| Congress protest against those indicted by the Srikrishna commission report
Farooq Mapkar was in Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, on April 7 this year, facing the attack by Bharatiya Janata Party activists on Mallika Sarabhai’s peace meeting held inside. A victim of the 1992-93 Mumbai riots — he was shot in the shoulder by the police inside a mosque — Mapkar was keen to get involved in peace efforts in Gujarat.
Today, as the Congress fights the BJP in Gujarat on the plank of secularism, Mapkar, a bank employee, plans to distribute leaflets against the Congress. The leaflets will point out the government’s failure to fulfil its promise of punishing the guilty of the Mumbai riots. Nothing could have validated Mapkar’s anger with the Congress more than its stand in the Supreme Court on November 22. It asked the court to allow it to bury the Srikrishna commission report because of its potential for “controversy” and because the government had done what was needed.
As the secular brigade across the country rallies around the Congress to keep the BJP out in Gujarat, Mumbai’s riot victims are not amused. They have waited three years for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government to give them justice. What they have witnessed instead is a wishy-washy, reluctant and half-hearted job of punishing those deemed to deserve “strict action” by Justice B.N. Srikrishna.
Mapkar’s case is the best example of the government’s betrayal. He was lucky to survive the police attack on Hari Masjid during the January 1993 riots; six persons were shot dead, four inside the masjid as they prayed. Justice Srikrishna recommended strict action against Sub-Inspector Nikhil Kapse, who ordered the “unprovoked” firing and whose behaviour he called “brutal and inhuman”.
But neither pressure from the small but vocal group of activists in Mumbai, nor directions from the Supreme Court have affected Kapse. The inquiry conducted against him by the special task force set up to act on the Srikrishna report absolved him of responsibility for the firing. While conducting this inquiry and overruling the findings of a high court judge, the STF, comprising hand-picked policemen, did not think fit to call Mapkar or indeed, most of the eye-witnesses who had deposed before the commission on this incident. In 1998, when Justice Srikrishna gave his findings against 31 policemen for their role in the riots, finding them guilty of lapses ranging from complicity with the rioters to refusing to save the lives and properties of Muslims to unprovoked firings on innocents, the victims of these acts felt vindicated. Their versions had finally been upheld by a judge in the face of cross-examination by the city’s seniormost criminal lawyers.
Today, they feel more let down than they were by the Shiv Sena-BJP government, which had rejected the commission’s findings. For the Congress-NCP government was voted in on the plank of implementing the Srikrishna commission report. Sharad Pawar himself made this promise in front of Muslims in Dharavi, and Naseem Khan, an ordinary Congress worker, became a minister only because his was the first name in the Supreme Court petition urging the report’s implementation.
After he became minister, the logical course for Khan would have been to withdraw his petition, assuring the court that he was now in a position to get the report implemented. Instead, he filed an affidavit asking that the report be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation for further action, since he did not trust the Mumbai police.
But Khan has come a long way since that naïvely honest statement. He has today, thanks to the city’s Urdu press, succeeded in building up his image as the only Muslim leader who could get the commission report implemented through his Supreme Court petition. The Urdu reporters have not thought it necessary to meet Hazira Bi Qureishi, whose husband and son were dragged away in the riots. Srikrishna recommended that those missing since the riots be treated as dead and their families be compensated. Hazira Bi’s husband and son headed this list of missing persons. But the Maharashtra government has simply deleted the son’s name from its latest list of missing persons.
After trying in vain to continue living in her old house, Hazira Bi shifted to a Muslim area to live near her married daughter. Here, this malnourished woman ekes out a living by teaching the Quran to well-off Muslim children — the sole means of ensuring that her two surviving children get the education their father wanted them to have.
For some time after the Congress government took over, Hazira Bi’s bleak life was filled with hope. A group of activists led by former state chief secretary, J.B. D’Souza, took her to the chief minister. Vilasrao Deshmukh ordered his staff to take down her details and promised that the compensation would be paid. That was in January 2000. Today Hazira Bi has realized the hollowness of the promise. But Deshmukh has no qualms about claiming in front of Muslim audiences, how he helped “that poor Muslim woman” and how he is ready to help in any such case.
Mapkar and Hazira Bi are nobodies, but Haroon Rashid, the late editor of Urdu Blitz, made headlines when the mob burnt his house along with nine others, in January 1993. Justice Srikrishna found Assistant Inspector A. Kamat guilty of “utter dereliction of duty” both in failing to act against the mob and in his “serious lapses in investigation” thereafter, which resulted in the case being closed. The commission recommended that closed cases of the riots, specially those where enough evidence was available, be reopened. Around 1,358 cases, that is 60 per cent of all riot cases, had been closed by the police.
The STF re-opened exactly five of these 1,358 cases. Among them was Rashid’s, but it too was closed. The “re-investigation” is best described by Rashid’s daughter: “One morning, two policemen went from house to house in our compound, asking whether we would name the culprits. The men were all at work. The women didn’t know what to say. They neither assured us of security against the culprits who still roam free, nor of any action against Kamat at whose feet my father had fallen, while our compound was being attacked. That was the last we heard from the STF.” Kamat, now promoted as inspector, got away with a mere stoppage of two years’ increments.
The police’s role in Gujarat’s violence was the same as that of their Mumbai counterparts. Gujarat’s victims have no choice but to vote for the Congress to dislodge the BJP. But they should not hope for any kind of justice. Not one of the 31 policemen named by Justice Srikrishna has suffered a day’s suspension, let alone detention.
Nor should Gujarat’s victims believe in Shankersinh Vaghela’s promises of a riot-free raj. In its three-year tenure, the Congress-NCP has allowed 44 communal riots to take place, eight of them major, in which 41 persons have died. The Shiv Sena-BJP government’s record in almost five years: one major and 24 minor riots, in which 17 persons died. The Congress-NCP government blames the Sena-BJP for creating trouble, but weren’t they expected to do so'