DC Edit | Naroda acquittals reflect state of justice system

Update: 2023-04-21 18:45 GMT
Ahmedabad: Ex-MLA Maya Kodnani along with advocates comes out of the Sessions Court after the verdict on Naroda Gam massacre case, in Ahmedabad, Thursday, April 20, 2023. A special SIT court in Ahmedabad Thursday acquitted all 67 accused, including Kodnani. (PTI Photo)

The acquittal by the trial court of all the 67 accused persons in the Naroda Gam massacre of 11 Muslims in Ahmedabad reflects all that is ill about the administration of criminal justice in India, and seeks certain answers.

The Naroda Gam massacre was one of the several such ones that Hindutva communalists organised in the aftermath of the Godhra train arson in which 59 Hindu pilgrims were burnt to death. As per official records, 790 Muslims were killed in the series of violent incidents while unofficial accounts talk of more than 2,000 deaths. It was imperative that every case related to it was investigated and the culprits punished as each one of them sought to shake the foundations of the Indian nation.

The first of the factors that drew attention is that it took more than 20 years for the courts to come to a conclusion in case of communal carnage. That 18 of the accused died in the process reflects extremely poorly on the way the justice system in this country works. It is true that everyone involved in the case, whether they are the accused or the victims, has a right to explore every legal avenue so that the final outcome is just and flawless but a time lag of 20 years for a crime of this magnitude is unacceptable. The judicial system must make itself and its partners, such as investigating agencies, accountable for the delay.

The Special Investigation Team (SIT) that investigated and prosecuted the case was headed by a former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, and had four senior officers from the Indian Police Service as its members. The apex court that set up the team had made it clear that the SIT “shall be free to work out the modalities and the norms required to be followed for the purpose of inquiry/investigation including further investigation”. The court had also reminded them that “the sole object of the criminal justice system is to ensure that a person who is guilty of an offence is punished”. The SIT must answer now whether it did its job and whether the guilty in the offences it investigated have been punished. It may be recalled that Naroda Gam is not an exception: The Gujarat high court had acquitted 14 of the 31 people convicted by the trial court in the Sardarpura massacre case in which 33 Muslims were burned alive.

It would be interesting to note that the Supreme Court had last year congratulated the SIT for the “indefatigable work” it had done. The apex court has consistently frustrated the pleas of the victims seeking its intervention for meaningful investigation calling them “infructuous with the passage of time”. Even the attempts of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking further investigation into the riots did not move it. The court must realise now that the original mandate it had given the SIT, that “a person who is guilty of an offence is punished”, was not met though it had offered the team special congratulations. History would recall that the apex court, instead of protecting and aiding those who pursue justice, wanted to punish them instead.

The Gujarat riots need a convincing closure. Whatever it takes.


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