June 21, 2016

India: Less than justice - No closure for Gulbarg Society victims (Editorial, The Tribune)

The Tribune, June 20, 2016


Less than justice - No closure for Gulbarg Society victims

AFTER the 1984 Sikh killings the 2002 Gujarat riots had shaken the national conscience. The wait for justice in both cases, it seems, will continue. Dissatisfied with Friday’s judgment, the Gulbarg Society attack survivors have decided to challenge it. The case lost political interest after the Nanavati Commission and the Supreme Court-monitored SIT, headed by RK Raghavan, gave Narendra Modi clean chits. The Ahmedabad Special Court that heard the Gulbarg Society case has ruled out a conspiracy theory, which means no Narendra Modi hand in the anti-Muslim riots.

The judgment reveals not just the inefficacy of the SIT investigation but of the prosecution as well. The court acquitted 36 of the accused. The quantum of sentence announced and observations made by Special Judge PB Desai have raised questions. A lenient view in cases of mass murder may send a wrong signal in the country, especially at a time when mob attacks are becoming routine. On February 28, 2002, a 400-strong mob massacred 69 persons, including ex-MP Ehsan Jafri, and burnt houses in Gulbarg Society. For this unforgivable act only 11 from the crowd have been awarded life term and they too can walk free after a year if the state government exercises its power to free life convicts after 14 years. Already after the incident, 90 per cent of the accused were released on bail.

The court did not accept the prosecution plea for death sentence or life imprisonment till death on the grounds that there was no conspiracy behind the attack, it was not a pre-meditated act and the accused did not commit any offence during the time of bail. The mob, according to Judge Desai, was not “really interested in causing deaths”. It was the “private firing” by Ehsan Jafri which “infuriated the mob” and it “suddenly turned into an ugly mob which indulged in the massacre of so many men, women and children”. The Judge is suggesting Jafri was not only responsible for his own death, but also the massacre that followed. To say the least, it is unbelievable and a grand slur on the Indian constitutional system and its promise of a fair and just social order