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What about the rioters?

Rajdeep Sardesai, the editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, was The Times of India’s chief of news service in what was then Bombay during the riots. He was 28 years old when he covered the riots and the subsequent blasts in 1993

In 25 years of journalism I have never again seen a period that marked the end of innocence for a city. The period between December 1992 and January 1993 marked the end of Mumbai, or Bombay as we then knew it, as a cosmopolitan city, typified by Johny Walker’s “Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, zara hatke, zara bachke yeh hai Bombay meri jaan.”

This bindaas spirit of Mumbai was shattered with the riots. Those two weeks between December 1992 and January 1993 unpeeled our innocence layer by layer.

I remember I was sitting with Murli Deora for an interview when we got news of a blast at the Bombay Stock Exchange. At that time, terror strikes were unknown to us.

When I reached the spot, it was a ghastly scene.

Bodies were strewn all over and there was blood everywhere.

Remember, it was the pre-television era. Reporters were at different locations where the blasts had taken place and when we reached our office to file stories, we didn’t know what to say to each other. We were in shock and traumatised by the day’s events.

At midnight, when I went to Leopold Café with my colleagues and sipped cold beer, I couldn’t make any sense of the attacks.

It was only later that the magnitude of the blasts sank in. This was the time RDX entered the lexicon of Mumbai. We knew Tiger Memon as an underworld don, and suddenly he had emerged as the most wanted man in the country.

There were so many things we didn’t know. We didn’t know that Dawood was involved with the ISI. We knew him as an underworld don who cheered for India in cricket matches. What changed between December 1992 and March 1993?

The 1993 blasts brought “terror” into our lives. Pakistan used this opportunity to fish in troubled waters and used Dawood as their emissary. The three months between December 1992 and March 1993 changed Mumbai — it got ghettoised. Muslims started being looked on with suspicion. Mixed localities ceased to exist.

I remember that a week before the blasts, Sudhakar Naik, the then outgoing chief minister, had given us a forewarning. He had said that the scars of the riots were far from healed. He said that Mumbai would soon see more violence.

He was right. You cannot see the blasts of 1993 in isolation from what happened after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. How does one explain the participation of a successful chartered accountant in a blast conspiracy? While no one can justify the blasts, it is important to understand that it didn’t happen in a void.

Around 900 people were killed in the 1992-93 riots. The report on the 1992-1993 riots — the Srikrishna report — was thrown into the dustbin by the Shiv Sena.

While in the blast conspiracy you have several people in jail for years, only two Shiv Sainiks were found guilty of illegal assembly and carrying arms in connection with the riots. They got two years in jail and were fined Rs 2,200.

The political class of Mumbai failed to rise to the challenge. They didn’t do anything to prosecute the rioters. Most of those responsible got away and some even came to power in 1995.

While the victims of the 1993 blasts deserve closure, I believe that there has been no closure for the city.

I remember this story told to me by this young boy who lost his parents to the blasts. The family was coming out of the Satyam Cinema and walking towards the bus stand when the boy ran across the road and crossed the street. His parents yelled at him to slow down saying: “Do you want to get killed on the roads of Mumbai?”

Thirty seconds later, the parents were dead; the boy survived.