Those responsible must be punished!
One of the most unspeakable examples of state-sponsored communal violence that took place 14 years ago in Gujarat was the butchering of 69 residents of the Gulbarg Society housing complex in Ahmedabad. Innocent men, women and children, mainly of the Muslim faith, were besieged for 6 hours, then hacked, raped and torched to death, while their desperate calls for help to the police and ruling politicians, including the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi, were ignored. After a long and tortuous investigative and judicial process [see box], a special court on June 2 this year found 24 of the 66 accused guilty of crimes including murder and arson, while the rest were acquitted. The judge acquitted the main accused, BJP corporator Bipin Patel and the then DSP of the area K.G.Erda, on the grounds of ‘insufficient evidence’. Most significantly, the court found insufficient evidence of a conspiracy behind the massacre. Earlier, the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) had given a ‘clean chit’ to Modi who had been directly named in the complaint lodged by Zakia Jafri, the widow of former MP Ahsan Jafri who had been brutally killed in the Gulbarg Society attack.
Gulbarg case timeline
February-April 2002: Violence across Gujarat after Godhra train burning leaves thousands dead or missing, and many more displaced.
2002-03: Many cases related to Gujarat violence end in mass acquittals. Supreme Court orders transfer of two cases, Best Bakery case and Bilkis Bano case, outside of Gujarat.
February 2007: Zakia Jafri files petition to register FIR against Narendra Modi and 62 others in Gujarat High Court.
November 2007: Zakia Jafri petition turned down.
March 2008: Zakia Jafri and Citizens for Justice and Peace move the Supreme Court. Supreme Court orders setting up of a Special Investigation Team to investigate into the Godhra and post-Godhra violence.
September 2009: Trial begins in Gulbarg Society case.
August 2010: Supreme Court permits investigation into the role of CM Narendra Modi and 62 others in orchestrating the riots.
February 2012: SIT gives clean chit to Modi.
December 2013: Ahmedabad metropolitan court rejects petition of Zakia Jafri against clean chit to Modi
November 2014: Supreme Court directs that trial be concluded in three months.
August 2015: Extension granted to complete trial.
September 2015: Trial ends. Judgement awaited.
June 2016: Verdict in Gulbarg Society case.
In the many decades since 1947, beginning with the massacres accompanying Partition, hundreds of thousands of people have been regularly killed in targeted communal massacres organized and carried out for political purposes by ruling and opposition political parties and leaders using the state machinery to commit and cover up their crimes. These massacres have been carried out to punish or spread terror among members of a particular community and society at large, and to try and split the unity of the people against the anti-people activities of the ruling class and its representatives. It is because most of these communal massacres are state-sponsored that the perpetrators of such violence are almost never brought to justice or punished, although these massacres usually take place in broad daylight, in full view of everyone around. There is no other way to explain the shockingly low rate of arrest, conviction and punishment of the guilty. There is no other way to explain the repeated recurrence of such crimes, including even of the methods used to carry them out.
In recent years, and particularly after the widespread massacre of Sikhs in November 1984, there has been growing consciousness among the people that such communal massacres are not instances of ‘spontaneous mob violence’, and that the state and the major political parties are responsible. The call to ‘punish the guilty’ has resounded again and again, and has united the victims from different communities as well as democratic forces and right-thinking people in the society. As a result, in a few cases, and after long and painful struggles on the part of victims and democratic organisations and individuals, a few ‘culprits’ have been identified and convicted and given varying jail terms.
This is what has happened in the Gulbarg Society case, where only 11 people out of hundreds who were involved, are being held guilty for murdering 69 people in broad daylight in the heart of the big city of Ahmedabad. It is being hoped that the victims and their families will accept this as ‘justice’ and as ‘closure’, and then forget about what they saw on that day with their own eyes and what they have seen since then – how the police who could easily have acted did nothing to stop the massacre; how those victims who appealed for help to political leaders while the attack was going on only met with abuse in return; how they have over the years been harassed and persecuted, and their struggle for justice thwarted at every turn; and how those who abetted the crime not only got off scot-free but have been rewarded and elevated to the highest positions. However, those who have been fighting for justice in this case for so long have clearly stated that this is not the end, and that they will carry on with their struggle. Their determination to fight on, regardless of all the difficulties they will undoubtedly face, must be supported by all people of conscience.
The struggle for justice for the victims of communal massacres must in particular focus on the culpability of those in positions of authority and power. Whether we are speaking of November 1984, or the bloodshed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, or the Gujarat massacres of 2002, none of this would have been possible without being organized at the highest levels of state. Just because the police, investigative agencies and judges together come to the conclusion that there is ‘insufficient evidence’ of a conspiracy being hatched by those in power, people cannot afford to be deluded into accepting that such large-scale atrocities are committed by just a few ‘rioters’ acting spontaneously on their own. This would defy common sense. This would mean letting off the hook those who are the real culprits, and leaving them free to commit mayhem again and again. People must demand with one voice that those in power must be held responsible for communal massacres.
This is also the time to seriously understand how state-sponsored communal violence is a well worked out method of the state and the ruling class as a whole to control and divide the people through the unleashing of terror. In India, no community and no region has been free of this kind of organized communal and sectarian terror. Why is it that various opposition parties point the finger at their rival parties in power blaming them for communal violence; but when they themselves come to power they do not do anything to really punish the guilty or to change the structures that allow such communal violence to take place? It is because all of them are tainted, none of their hands are clean. All of them use the arsenal of communal propaganda and communal bloodshed to achieve political aims, and the state machinery as a whole (including the police, bureaucracy, judiciary, investigation teams and judicial commissions) is used to facilitate and cover up their crimes, as well as browbeat and intimidate those who fight for justice.
For an end once and for all to state-sponsored communal violence and all the misery that it brings, people must fight for deep-rooted changes in the political system itself. We must fight for a political power in which the state is bound to protect the life and dignity of each and every citizen, and the functionaries of the state are held accountable and given exemplary punishment for each and every violation of this.