12, Jun 2017
To begin with, we offer our sincere apologies to readers of Communalism Combat. This special issue of the journal should have been with you a few months ago. Unfortunately, we were unable to bring it out for unavoidable reasons.From the feedback we have received over the years, it is clear that our readers preserve their copies as valuable reference material. If they have come to expect in-depth reportage from the journal at one level, at another they look for reader-friendly, easily accessible, edited versions of court judgements, inquiry commission reports, etc. We hope our readers will find the edited excerpts of the landmark judgement in the Naroda Patiya case of particular interest.
Until now, in the context of communal carnages, a culture of impunity has been the prevailing story of India where victims and survivors of well-orchestrated pogroms against the country’s religious minorities – Nellie 1983, Delhi 1984, Bhagalpur (Bihar) 1989, Mumbai 1992-93, Kandhamal (Orissa) 2008 – have been denied justice. When measured against the scale, ferocity and bestiality of the mass crimes in these cases, there has been no punishment worth the mention for the perpetrators and the masterminds or the policemen guilty of partisan conduct and gross dereliction of duty.
Against this backdrop, the delivery of justice, even if partial, to the victim survivors of the 2002 genocide in Gujarat comes as a hopeful sign, a signal to the practitioners of hate crimes that impunity can no longer be taken for granted. Credit for this must go to the extraordinary courage and steadfastness of survivor witnesses, to the legal rights group Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and to the Supreme Court which since 2003 has closely monitored the judicial process in Gujarat. By transferring the Best Bakery carnage case out of Gujarat in 2004 and ordering its retrial in a Mumbai court, the highest court in the land had made its intentions amply clear. In a manner of speaking, the 2006 judgement of the Mumbai trial court fully vindicated the unprecedented verdict of the apex court. In 2003 a Vadodara trial court had acquitted all the accused and the Gujarat high court upheld the acquittals. But following the retrial in Mumbai, nine of the accused were given life imprisonment.
The verdict in the Best Bakery case marked a new milestone. Never before in the history of communal carnages in post-independence India had any of the guilty received a life sentence. Since then, as readers of CC are well aware, many more of the accused have been held guilty by trial courts in Gujarat and have received life sentences. The verdicts in the Sardarpura, Odh and Deepda Darwaza carnage cases, delivered between November 2011 and July 2012, resulted in 79 more life sentences. Then followed the judgement in the Naroda Patiya case in end August 2012 when 32 of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment.
While the above-mentioned verdicts stand out, individually and collectively, so far as criminal jurisprudence in the context of communal violence is concerned, the Naroda Patiya judgement is especially significant for more than one reason. In the other Gujarat verdicts, those convicted were mere “foot soldiers”. But included among those given life sentences in the Naroda Patiya case are Babu Bajrangi and Dr Maya Kodnani. Babu Bajrangi was a leader of the Bajrang Dal who enjoyed the patronage of top-level politicians in Gujarat. Dr Kodnani, a BJP MLA in 2002, was elevated by chief minister Narendra Modi to the rank of minister after the 2007 assembly elections in Gujarat. Judge Jyotsna Yagnik’s verdict holds Dr Kodnani guilty of criminal conspiracy, names her as the “kingpin” behind the crimes committed in Naroda Patiya on February 28, 2002, describing the incident as a “cancer for our cherished constitutional value of secularism”, and awards her a stringent 28-year jail term.
It may be recalled that Dr Kodnani is one of those named in the complaint of Ms Zakiya Jaffri wherein she has accused Modi and 61 others, including top BJP politicians, bureaucrats and police officers, of “criminal conspiracy to commit mass murder”. Thus Judge Yagnik’s ruling may well have implications for the case against Modi and others that is still before the courts.
Without doubt, the Naroda Patiya verdict was a proud moment for the judiciary and the country’s democratic polity. We are happy to place edited excerpts of this landmark judgement before our readers.
We urge our readers to treat this issue as a special edition of CC covering the period August-November 2012. The coming issue will commemorate 20 years of the anti-Muslim pogrom in Bombay (now Mumbai).