Very few triumphs are absolutely unequivocal. It is understandable that right-thinking Indians would hail the Best Bakery convictions as a triumph of justice. The burning alive, in March 2002, of 14 Muslims by a mob of more than a thousand Hindus, a couple of days after the Godhra carnage, has come to stand for not only the hideousness of the Gujarat pogrom, but also, in its long aftermath, the systematic abuse, misuse and mutilation of justice in the state, to adapt the words of the Supreme Court. That shameful history has been addressed by the life sentences delivered in the Mumbai court, a trial attended by many concerned citizens, some of them fairly eminent. Yet, the sentences are accompanied by perjury notices served to Ms Zahira Habibullah Sheikh and four other members of her family. Over the last few years, through the twists and turns of her conflicting testimonies, Ms Sheikh has come to symbolize the larger, and deeply sinister, complexities of the case ' a yet- uncharted area of communal hatred, abuse of power and brutal intimidation where justice still remains to be done.
Excommunicated by her community and generally regarded as the embodiment of the slipperiness of 'truth' itself, the singularity of Ms Sheikh's figure could well deflect attention from the systemic, and systematic, nature of the crimes committed in Gujarat four years ago. Those who have been convicted on Friday are perhaps as much part of this 'system' ' a whole machinery of violence and injustice ' as the vanished Ms Sheikh and her fearful family. The Supreme Court is determined to get to the bottom of this machinery. The corrupted 'justice delivery system' in Gujarat involves every level of its administration, including the government, bureaucracy, police, municipal institutions and party cadre. One cannot afford to forget that it has been possible to deliver justice, however incompletely, in the Best Bakery case only after the proceedings were shifted out of Gujarat. And this simple fact implicates every aspect of the State in Gujarat. This, in turn, makes the crimes being convicted not simply a matter of the violent prejudices of a few individuals. Best Bakery is only just the beginning of a process of investigation, exposure and punishment that is likely to reveal truths which could undermine some of the fundamental premises of a modern secular democracy.