Citizens for Justice and Peace

Dividing Lines- Seeking Justice is not Revenge

06, Sep 2002



Dividing Lines
Seeking justice is not revenge


Naroda Patiya sentence was severe. Watching the revelry, one hoped it
would not make Hindu families bitter in seeing it as vengeful.

On August 31, the
quantum of sentence on Naroda Patiya was announced. The judgment and
punishment awarded was met with a sense of surprise. The sentences
“appeared severe“ and crowd reactions split the population again into
a double domain. It’s this impact that I want to discuss Violence and
conflict often create a double poignancy. When the roll call of pain
occurs, one often finds the victim and perpetrator mirroring each
other. In studying violence one often humanises the victim, talking of
her vulnerability, her courage, her sense of agency. The predator is
always demonised and stereotyped. I remember as kids we were raised on
a hamper of British and American movies. As a result, one grew up with
idiotic ideas of the German people, seeing in every German a Nazi.

Our ideas of India
and Pakistan are similar. We always magnify the villainy on the other
If anything goes wrong we attribute it to the virus called the ISI.
The Pakistanis produce a similar response.

I always think there
is a beauty to the Mahabharata because it shows evil on both sides.
It also shows the real sadness of war, the need to think of duty and
truth in innovative ways. I realise justice is never a clear-cut
affair, that the opponent I hated suddenly seems vulnerable and tired.

I remembered all this
when the Naroda Patiya verdict was delivered.
First one saw the victims, still incredulous with fear, wondering if
they had heard the sentence right. Maya Kodnani was sentenced to 18
years and Babubhai Patel alias Babu Bajrangi had received a life
sentence. The wait had been a long one and even the sentence did not
erase the sense of doubt and fear.

It took time to sink
in and the realisation produced revelry. People could not believe that
justice had worked and that the learned judge had appropriately
observed that communalism was a cancer eating into our polity. I was
one of those who rejoiced at the verdicts. Justice had been done. It
was seen to have been done. But the act of justice does not end with
the verdict.

The drama extends to
the consumption of the verdict and it was this that bothered me. The
initial responses were muted ones. Activists like
Teesta Setalvad behaved with dignity.

They had a sense of
the moment. Even senior BJP politicians accepted the verdict. One was
more bothered by local politicians who tried to sanitise the verdict
by treating Babu Bajrangi as an alien creature.

Verdicts provided a
complex drama which could easily make it the topic of Russian novel.

I felt vindicated but
felt no sense of victory. The families of the accused waiting for the
verdict literally screamed in pain and shock. I was surprised at my
own reactions. There was a sense of hollowness and then curiosity. I
wanted to see what the defendants felt. My reactions surprised me.

I first saw a picture
of Babu Bajrangi behind the lattice wire cage of the van. I always
thought of a loud-mouthed creature who advertised himself as “myself
Bajrangi, main accused in the Naroda Patiya case“.
Reading Bajrangi through investigative report by Tehelka’s Ashish
Khetan one senses a bully and a fascist, a loud-mouthed, egotistic

But the man I saw in
pyjamas, clutching a wire mesh, gazing distantly seemed mute. He had
been awarded a life sentence, condemned to die in jail. The
claustrophobia of the sentence shook me. Babu Bajrangi looked
vulnerable, even defeated. The crass philistine of the sting operation
had disappeared. I wondered what his son felt hearing the courts’
verdict, of how his family would live out the absence of a father.

Watching Maya Kodnani
was even more poignant. It is evident that her husband cares for her.
As the couple clutched at each other, as her husband touched her face,
the riots seemed far away. She looked like a tired housewife, even
more forlorn after the BJP had written her off.

Suddenly I did not
see them as opponents or enemies. They seemed human, despite their
villainy. I was wishing someone should write a Gita for riot verdicts,
teaching each side not to demonise the other. For me this is an
ethical and aesthetic act. There is nothing political about it though
I realise such moments have political consequences.

Many Hindus and not
just the right-wing might feel the sentence was hard. Naroda Patiya
sentence was severe and could be seen as a deterrent exercise.
Watching the revelry, one hoped it would not make Hindu families
bitter in seeing these performances as vengeful. The riots were a
bloody affair and the trial a drama of waiting, threat and silence. I
just felt justice restores an order but does not always bring harmony.
There must be another act of healing that washes away the bitterness.
I do not grudge the celebration, the sense of vindication, but I know
history could have reversed itself. The verdict could have gone the
other way.

The victims feel
happy but I hope there’s a sense of the pain of the other. Guilt and
innocence extend to the families. The picture could easily have been
reversed and the crowd at the verdict could have behaved differently.
Revelry may sometimes convey a wrong meaning.
Instead of celebration and expressing relief it could convey

I wish politics has
different places for the opponent and the enemy and the realisation
that victimhood is not perpetual. Victims need to understand this. One
of the ironies of history is how the Jew as perpetual victim
transformed into an Israeli zionist and became a bully of

One needs different
rituals of healing, rituals which let us move on.
For 10 years, my friends and I have waited for this moment. I feel
relieved, even content.
But behind it is restlessness, wondering whether such battles, such
hate, will ever end. I want to talk to the families who are suffering
and yet I ask whether they would feel the same if the verdict had gone
some other way. A sadness haunts me.

The writer is a social science nomad



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