The Gujarat Riots: Path to Justice?

The 2002 Gujarat riots are a dark stain on the canvas of India’s recent past as a secular democracy. Following the burning of the Sabarmati Express carrying Hindu pilgrims by Muslim mobs, riots broke out in many parts of Gujarat, targeting the Muslim population. Over the next few days, almost 2000 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced. Many reports have said the police simply stood by and watched as the killing and looting continued, reminiscent of the 1984 riots in Delhi. Whether or not state authorities were involved is highly controversial, with the findings of two separate Commissions being completely contradictory and incompatible with the findings of organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch as well as the National Human Rights Council.


Now, the Special Investigation Team, constituted by the Supreme Court to look into the Gujarat riots has filed a fresh chargesheet against accused persons in the 2002 riots. On April 27, the Supreme Court ordered the Special Investigation Team to “inquire and investigate” the role of top Gujarat BJP politicians, including chief minister Narendra Modi, as well as Sangh Parivar honchos, including Praveen Togadia and Babu Bajrangi.


The Supreme Court had lifted the stay on the trial of Gujarat riot cases and ordered the setting up of fast-track courts in five districts for holding day-to-day trial. However, the court rejected the plea that the cases be shifted out of Gujarat as recommended by the NHRC. While the initiatives taken to bring the truth to light are laudable, it seems strange that the SC should not facilitate the conduction of the trials in the least prejudiced environment possible. The people of Gujarat have again voted CM Narendra Modi into power, based on his indisputable administrative skill, but it is highly possible, all things considered, that some sort of coercion could take place to influence the collective verdict.


Another matter to be taken into consideration is Modi’s propensity to turn public condemnation up on its head, somehow effortlessly managing to make prosecution seem like persecution, justice like harassment. The middle of election months may have been wrong timing for the investigation order, as Modi could easily use it as another brick in the wall of his growing hero-worship. He is the BJP’s poster boy as the saffron superhero and apparent PM in waiting, but the idea of a hardcore Hindutva PM is as horrifying as Mayawati holding the post. The unfortunate atomization of Indian politics means that integrated national parties are getting weaker as regional leaders stand strong, but the Prime Minister needs to juggle much more than petty rivalries, and a Modi as much as a Mayawati, could spell disaster for India.


Recommendations of unbiased international organizations must be impartially considered for implementation, and strong steps taken to prevent any hindrance in the course of justice. Witness protection programs should be set up to ensure free and accurate testimony, given without fear or coercion. As the years roll by, the truth will be buried deeper and deeper under layers of falsehood and doctored evidence. It is imperative that justice be meted out in the fairest manner, at the earliest.


Sanjana Manaktala

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