led it. Dr. Maya Kodnani came up through Rashtra Sevikasamiti, an organization subordinate to Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, RSS. One notes incidentally that in RSS worldview, women don’t have a swayam (Self) as is manifest in the name of Rashtra Sevikasamiti. Also that Maya Kodnani was sitting MLA, and after the pogrom and her role in it, inciting the mob, distributing fuel and armaments, she was promoted to the level of minister and once she was charged with the role in violence, she was dumped from the ministry and disowned by the state Government. Section of RSS followers in VHP etc. are protesting against the judgment. As such the standard technique for RSS stable is that, once its members-followers undertake the crime, murder of Gandhi, burning of Pastor Stains, or play their part in terror attack, they are declared not to be having any association with the parent organization, whose ideology they are living and breathing through their actions. Kodnani for certain reasons did say that she was victim of politics! What does this mean? While this statement is a mystery, one hopes the meaning of this victimhood comes out one of the days in future.

Babu Bajrangi is another character, whose revelations in Tehelka were nothing less than shocking. He said they have been given time for three days, and that his team-associates are playing not the test cricket but one day match, where high score is to made in short time. And that after killing the hapless Muslims he felt like Rana Pratap. One wishes he knew that Rana Pratap was not killing in the name of religion, he was fighting other kings for power and that in his army there were Muslims soldiers as well. One of the his army generals who died while fighting for Rana Pratap was Hakim Khan Sur, whose tomb is there in the Haldi Ghati even now. How distortions of medieval history are done deliberately to incite hate becomes clear again.

And what is happening to the conscience of Narendra Modi, who has been the major beneficiary of the carnage of 2002? Any remorse, any tears for at least those who were reporting to him during the carnage, whom he promoted for their role in the violence and now are being punished by the due process of law?

One hopes that we recast our laws and system to ensure that the violence is punished in due course and that this punishment acts as a deterrent and ensures that in future such inhuman dastardly acts don’t repeat themselves. This welcome judgment also leaves a few questions, what about those who faulted in the discharge of their duties to protect the innocents, to register their legitimate complains, and to nail the guilty as a matter of their assigned duty? We do need to work towards a system where to begin with such hate crimes don’t take place, and if by chance such a tragedy is engineered by some political forces, we have the system in place which can check it right away and punish those who are either conspiring, or executing or are not controlling those dastardly acts. One hopes that the human rights defenders will be on their tip toes to come forward with such yeomen efforts to have a society with justice and peace.

(Ram Puniyani was a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai and works keenly on social issues. He is the author of three books including Communal Politics: An illustrated primer.)

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