The six-year rigorous imprisonment conviction of Sanjay Dutt by the Tada court hearing the trial of the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai has predictably led to a furore. I had the occasion to participate in many anti-communal marches organised by his father, Sunil Dutt. Apart from knowing Sanjay, his sister, Priya, serves on the Parliamentary Standing Committee of which I am the chairman. I sympathise with their agony. However, as Justice PD Kode said, the judge was only doing his duty in upholding the law. In any case, let us see what the Supreme Court does when it hears the appeal against the sentence.
With this conviction, the special court has completed its work. Among the 100 chargesheeted convicts, 10 have been sentenced to death while 17 others have been given life imprisonment. The Mumbai blasts killed over 250 people and injured over 700.
While it is welcome that finally some justice has been delivered in this case, questions arise on the efficacy of the system of delivery of justice in the country. It must be remembered that it has taken more than 14 years for these sentences to be pronounced. Fourteen years is the normal period of time that defines life imprisonment. With the process of the appeals to the Supreme Court now beginning, the final verdict may take a long time.
Such apprehensions regarding the justice delivery system are substantiated by the fact that it has taken nearly two decades for known and identified culprits to be sentenced in the ghastly communal riots in Bhagalpur. The perpetrators of the Maliana communal massacre of 1987 are yet to be legally chargesheeted. Two decades after 1984, the Nanavati Commission submitted a report on the post-Indira Gandhi assassination killings of Sikhs, without nailing the culpability of any person. The perpetrators of the post-Godhra genocide in Gujarat continue to roam free while mountains of circumstantial evidence have not led to the necessary convictions.
Then, there is the case of the findings of the Justice Srikrishna Commission on the post-Babri Masjid demolition, 1992-93 communal riots in Mumbai. In fact, the 1993 blasts were widely propagated as being the response of ‘minority terrorism’ to the ‘majority terrorism’ unleashed in the communal riots. Justice Srikrishna himself substantiates this linkage in the report. It is, indeed, a matter of shame that no action has been initiated against anybody indicted in the report. Just as there are two Indias — Shining and Suffering — there are two 1993s for Mumbai — the ghastly communal riots and the serial blasts. Justice cannot be complete, unless both of these are dealt with. The justice delivery system shall fail once again and allow the perpetrators of communal violence and terrorism to go scot-free unless this is immediately corrected. Further, this is also important to ensure the impartiality of our system, so crucial to create an environment that does not feed terrorism through perceptions of institutional discrimination and injustice.
These are not the only instances in independent India where justice has failed to be delivered to the victims of communal riots. There have been at least five important judicial commissions of inquiry that have submitted their voluminous reports, and yet justice has been elusive. These are the Justice P. Jaganmohan Reddy Commission of Inquiry into the Ahmedabad Riots of 1969; the Justice D.P. Madan Commission on the Bhiwandi riots of 1970; the Justice Vithayathil Commission on the Tellicherry riots of 1971; the Justice Jitendra Narain Commission on the Jamshedpur riots of 1979; and the Justice P Venugopal Commission on the Kanyakumari riots of 1982. The Kanyakumari riots were the result of a conflict between Hindus and Christians while the rest have been Hindu-Muslim riots. The RSS was indicted in all of these.
Clearly, the conflicts among different religious communities in India have all universally denied justice to the victims. For how long can the modern secular Indian Republic afford to not improve its justice delivery system? The committee set up to draft a national policy on criminal justice headed by the former director of the National Judicial Academy, Madhav Menon, has reportedly submitted its report. It can only be hoped that some effective measures to improve the justice delivery system have been suggested and these will be implemented.
The question of punishing the perpetrators of communal strife is necessary not only from the viewpoint of humanism and compassion, but it is also imperative that justice be delivered in order to strengthen the secular democratic foundations of the modern Indian republic.
There is a universal adage that justice delayed is justice denied. Not only must justice be delivered promptly, but it must also never be partial. While justice in the Mumbai blasts is welcome, the refusal or the reluctance to deliver justice in the various instances mentioned above only gives the impression that the justice delivery system not only has a system of in-built delays but is also one with in-built discrimination. Not one of the 31 police officers indicted by the Srikrishna Commission, for instance, has been punished. In fact, at least ten have been promoted.
It needs to be repeated ad nauseam that terrorism cannot be associated with any one religion. Terrorism is a crime against humanity that needs to be erased. But this cannot be done by targeting any one specific community as this, apart from being patently unjust, can only be counterproductive by creating the atmosphere that breeds terrorism’s recruits. Mainstream Hindi cinema (such as Fiza) has reflected the disastrous consequences of such discrimination and harassment.
In India’s case, the victims of terrorist attacks have been of such a diverse range that the terrorists cannot be put into any single religious group. We have experienced the agonies of attacks on Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, tribals and Hindus. We lost two Prime Ministers through terrorist assassinations. Mahatma Gandhi himself was a victim of terrorist bullets.
We need to deal effectively with the environment — the fiza — that continues to breed and perpetuate terrorism as the Prime Minister himself recently stated. A system of delivery of justice, which is seen to be discriminatory, only vitiates such an environment further.
In the final analysis, the strength of the Republic is measured in its capacity to treat all its citizens equally. The Constitution promises to do so in its preamble. The incapacity to deliver this promise can only undermine the foundations of the Republic. India cannot afford this. The secular democratic foundations of the Indian Republic must be reinforced by strengthening the equality of all before law.
Sitaram Yechury is a Rajya Sabha MP and member, CPI(M) politburo