The verdict on Thursday of the trial court in the case of the massacre of 69 persons in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society — which became one of the landmark killings of the post-Godhra pogrom against Muslims that is euphemistically called the Gujarat riots of 2002 — is not without its merits. It does convict 11 persons of murder and 13 others for rioting and arson, while letting off 36 of the accused.
But that this does not appear to be justice is crystal clear, one that will raise no eyebrows. Hence, the question of any sense of closure for the victims or their families is unlikely to arise at this stage. The upshot is an appeal against the verdict, and a prolongation of the judicial process.
In turn this could conceivably mean a concerted campaign as well that could seek to remind us what was at stake in Gujarat then, and how the fundamental question raised then impacts us to this day — basically how an absence of harmony among different sections of the people cannot but adversely affect a national sense of purpose. In Gujarat, this was caused by the widespread impression that the state was not neutral. When a train compartment carrying Hindu karsevaks was burned by miscreants who were Muslim, the state government did not stop at seeking to book the criminals, but allowed citizens who were Hindu to freely go around killing Muslims.
The prosecution, the gathering of evidence in the pogrom cases, and the turning of the judicial wheels, seemed sullied in Gujarat and the Supreme Court felt obliged to move cases to other states and appoint a special investigation team to gather evidence afresh, including in the case of the Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad where mainly Muslims lived, which was attacked by an armed mob of nearly 5,000 persons led by Hindutva fanatics.
Those who survived that day are shocked that the trial judge has acquitted local BJP leader Bipin Patel and police inspector K.G. Erda. They are also sceptical of the quality of justice handed down as the trial judge ruled out any “conspiracy” in the attack on Gulberg Society. It beggars the imagination that a judge should cite insufficient evidence in this regard.
The overall impression is that the small fry have been nabbed for murder and the influential ones have got away. After Thursday’s judgment, a survivor, a Parsi lady who lost her son in the massacre, has had things to say to the media that can shake our faith in justice delivery in certain circumstances. The Supreme Court should concern itself with this matter....