Few stories in Mumbai have a neat and easy closure. Among them, the horrific riots and communal viciousness in the weeks that followed the demolition of the must rank high. Those who lived through it in December 1992 and January 1993 know that the violence - and the ever-present threat of violence - transformed life and relationships in ways that could not have been imagined before it. Hardly did any political or community leader or high-ranking police official pay the price for ratchetting up communal passions and dereliction of duty.
On the contrary, they grew in stature for their followers; think of the many unabashed eulogies that came the way of Bal Thackeray after his demise in November last year. Report after report had indicted him and his men, besides the then Congress chief minister. Twenty years and three months after the violence, on May 4, a sessions court confirmed that two of the men, Jaywant Parab and Ashok Shinde, were indeed guilty of violating Section 153 (A) read with Section 149 (promoting communal enmity) of the Indian Penal Code.
The court upheld a trial court ruling of 2008 that convicted the two men. It's the first and only case in which Sena leaders, of any stature, have been held guilty of inflammatory speeches during the riots. Given the track record of conviction for this crime and the continuing propensity of some political leaders for provocative and/or inflammatory speeches, the verdict is significant.
Parab is not an insignificant man. Then a key lieutenant to the late Madhukar Sarpotdar, caught by the Army for driving around sensitive areas in a jeep filled with Sena men and weapons including an AK-56, Parab switched loyalties for six years to the Congress before returning to the saffron party with an enviable command in his area. He and Shinde will now serve two months for their crimes during 92-93, the sentence reduced from the prescribed ten years as a concession. They, along with Sarpotdar and others, were accused of incendiary speeches on December 27, 1992 while installing a Ganesh idol in a Bandra east temple that was desecrated on December 6.
Given the political stature of those involved, the sympathy that men in khakhi had for the Sena and the prevailing atmosphere, a case was not registered then. Eight years had passed before charges were filed in a Bandra court. There was imperceptible movement till it was transferred to a special trial court in 2008 which convicted Parab and Shinde. Sarpotdar and a BJP leader had died during the trial, three Sena workers were acquitted. It's likely that Parab will be a bigger hero for his followers after this. He is, after all, the man who fought for "fiery Hindutva" and bravely faced consequences (what was the Congress thinking when it embraced him into the fold?)
Last week's verdict did not make headlines even in the so-called secular English-language media. Those of us who talk or write about it will be accused, yet again, of re-opening old wounds and all that. Some of the gripe is political, the rest academic. Who's to tell the accusers that, for those who had suffered grave losses, broken homes and fractured families, the wounds had not healed primarily because the perpetrators escaped without paying a penalty? Victims of Delhi 1984 carnage and Gujarat 2002 massacre say it too: there's no closure without justice.
The verdict on Parab and Shinde is only a part of the larger struggle for justice. But it's now part of the riots story, an imperative part.