By Rajdeep Sardesai
April 04, 2013
'Justice', the new rallying cry in street and studio, can be awfully selective at times. The brutal gang rape 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 Chhattisgarh 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 a film star’s saga rather than a dispassionate analysis of the judgment.
The reactions to the Mumbai 1993 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 is there a need for any chest-thumping hysteria nor is there a cause for teary emotionalism.
The real crux of the 1993 judgment lies in its acknowledging 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 the law's reach.
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 mind space. Poor 'little' 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 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 under trials 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 1993 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 clear, the terror attack of March 1993 could not be seen without reference to the violence that had taken place just weeks before.
As 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 were, especially in the second phase of January 1993, spearheaded by the Shiv Sena. Two hundred and fifty-seven 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, 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 has there been a conviction. 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 that we remain trapped in a vicious cycle of communalism and terrorism?
Rajdeep Sardesai is editor-in-chief, IBN 18 network. The views expressed by the author are personal