25 years after Babri fell, Mumbai riot victims’ families give up hope
On the night of December 8, 1992, Burhan Parkar left his office on Cadell Road, in Mumbai’s Mahim area, in search of his nephew who had returned from Saudi Arabia just a week ago. There was tension in the air as the Babri Masjid had been demolished two days before. A huge mob of Muslims had gathered opposite St Michael’s Church, but the cops had calmed them down.
Parkar was caught in the melee when stones suddenly rained down from the rooftops of buildings dotted along the road.
“I felt a sudden sting in my left leg but thought that it must have been one of the stones. I walked a few paces and felt a rush of pain. I had been shot and could not move my bloodied leg,” recalled Parkar.
An ambulance rushed him to KEM hospital, where he found his nephew lying injured in one of the beds.
“We both survived. However, the number of people killed, be it Hindu or Muslim, our neighbours, friends, some of whom were burnt alive, is an unforgettable memory,” said Parkar.
The demolition of the disputed Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, 1,570 km away from Mumbai, rocked the city in December 1992-January 1993. It burned in a cycle of protests, riots, communal and retributive violence as the state machinery and law and order collapsed.
The lawlessness culminated in the dastardly serial bomb blasts on March 12, 1993 killing 257 people and injuring several others.
The Supreme Court recently restored the charges of criminal conspiracy against senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharti on an appeal by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
To hasten the process, the top court has also clubbed two separate ongoing trials — one in Lucknow against kar sevaks and the other in Rae Bareli against BJP leaders on conspiracy charges.
The apex court’s actions, however, are unlikely to expedite the legal process in cases related to violence in the city.
“To find witnesses and re-investigate the cases after 25 years is not going to be easy. However, now that the apex court has intervened, it should also frame guidelines on handling riot cases,” says Shakil Ahmed, a lawyer-activist, who has been fighting for justice for riot victims.
Many families tired of the long-drawn court battles are accepting defeat.
“I have been running around courts, government offices and police stations all these years. Last year, I had a slipped disc which restricted my movement. I am now even contemplating to withdraw the case as we cannot go on fighting the legal battle,” said Tahir Wagle, 56, whose son was killed in the riots.
They have reasons to be pessimistic. Even recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission constituted by the Maharashtra government to probe the cause of the riots are yet to be implemented.
Shahnawaz Hassanmiya Wagle was 16 when he was shot at point-blank range after being dragged out of his house at Pathan Chawl allegedly by the police on January 10, 1993. The commission in its report termed it “cold-blooded murder.”
Stating that the inquiry conducted by the then deputy commissioner of police Surinder Kumar into the murder was just eyewash, the commission recommended an impartial inquiry.
Even after two decades and change of political power, such recommendations contained in the 800-page report of the commission that indicted top political leaders for the riot are gathering dust in government shelves.
“The commission made three major recommendations – to take action against the policemen involved in rioting, to re-open several cases for investigation and provide compensation to victims. However, there has been hardly any action,” says Shakil Ahmed.
Ahmed had filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2002, for action against 31 policemen indicted by the commission.
“The case is still pending. While some of the officers have retired, some have also been promoted,” he said, lamenting that there is no ray of hope for justice in cases where the victims themselves were held guilty.
Take the case of Farooq Mapkar. He had gone for his afternoon prayers to the Hari Masjid in Wadala on January 10, 1993. He was shot in his left shoulder as the police force led by sub-inspector Nikhil Kapse opened fire, killing seven people. His 25-year struggle for justice has been all about going from one court to the other.
Acquitted of all charges in 2009, the bank employee is still fighting for justice even though Kapse has been indicted in the commission’s report released in August 1998.
The Srikrishna report called the firing at Hari Masjid “unjustified, excessive” that resulted in killing of innocent citizens.
“For five days in December 1992 (6th to 10th December 1992) and fifteen days in January 1993 (6th to 20th January 1993), Bombay, urbs prima of this country, was rocked by riots and violence unprecedented in magnitude and ferocity, as though the forces of Satan were let loose, destroying all human values and civilised behavior,” observed Justice (retired) BN Srikrishna in his report on the riots.
“Neighbour killed neighbour; houses were ransacked, looted and burned, all in the name of religion, as if to vindicate painfully the cynical observation of Karl Marx, ‘Religion ... is the opium of the people’. Those fateful fifteen days saw the people on the streets opiated beyond the call of right and wrong,” he added.
Unfortunately, even those strong words failed to spur the state machinery into action to ensure justice for the victims.