The End of Impunity: Gujarat 2002

Photo Credit: Binita Desai

The struggle of man (or woman) against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting:— Milan Kundera

It was not simply the number of lives lost,though the number — perhaps 2500— is not insignificant. It was the cold-blooded manner in which they were taken. It was not simply that 19 of Gujarat’s 25 districts burned while Neros watched,fiddled and smirked but the sinister similarity in the way they were set alight. Militias were armed with deadly training,weapons,technology and equipment; with a lethal brew of deadly intent,inspired by constructed tales of hate,using the February 28,2002 edition of a leading Gujarati daily that urged revenge; all combined with a deadly white chemical powder that seared to burn and destroy already killed bodies. And,of course,truckloads of gas cylinders,in short supply for cooking,were used instead to blast mosques and homes. Mobile phones and motorcycles made communications easy and movement swift.

Part of the plan was to humiliate,destroy and then kill. Another was to economically cripple. But at heart the desire was to construct a reality whereby a whole ten per cent of the population lives (and a few even prosper) as carefully whipped into shape,second-class citizens. Most incidents that racked the state,except the famed Best Bakery incident,took place in the glare of the day,not the stealth of the night. Critical to the plan to mutilate and humiliate was to subject women and girls to the worst kind of sexual violence. Tehelka’s “Operation Kalank” records victorious testimonies of rapists and murderers who claim to have received personal approbations from the man at the helm. Over 1,200 highway hotels were destroyed,more than 23,000 homes gutted,350 large businesses seriously damaged (and are still unable to recover) and 12,000 street businesses demolished.

Genocide is about economic crippling as much as death and humiliation. The Concerned Citizens Tribunal — Crimes Against Humanity 2002 called the happenings in Gujarat a genocide,because of the systematic singling out of a group through widely distributed hate writing and demonisation,the economic destruction,the sexual violence and also because over 270 masjids and dargahs were razed to the ground. The bandh calls on February 28 and March 1 by rabid outfits and supported by the party in power enabled mobs free access to the streets while successfully warding off the ordinary citizen.

Eight years on,it is this level and extent of complicity that is under high-level scrutiny. The involvement of high functionaries of the state in Gujarat did not begin,and has not stopped,with the violence. It has extended to destruction of evidence that continues until today,the faulty registration of criminal complaints,the deliberate exclusion of powerful accused and,worst of all,the utter and complete subversion of the criminal justice system by appointment of public prosecutors who were not wedded to fair play,justice and the Constitution — but were and are lapdogs of the ruling party and its raid affiliates. The proceedings in the Best Bakery case in the Supreme Court and the judgment of April 12,2004 strips our legal system,especially lawyers,of the dignity of their office.

The hasty granting of bail to those involved in the post-Godhra carnage remains a scandal. While over seven dozen of those accused of the Godhra train arson have been in jail,without bail for eight years — and today face trial within the precincts of the Sabarmati jail — powerful men,patronised by the state’s political hierarchy who are accused of multiple rapes and murders roam free in “vibrant Gujarat” even as the trials have resumed. The few that are in jail — ten of the 64 accused in the Gulberg society carnage,eight of the 64 accused in Naroda Patia massacre,two of the 89 in the Naroda Gaam killing,eight of the 73 in the Sardroura massacres (all the 84 accused of the massacre at Deepda Darwaza roam free on bail) are those with no political godfathers. A vast majority have lived in freedom even after committing unspeakable crimes. All this and more is being investigated under the orders of our apex court on a petition filed by Zakia Ahsan Jafri and the Citizens for Justice and Peace. For the first time in our history criminal conspiracy and mass murder are the charges,the chief minister and 61 others the accused. Will the wealth of evidence be matched by the rigour of investigation? Will the will to prosecute surmount political considerations? Will the Indian system throw a spotlight on what surely must be its darkest hour? As we stood,remembered and prayed in painful memorial,with lit candles at the Gulbarg Society this Sunday we did so in both faith and hope.

Following 14 years since the Gujarat Genocidal Carnage, our intensive legal work puts the figure of lives lost post the Godhra arson at close to 2000.

This article was first published in March 2010: Indian Express.

Cover Photo Credit: Ram Rahman



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