While Mumbai mourns Bal Thackeray, there is a veil over the violence he was accused of perpetrating after the Babri Masjid demolition, with justice eluding many of its victims
In “Night and Fog” (1955), Alain Resnais’ powerful testament to Nazi brutality, the camera pans over the chilling remnants of concentration camps — rows of curved concrete pillars with barbed wire, empty gas chambers and hospitals, and the barbaric shower rooms where Jews were gassed to death. There is no such detritus of the violence in Mumbai in 1992-93. While there is a clamour for a statue to the late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, indicted by the Srikrishna Commission for his role in the riots after the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, there are no memorials to the over 900 people who were killed and many more who went missing. While justice for survivors has been delayed and denied, some are still fighting for close to 20 years with a system that is unyielding. The riots divided the city, hardening stereotypes, creating more ghettos and putting a question mark forever on Mumbai’s cosmopolitan veneer.
Nearly 20 years after her son was killed, Akhtari Tahir Hasan Wagle gave an account of his death to a senior police officer, the third to investigate the case of her son. She told him the same things that she had repeated a hundred times to journalists and others who cared to listen. “My husband was not at home that day. It was January 10, 1993, around 11 a.m. We heard the police entering the narrow lane to the chawl and closed all our doors and windows. They were going into houses and dragging all the men out but they kicked the doors open and I saw my son Shahnawaz being taken away.”
A peon’s plight
The police ignored her pleas that Shahnawaz, 16, was a student and took him down two floors. “My daughter Yasmin was standing at the window when she suddenly shouted and said ‘Shanu is dead, they’ve shot him.’ We both ran down and asked the police what had happened. I asked for my son. ‘Give him back to me,’ I said. Instead they put him in a van and threatened to beat us if we didn’t stay back,” laments Ms Wagle.
That justice for riot survivors has been too little, and often non-existent is exemplified in the case of Farooq Mapkar, whose case against the police officers who fired inside Hari Masjid is still dragging on with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) submitting a closure report in December 2011. The next date for the hearing is December 20. “Don’t ask me how much time and money I have spent for the last 20 years on my case,” says Mapkar, 45, a peon in a cooperative bank. He fought long and hard with a reluctant State government which even went to the Supreme Court to scotch a CBI investigation in the Hari Masjid firing case where police randomly fired inside the prayer hall on January 10, 1993 killing six in all. Mapkar, who was shot in the back, was in jail for 15 days before getting bail and having the bullet removed. After the Bombay High Court ordered a CBI inquiry in 2008, a First Information Report was registered against then sub-inspector Nikhil Kapse and others who were alleged to have fired in Hari Masjid.
While the State set up a designated court under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court to try the cases of the serial blasts of March 12, 1993 — which resulted in 100 convictions in 2007 — the riot victims had nowhere to seek justice. Instead the police closed 1,371 of the 2,267 cases. Of the 1,371, 112 cases were reinvestigated. In eight cases, fresh charge sheets were filed, according to the Maharashtra government’s affidavit to the Supreme Court in January 2008. Of the 31 policemen indicted by the Srikrishna Commission, 10 were punished after departmental inquiries, 11 were found not guilty and one died. Cases on the implementation of the commission’s report are still pending in the Supreme Court.
Victims have had to face the trauma of chasing compensation for missing persons or for a paltry Rs.5,000 for their destroyed homes or workplaces. Women like Hazra Bi cannot hope to get justice for the brutal murder of her husband and son and Mukim Sheikh, whose father was killed in the riots, did not even bother to testify before the Srikrishna Commission. Mumbai’s fabric of togetherness was ripped apart like never before in the post-Babri Masjid demolition violence. New ghettoes sprung up inside and even outside the city, like Mumbra and parts of Mira Road in Thane which ironically were dubbed terror hotbeds by the police.
Only one Shiv Sena politician, the late Madhukar Sarpotdar, was convicted for hate speech in July 2008 and handed out a year’s simple imprisonment. Of the eight cases filed in 1993 against Bal Thackeray for his articles in Saamna, four were withdrawn from the Dadar court. Of the remaining in two cases, charge sheets were filed after the stipulated time period and two were closed for lack of evidence, according to information using the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Of the nearly 20 cases in all against Thackeray for hate speech and other sections of the Indian Penal Code, most are closed or the government has not given permission for his arrest.
Mumbai chugs along. No one will notice Rashida Kotawala as she sits at her street side stall repairing bags in Vile Parle. Or Sudarshan Bane who ekes out a living as a driver and does odd jobs. Bane’s parents were burnt to death in Gandhi Chawl in Jogeshwari, and his sister Naina escaped with severe burns. The Gandhi chawl incident was used by the Shiv Sena to wreak “revenge for Hindu deaths,” sparking off the bloody second phase of the Mumbai riots in January 1993. The Bane family, the “face of the riots” then, is struggling to survive now. While Mumbai mourns Bal Thackeray, there is a veil over the violence he was accused of perpetrating after the Babri Masjid demolition.