On Friday, Police Inspector Nikhil Kapse, was “mentally disturbed” as he made his way to work to his police station in a western suburb of Mumbai, after a Bombay High Court order on Thursday afternoon asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe a firing he ordered in 1993 as communal riots convulsed Mumbai.
The January police firing by Kapse’s team at the Hari Masjid mosque in a poor central Mumbai neighbourhood left seven men dead, among the estimated 900 Mumbaiites who lost their lives to the rioting and “police excesses”, as documented by a 1998 government-appointed inquiry commission.
The Srikrishna Commission (run by former Supreme Court Justice B.N. Srikrishna) held that Kapse was “not only guilty of unjustified firing, but also of inhuman and brutal behaviour” where “namaazis were assaulted and some of them fired at from almost point-blank range.”
Ignoring the finding, the state instead charged 54 devotees at the mosque with murder and rioting.
The firing is the first riot crime from that period which will be probed by the CBI. The move comes after a 16-month court battle by bank security guard Farooq Mapkar — and 15 years after the riots, and a decade of government inaction. It is a case that is being closely watched by Mumbai’s Muslim community: Mapkar, 42, who was injured in the firing, and then charged — falsely he maintains — by the police with murder and rioting, called the order, “A victory for all Muslims.”
Last year as HT spoke to numerous riot-affected and bereaved families whose complaints had gone unrecorded, their allegation of communal bias by the police was barely concealed.
It has resurfaced today as the community discusses the 26/11 death of senior police investigator Hemant Karkare, who they believe was targetted for probing a blast in Malegaon.
“First the police shot at us namazis, Then they charged us with rioting,” said Mapkar, who is still undergoing trial. “When riots or police firing happen, Muslims are worst affected. And cases of terror and rioting also get lodged against us. Officers like Karkareji (Hemant Karkare) are rare..”
“Investigating a firing like this should be matter of course for the system,” said Darryl D'Monte who was the Mumbai editor of The Times of India during the riots. “It should not need the CBI to come on the scene after 15 years. The real issues are the sense of a communally biased police force that arrests wrong people, concocts cases or plants evidence, and an executive, which does not address these concerns in a timely manner.”
“The fallout is that even when there is no evidence of a conspiracy of the kind being alleged in Karkare’s death, a community's deeply ingrained doubt surfaces,” said D’Monte.
Kapse refused to comment on the firing and said he’d continue work as usual. “I am worried but I have not heard anything from my police department or the state government yet.”
Was justice denied?
Fifteen years after the incident, what is the evidence for CBI investigators, who have a court-assigned six-month deadline to file a chargesheet?
The police had charged 54 men —nine of them have died in these intervening years — with rioting and murder at the mosque. They are also eyewitnesses to the firing. Mapkar’s lawyer Shakil Ahmed said: “A strong chargesheet can be prepared if the CBI investigators work unbiasededly and inspire faith in these eyewitnesses.”
“Other evidence exists like forensic reports of the seven killed and police wireless messages. The fact that no private arms were recovered from the site and that no police personnel was injured will give lie to the police version that they fired in self-defence,” said Ahmed.