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Getting away with murder

Seven years and innumerable testimonies later, Modi has yet to pay for the 2002 riots, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2009 21:58 IST

Now that election fever has abated, it’s time to look at important issues that were sidelined by the polls. The Supreme Court order to probe Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom has restored faith in the secular fabric of the country, even as we watch it being systematically and deliberately destroyed by communal forces.

I was a part of the first Women’s Commission invited to investigate the Gujarat atrocities against women in March 2002. We went from camp to camp interviewing women to document the horror stories of rape and murder they recounted. Our report — The Survivors Speak — stayed on the websites of major national newspapers for several months. But in the seven years since
2002, there has been neither relief nor justice for the victims.

The authorities swore there was no evidence of Modi’s complicity in the genocide. However, human rights groups talked openly of a February 27 meeting where the police were ordered to “look the other way to allow ‘our boys’ their ‘revenge’”.

So Modi was not merely complicit, say human rights groups, he was the mastermind. The source of this information, Haren Pandya, Modi’s Home Minister, deposed before the Concerned Citizens Tribunal, led by Justice Krishna Iyer. This information has been in the public domain since Outlook carried the story. Pandya was not allowed to live to tell his tale. His murder led his embittered father, Vitthalbhai Pandya, an RSS veteran, on a crusade for justice. Vitthalbhai is willing to testify that in the February 27 meeting, his son opposed Modi’s plan to make Muslims all over Gujarat pay for Godhra.

Cedric Prakash, Director, Prashant, an Ahmedabad-based human rights group, states, “I possess letters written by Vitthalbhai Pandya, addressed to the President and Prime Minister, categorically stating that his son, Haren Pandya, was killed by Modi and Advani. “

I spoke to the 82-year-old Vitthalbhai. “My son advised Modi, you cannot allow the violence to spread beyond Godhra, it will tarnish the reputation of Gujarat. But Modi is a dictator.” In Ellis Bridge area [Haren Pandya’s constituency], not a single killing happened. My son went out and stopped the mob. I am willing to testify before the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that my son was at the February 27 meeting and tried to stop Modi from spreading the riots all over Gujarat.”

Three years after the violence, I revisited some of the worst-hit areas. Amina, (name changed) whose father, mother, husband, siblings and several children had been butchered, pointed out, “That is my father’s farm, there’s our house. The people who killed them have it all. They looted and confiscated our property. They laugh at us. We cower before the men
who raped us. They taunt us, laugh in our faces, but we can’t do a thing.”

Prakash says, “Muslims have mostly been forced out of the western part of Ahmedabad and from the upmarket areas. Gujarati Hindus will not sell property or houses to them in many places. Even wealthy or middle class Muslims have been forced into ghettos.”

Harsh Mander, who has worked for peace and justice in Gujarat since 2002, observes, “What’s happening in Gujarat is unprecedented. It’s a systematic, continuous process of social and economic boycott of Muslims, which has changed social relations forever between the communities. Gujaratis will not employ Muslims, trade with them or attend their weddings.

It’s worse in the villages. Those who were sent back have to live in submission next to the neighbours who murdered and
raped them. They have been allowed back on conditionalities of total silence. There is a settled fear, a settled submission, a settled despair. Without justice there cannot be healing.”

The Supreme Court’s decision, however, has rekindled hope. It is vital that the SIT works swiftly and effectively at this crucial juncture. Will the SIT bring in Justice Iyer and members of the Tribunal as witnesses? The Tribunal comprises human rights defenders with impeccable records. Justice Iyer is revered for his integrity and intelligence. The Tribunal boasts of heavyweights who can provide invaluable information to the SIT. Others who have worked for justice, peace and reconciliation since 2002 include Harsh Mander, Gagan Sethi, Martin Macwan, Mallika Sarabhai, Cedric Prakash and Manjula Pradeep.

Gagan Sethi of Citizen’s Initiative, Ahmedabad, says, “Each commission or fact-finding team that came to Gujarat in 2002, corroborates the reports submitted by the others. So do hundreds of print and television journalistic reports. SIT can ask for a panel of judges known for their exemplary courage and fairness. Precedents have already been set in the past. There are good retired judges who have nothing to gain or lose at this point in their careers. The outcome will depend on this.”

Gujarat is a litmus test for justice for minorities. If Modi and his henchmen get away, quite literally, with murder, Gujarat, as the Hindutva laboratory, will have succeeded. The cancerous doctrine of hate and intolerance will spread. All those who believe in a secular, democratic State are praying that the Supreme Court will ensure that justice, even if delayed, will not be denied.

(Mari Marcel Thekaekara is founder of Accord, an NGO that works with tribals in the Nilgiris)