A reminder about an unfinished business
Pressure groups from within the media and civil society play an important role by keeping an issue alive. What would have either fogged into the background remains visible because of the attempts made to place public interest above private or political ones. In the case of something as monstrous as the Gujarat riots of 2002 that erupted from the flames of Godhra, it is such pressure that has allowed us to remember that the perpetrators of the two-phased pogrom unleashed more than five years ago against Gujarat’s Muslim populace still remain unpunished by the law. The sting operation conducted by Tehelka magazine, some video footage of which has been aired on news channels, purportedly capture RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders ‘bragging’ about the gruesome murders and runaway violence that they carried out in the name of ‘teaching Muslims a lesson’. Both these claims made on hidden camera, as well as those implicating the top leadership of the Gujarat BJP government, are yet to be confirmed. But in a way, all the grisly details that were aired on prime time TV have been recorded and known for some time now. So while the Tehelka footage seeks to provide a ‘flesh and blood’ reminder about what took place in Gujarat in 2002 and has re-stirred many of us into sitting up with horror, the real business — that of bringing the guilty to justice and providing the nation with a closure on the episode — lies elsewhere.
The commission of enquiry looking into the Godhra train deaths and the subsequent mayhem was first set up by the state government on March 2, 2002. With growing criticism against the head of the commission, retired High Court judge K.G. Shah, being close to the BJP, the commission was ‘reconstituted’ on May 22, 2002, with retired Supreme Court Justice G.T. Nanavati heading it. One understands that what the commission is investigating is a vast collection of disparate, disjointed, rambling incidents that require interviewing many witnesses and many conflicting points of view. But considering the fact that it will be the report’s findings that will enable judicial proceedings to be carried out against the many individual perpetrators of the pogrom, it is time for the Nanavati Commission to deliver that report and set the ball in motion.
The National Human Rights Commission report, based on the findings of a team visiting Gujarat between March 19 and March 22, 2002, also mentions what the latest Tehelka sting ‘shows’. It had called for the CBI to look into those cases that it stated to be the very worst incidents “of murder, arson, rape and other atrocities, including many committed against women and children”. So, in a way, while Tehelka has jogged our memories and shown us what is deemed to be another visible and horrifying aspect of the Gujarat riots, the job is pending with the Nanavati Commission. Surely, any delay in starting the judicial process against the killers and their abettors — and there were abettors in the state official machinery — will be a delay in bringing justice not only to victims in Gujarat but also to the nation. Instead of sinking into the quicksand of politics that is bound to develop from the Tehelka ‘exposé’ in the months leading up to the December polls in Gujarat, let the Commission findings be expedited fast. Before a very real genocide turns into a myth that turns into a rumour that no hand of the law will be able to touch.