The struggle for justice must continue, despite all odds
On August 31, a special court in Ahmedabad convicted BJP legislator and former minister Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi and 30 others, for their role in the gruesome Naroda Patia massacre. This was one of the many terrible incidents that hit the headlines during the state organized communal massacres in Gujarat in 2002. The convicted have been sentenced to life imprisonment for varying periods. In particular, the former Minister and BJP MLA in Gujarat, Mayaben Kodnani, has been sentenced to 28 years in jail.
Over 90 persons belonging to the Muslim community, many among them women and children, were killed by mobs led by representatives of the ruling BJP in Naroda Patia, a locality in Ahmedabad. Numerous eye witnesses are reported to have stated that the convicted MLA was actively involved in leading the killer mobs and inciting communal hatred in that locality, but their testimonies had been systematically turned down by the police and courts over the last 10 years.
For ten long years, the victims of the Gujarat 2002 massacre, together with communists, lawyers, political and social activists, human rights activists and many justice loving people have been carrying on the struggle in various ways, for punishment to the guilty and for justice and relief and rehabilitation for those affected. The struggle has been kept alive by the heroic and persistent efforts of all these people, against very heavy odds and through many devious twists and turns. There has been blatant political pressure on the courts, the police officers and bureaucrats handling the cases, the lawyers, various prosecution witnesses, the victims and their families, to exonerate and cover up the role of the ruling party and the state machinery in organizing and executing the violence. The Naroda Patia verdict is a result of this long, persistent struggle.
This verdict confirms what people have asserted long ago, that the communal violence and massacres in Gujarat in 2002 were carried out with the full assistance of the state machinery and executed in many cases by leading representatives of the ruling party. It is a slap in the face of the Narendra Modi government, which has not only systematically denied its role in organizing the massacres of 2002, but also showed its utter contempt for the people by appointing Kodnani as Minister of State for women and child development in 2007. It reaffirms the need to continue and escalate the struggle to convict and punish those guilty of such crimes, no matter what their official position or political affiliation may be.
This verdict is an important landmark in the struggle to punish the guilty. It is the first time a powerful functionary of the rank of a minister has been convicted and sentenced in connection with communal violence. It provides fresh hope and momentum to the even longer struggle for justice in the case of the genocide against Sikhs in November 1984.
Had some of the Congress Party leaders who organised and led the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and other places in November 1984 been punished for their crimes, that might have been a deterrent to the organising of the Gujarat carnage. However, the organisers of that genocide, far
from being punished, have held positions of power, including ministerial portfolios. Some of them continue to carry out criminal activities on behalf of the Congress Party, as seen during the recent chaos and violence by party workers in Odisha.
State organized communal and sectarian violence remains a favourite weapon in the hands of the ruling class, to crush the united resistance of the people and impose its own agenda on the whole of society. The current legal system in our country treats communal killings as individual crimes, rather than as a political crime organised by one or more parties or by a government in power. There is no provision by which a political party or a government in power can be convicted as guilty in such cases. Only isolated individuals can be convicted, and the top political party leaders or government functionaries invariably go scot free on account of the power and influence they wield.
The people’s organisations that have been fighting to put an end to state organized communal and sectarian violence have repeatedly raised the need for invoking the principle of command responsibility. This could then be applied to hold the Chief Minister of a state or a commander/ chief officer of army/security forces to be held guilty for violating his/her duty and responsibility of ensuring security of citizens.
The united struggle of the people, against state organized communal and sectarian violence and for punishment of the guilty must be continued and taken forward, with the perspective of bringing political power into the hands of the people. With political power in their hands, the people of this country will be able to hold their political representatives accountable for their crimes and put in place the laws and mechanisms needed to severely punish them, so that state organized communal and sectarian violence can be eliminated once and for all.