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Rajdeep Sardesai
Friday , April 05, 2013 at 00 : 16

Unequal justice breeds communalism and terrorism


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"Justice", the new rallying cry on the streets and in the studios, can be awfully selective at times. The brutal gangrape of a Delhi girl in December led to an avalanche of protests and demands that the culprits be hanged immediately. On the other hand, sexual crimes against women in interior Chattisgarh attract scant attention. Afzal Guru's hanging becomes a contentious political battle, even as faceless prisoners remain on death row for years. Now, the Supreme Court verdict in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case has become more about a film star's saga rather than about a dispassionate analysis of the judgment.

The reactions to the Mumbai 93 judgment are typical of how 'justice' is now perceived in the public arena. Veering between a blood-thirsty desire for 'revenge' for the lives of those who died and the several hundred who were injured and an unbridled sympathy for those who are projected as 'victims' of circumstances. The fact is neither there is a need for any chest-thumping hysteria nor there is a cause for teary emotionalism.

The real crux of the 93 judgment lies in the acknowledgement that even 20 years after the first, and worst, terror attack of its kind in this country, we have not been able to prosecute the 'masterminds': Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon and their benefactors in Pakistan. A case that was cracked within days of the blasts - the terrorists abandoned a car at Worli that was tracked down to the Memons - remains incomplete because the key players have remained out of reach of the law.

What closure can there be for the victims when the system knows where Dawood lives and is aware of his movements but cannot touch him, or, as has been speculated, has made little real effort to 'take him out'? The others, as the court says, were 'pawns' in a larger conspiracy. Even the exact role of Yakub Memon, the one person who has been given the death sentence, remains debatable within security agencies. What is clear is that while the chartered accountant who chose to return to India is now on death row, his brother Tiger Memon who planned the conspiracy remains a valued 'guest' of Pakistan's ISI.

And yet, it is Dutt who occupies the mindspace. Poor 'littlecc Sanju Baba (he was 34 when the terror attack took place) deserves pardon on humanitarian grounds, we are told. Pardon because he is a 'reformed' citizen who has spread 'Gandhigiri' and has already served 18 months in prison. But what then of a Zebunissa Qazi, a 70-year-old Muslim woman, who was convicted under TADA even while Dutt was held guilty under the Arms Act even though the nature of their involvement appears identical? In fact, Zebunissa had made a strong case that she was unaware of the arms consignment being kept in her house even while Dutt had confessed to taking the weapons in 'self-defence'. Or are we to believe that an appeal for pardon for a celebrity carries weight which an ailing, anonymous woman can never match? And what of the thousands of undertrials who languish in jails without even a fair hearing simply because they don't have self-appointed guardians of justice to take up their case?

And while we focus on the 93 blasts judgment, what of the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 that preceded the terror attack? As the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission, appointed to inquire into the Mumbai riots, made amply clear, the terror attack of March 1993 could not be seen without reference to the violence that had taken place just weeks before. The commission noted, "the blasts seem to be a reaction to 'the totality of events' at Ayodhya and in Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993." The commission adds: "There is no doubt that the major role in the blasts conspiracy was played by Muslims." On the other hand, the commission says: " the riots were brought to fever pitch by communally inciting propaganda unleashed by Hindu communal organisations and writings in newspapers like Saamna (the Shiv Sena's mouthpiece) and Navakal. It was taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders, who continued to whip up communal frenzy through the writings of and directives issued by Bal Thackeray."

The blasts then were, as the judge emphasised, "a Muslim conspiracy"; the riots, especially in the second phase of January 93, were spearheaded by the Shiv Sena. Officially, 257 people, mainly Hindus, died in the terror attack; 900 people, mainly Muslims, died in the rioting. True justice would mean that the blast conspirators and the riot leaders would be treated equally. And yet, the inconvenient truth is that the two instances of mass killing have been treated very differently.

Within two years of the Mumbai violence, the BJP-Shiv Sena government came to power in Maharashtra for the first time by claiming to be 'protectors' of the majority community. Far from being questioned for inciting rioting, Thackeray became the 'remote control' of the new government. The regime virtually threw the Srikrishna report into the Arabian Sea by describing it as one-sided and biased. The police officers, who were named in the riots report, were either let off and, in some instances, even promoted. The Congress-NCP government, which came to power in 1999, also chose not to act on the inquiry report.

None of the riot cases were pursued with any vigour and in only five of them, there have been convictions. The only Shiv Sena leader of any significance who was convicted was its former MP, Madhukar Sarpotdar, for making inflammatory speeches. He was sentenced to one year in jail but was immediately granted bail on a surety of just Rs 15,000. Is it any wonder then that when a criminal justice system is seen to be so transparently unequal, we remain trapped in a vicious cycle of communalism and terrorism?


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More about Rajdeep Sardesai

Rajdeep Sardesai was the Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network, that includes CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat. He has 22 years of journalistic experience during which he has covered some of the biggest stories in India and the world. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the Managing Editor of both NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India and was responsible for overseeing the news policy for both the channels. He has also worked with The Times of India for six years and was the city editor of its Mumbai edition at the age of 26. During the last 22 years, he has covered major national and international stories, specialising in national politics. He has won numerous other awards for journalistic excellence, including the prestigious Padma Shri for journalism in 2008, the International Broadcasters Award for coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2007. He has won the Asian Television Award for best talk show for the Big Fight on two occasions and his current flagship show on CNN-IBN, India at 9, has been awarded the best news show at the Asian awards for the last two years. He has been News Anchor of the year at the Indian Television Academy for seven of the last eight years and won more than 50 awards in this period. He has also been the President of the Editors Guild of India, the only television journalist to hold the post and was chosen a Global leader for tomorrow by the world economic forum in 2000. An alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, he has done his Masters and LLB from Oxford University and has also played first class cricket for the Oxford University team. He has contributed to several books and writes a fortnightly column that appears in seven newspapers.
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