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Has ‘Bombay’ healed? Bombay Riots January 1993-State Responses and Citizens’ Initiatives

12, Jan 2018 | Sushmita
#bombay-riots

“To find a lasting social peace you have to acknowledge that something wrong happened, and society has to offer some reparation for it.” Teesta Setalvad said about the Bombay riots of December 1992-January 1993 and Gujarat riots of 2002 in an interview last year. While the state reacted promptly in convicting Muslims in case of Bombay serial blasts which shortly followed the riots, the victims of Bombay riots are still looking for closure. In the previous article we journeyed through days and nights of riots that changed the demography of Bombay, in this article we look at the responses of the Maharashtra government, combined with the viciousness of Shiv-Sena and BJP. We also look at various citizens’ initiatives that remain relevant even today, like the Mohalla Committees.

It is no secret that Bombay riots exposed the communal agenda of the Indian state, and most starkly the police which left no stone unturned to ensure that a community was pushed to ghettos. The then Chief Minister Sudhakar Rao Naik was compared to Nero, who played the lyre as Bombay burnt like Rome. The Bombay riots of January 1993 saw a complete communalization of the police. There was overwhelming evidence that the police was siding with the Shiv Sena. While on the one side, policemen abused their Muslim counterparts, on the other they gave orders to shoot Muslims who had managed to flee their burning houses. The police gave orders to let the houses of Muslims burn. All these messages were taped and some democratic rights organisations such as Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) even filed a suit requesting the court to take possession of the cassettes in which these conversations had been recorded. [i] People from Behrampada also reported during the time that the police asked to fire on even those who had come to douse fire in their houses. However the Police Commissioner Bapat did not admit the failures on the part of his men. Uncannily, more people were killed by police firing than in the riots itself. The Army that was called to ‘control’ the situation was reduced to flag marches.

Despite this, no police officers were prosecuted. Thakeray, who wrote the Samna editorial in January 1993 titled, “Hindunni Akramak Vhayala Have” meaning Hindus must become aggressors, was given a state funeral when he died in 2012. Suddhakarrao Naik did not have to pay for his callousness and wrongs.

Taking Charge

When democratic rights of the citizens were completely suspended, the people decided to take charge of the situation. The Indian People’s Human Rights Commission organised a People’s Tribunal in which more than 93% people who came to testify were Muslims. Justices SM Daud and Hosbet Suresh conducted the inquiry and faced the wrath of a hostile state on several occasions. Between February and June 1993, the tribunal visited affected areas and recorded evidence, ably assisted by activists and organisations across Bombay. The tribunal collected 2046 statements in all, apart from collecting reports from journalists, activists and organisations. The report, People’s Verdict released in July 1993 apart from making valuable recommendations, identified accused rioters and 75 policemen guilty of criminal negligence, named by witnesses.

 

Constitution of Srikrishna committee

The state government announced the constitution of a judicial commission of inquiry through a sitting judge of the Bombay High Court, Justice BN Srikrishna to investigate the violence on January 17. However, the Commission was formally established only on January 25, 1993.

On January 23, 1996 soon after riding to power in the state, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine had scrapped the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission. Outraged protests by citizens beginning with a dharna by several organisations at Hutatma Chowk on January 30, 1996 and a petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties led the Central government under Prime Minister Vajpayee to re-instate it on May 28, 1996.

On February 16, 1998 the Judge submitted his report that identified the Shiv Sena, its chief Bal Thackeray and their political allies, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as those responsible for the conspiracy to commit violence, specifically naming 31 policemen guilty of criminal negligence who deserved to be prosecuted. Though the SS-BJP government was voted out of power in 1999 in Maharashtra, the recommendations of the Commission remained largely ignored.

Sabrang publishes Srikrishna report

The report of the Commission remains a sorry testimony to the violence that engulfed Bombay. Sabrang Communication, sister concern of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) had published the report in two editions within weeks of the report being submitted to the state government in 1998 and making it available at affordable prices. The perpetrators of violence of mammoth scales were allowed to reign and this contributed to the stranglehold of the Shiv Sena’s –and sister organisations — brand of violence and intimidation over Mumbai.

Peace Building

Citizens of Bombay and outside responded in a multitude of ways following the violence of 1992-1993. The formation of the Mohalla Committee trust with its unique effort at community building through a citizens-policemen  relationship was modelled on the Bhiwandi experiment though modified for Bombay’s needs. The state executive, especially the police tried on several occasions to dilute the impact of the Mohalla Committees and hence this efforts floundered. Though Mohalla committees continue to exist in many places, this initiative needs to be strengthened in today’s times when spewing hatred has just become a matter of sending one venomous whatsapp message.

 

 

Khoj Initiative

KHOJ education for a plural India programme was a direct intervention started by Sabrang in 1994 that works with dozens of schools all over Maharashtra with a multi-dimensional approach to social studies and history teaching. Recognising that moulding the young minds through manipulated histories has been at the heart of strategies of supremacist forces, KHOJ brings in attractive supplementary materials for students of middle school as also works with the teacher community through regular training workshops. Young minds must learnt how to think, how to raise questions not what to think, is the KHOJ motto.

 

Breaking the Silence

When the state disbanded the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission in January 1996, it was a brazen effort at suppressing the evidence that had come before it. Between February and April 1996 editors of Communalism Combat, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand wrote a series of articles published in newspapers in English, Hindi, Marathi and Urdu that outlined the incriminating evidence collected until then by the Commission.

It was no wonder that the Shiv Sena-BJP government wanted none of it. Evidence related to serious indictment of both the Shiv Sena and sections of the Bombay police through statements and documentary evidence before the inquiry; how acts of violence were committed within 50 feet of substantial police presence at Antop Hill, Nirmal Nagar and other areas; how the Mahaartis proudly announced by both the BJP and SS, were efforts and brazen instigation that resulted in attacks on Muslim residences and business establishments.

 

Though the state was compelled to re-instate the Commission but it resisted all attempts to prosecute those found guilty.


Betrayal by the State

Twenty five years later, despite a fairly vigilant and tenacious campaign by survivors and citizens, for implementation of the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission report which in effect means punishment of the guilty, the state, the Maharashtra government has been stark in its betrayal.

Be it in the official affidavits and rejoinders filed in the Supreme Court, or the assurances given at various points of the campaign, the Congress-NCP government that made a specific promise to ensure justice for 1992-1993 when it campaigned (and won) for the state elections in 1999, the government betrayed its promise.

 

 

Public hearing of survivors and Justice for All

In year 2000 when survivors and citizens called the state’s bluff through an emotive Public Hearing of survivors at the KC College, Mumbai the government – again – tried to obfuscate the issue with then chief minister Deshmukh and deputy chief minister Bhujbal talking exclusively to the Urdu (read Muslim) press. We responded with an open memorandum that called the state’s bluff, and this memorandum was given prominent space in the Urdu media. Again in 2007, when a vigorous campaign Justice for All was launched – this after the 1993 blasts saw convictions but those marauders responsible for 1992-1993 went unpunished – and newspapers played the lead, the specific charge of discriminatory justice was made.

 

Justice Pays the Price

The rule of law in Maharashtra has always been held ransom to the threats and intimidation by perpetrators of violence. The Shiv Sena and its off shoots have enjoyed soft treatment by a state, since its formation in the 1960s. This protective impunity reached an all-time high after 1992-1993.

Even on the issue of prosecution of all those guilty identified by the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission report, the state government and even the judiciary allied in perpetrating a culture of impunity. In 2001, and again in 2007 when survivors and citizens campaigns built up to demand punishment of all those guilty, the Shiv Sena flexed its muscles through violent verbiage.

 

Punish the Guilty (Hari Masjid)

On January 10, 1993 policemen led by then sub-inspector Kapse fired several rounds against innocent Muslims praying inside the Hari Masjid within the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Marg Sewri jurisdiction. Six persons were killed and while there were several witnesses to the incident, Farooq Mapkar is the only one who has stood firm. The incident reported by newspapers, was brought to public consciousness by the Srikishna Commisison report in 1998; and it remains an active case in court, due to the dogged persistence of the survivor, Farooq Mapkar.

The Hari Masjid case is a perfect illustration of the way the State protects delinquent policemen; In 2006-2007, RTI inquiries by activist Teesta Setalvad revealed that in CR No 17 of 1993,RAK Marg Police subinspector NK Kapse’s act of unprovoked firing at Hilal Masjid [Hari Masjid] that killed six Muslims, the state not only failed to act on the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission recommendations –Kapse was simply exonerated through a departmental inquiry on November 20, 2002. The RTI investigation further revealed that he has since been promoted. In an act of open defiance, PSI Kapse did not even appear before Justice Srikrishna.

To protect a police sub-inspector from prosecution, the Congress-NCP government even rushed to the Supreme Court to stay the CBI inquiry into the incident ordered by the Bombay High Court.  The Supreme Court rejected the government’s petition and refused to grant a stay, saying that the Hari Masjid case was an “extraordinary case’’

The police failed, the CBI dithered; Kapse, the policemen guilty of criminal acts, hasn’t faced a day’s suspension. The entire might of the `secular’ State is behind him. Whom does Mapkar have on his side? A few lawyers, Hindu and Muslim, who have fought free of charge – led by senior counsel Vijay Radhan and Yusuf Muchhala; friends and fellow activists, had determined to see the struggle to its bitter end.

 

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[i] Bombay Riots: Second Phase, Ashgar Ali Engineer, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28, No. 12/13 (Mar. 20-27, 1993), pp. 505-508

 

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