Twenty years ago, Mumbai – then Bombay – was visited by two kinds of death in two periods of violence: death by the mob and death by the bomb. The devastating riots of December 1992-January 1993 claimed nearly 900 lives and tore apart homes and livelihoods of over 3,000 people. The serial bomb blasts that followed in March 1993 took 257 lives and left about a thousand injured.
Last week, as the Supreme Court gave its judgment on the blast accused, confirming death penalty for accused Yakub Memon and commuting death penalty to life sentence for ten others, there was talk of some justice delivered. Some, because the masterminds of the serial blasts appear well beyond the arm of Indian law. The blast affected re-visited the horror of those hours in the city, a few spoke of “a sense of closure”.
The court verdict and all that followed had, of course, re-opened old wounds for thousands whose lives had been touched, directly or indirectly, by the bombs. Hardly did anyone complain about the pain of re-opening old wounds. But the refrain has been heard over and over again, from various quarters in the last 20 years, when victims of mob violence sought justice.
The difference began in the investigations itself: the riot cases filed across many police stations were summarily closed or languished though all accused were within a shout of the police stations, the blasts case received attention from the best of police officers who were ready with a charge-sheet in a record period of six months though the trail went beyond India’s borders.
The BN Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry painstakingly probed all aspects of the mob violence and arrived at scathing findings that implicated the top brass of the Shiv Sena, including its late chief Bal Thackeray, the Congress and a few opportunistic Muslim leaders. His report in 1998 was rejected by the Sena-BJP government then in power.
The blasts case was heard in a special TADA court set up for the purpose, most of the 123 accused were charged under the stringent law. In 2007, the special court sentenced 100 accused for the blasts.
By then, many riots cases had been closed, police officers indicted by the Commission continued in service with a few like RD Tyagi even getting promoted, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) chose to probe only a few cases, its report like that of the Commission was not binding on the government – this of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party. Also in 2007, a Bombay high court judgment on Thackeray observed that no justice would be served in re-opening old cases. At the last count, there were over 250 pending riots cases
The communal riots and the blasts are indeed linked. Justice Srikrishna noted in his report that “the riots appear to have been a causative factor in the bomb blasts”. He agreed with the deposition of top police officers that “the blasts were a reaction” to the events in Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993.
But the intervening years of seeking justice for the violence have treated the victims of the mob and the bomb in starkly different ways. In 2013, those who wreaked death and destruction by the bomb are either punished or beyond punishment; old wounds are soothed. Those who ordered violence upon their fellow citizens and those who carried it out did not even stand the scrutiny of law; old wounds are still open. For victims of the mob, justice is still a long road ahead. Sadly so, for them as well as for Mumbai.