It has been 17 years since the Babri Masjid was demolished and Mumbai witnessed its worst communal carnage. It has been a bitter battle for those who have sought a legal course of action.
For Mukim Mumtaz Sheikh, 37, the Liberhan Commission and its report are not going to make any sense. He confessed to being too scared to testify before the Srikrishna Commission which investigated the communal riots in Mumbai after the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992. He has no regrets as he believes that the people who testified before the Commission did not get justice in any case.
Mukim is a survivor in more ways than one. He has vivid memories of the riots in which his father died of suffocation and he barely escaped death. He has taken to photography recently and can be seen at all important political functions, a digital camera hanging around his neck. He has rods in his hand and it is difficult for him to drive. Mukim, who has studied till the tenth standard, was wary of his writing skills but now he runs his own paper, “Hindustan ki Awaz.” He is married with three children and has got on with life.
Slightly built, with wide eyes, he unravels a long and rather complicated story. In the second phase of riots in January 1993, chased by a mob he and his father ran across rooftops and seeing some of his neighbours in the mob, he extended his hand for help. What he got instead was an arm broken in three places. The mob robbed his watch, stripped off his shirt and dragged him to the main road and beat him up. When he regained consciousness, he does not know after how long, he found himself in what must have been a septic tank. His father was below him shouting for help. Soon his cries ceased. Some 30 hours later Mukim was rescued by a policeman, with whom he stays in touch in gratitude.
Promise not kept
He still has friends from his old locality. He is fond of his old home and he believes that rioters have no religion. He has left justice to Allah. It has been 17 years since the Babri Masjid was demolished and Mumbai witnessed its worst communal carnage which killed nearly a 1,000 people. While the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) keeps promising to implement the Srikrishna Commission report, there is every evidence to the contrary.
Unlike Mukim, Farooq Mapkar, a security guard who was injured in police firing at Hari Masjid on January 10, 1993, testified before the Srikrishna Commission. Seven people were killed when police barged into the mosque and fired. Mapkar’s is a long quest for justice which has still not ended. He was accused by the police of rioting and fought a case since 1993. He was only acquitted of all charges in February 2009. However, his persistence led to the first information report against the policemen being filed on 28 August 2006, 13 years after the offence.
Last year the Bombay High Court ordered a CBI inquiry into the Hari Masjid firing. While the State government had agreed to hand over the case to the CBI, the agency contended that it was not in a position to take it up because it was already overburdened with cases, among other reasons. Justices R.S. Mohite and F.I. Rebello of the Bombay High Court in their order of December 18, 2008, meticulously overruled the CBI objections and said that it is a primary duty of the State to ensure that no community should be left with the feeing that they have no forum to address their grievance or a feeling that the law is not uniformly applied to all its citizens. “We find that the action taken so far in this case is a matter of concern and requires urgent redressal,” the court said.
As the inquiry was in progress, in a surprising turn of events, on August 28, the Maharashtra government moved the Supreme Court and asked for a stay on the CBI investigation. The State contended that it had carried out a departmental inquiry against Nikhil Kapse, the policeman who was involved in the firing at Hari Masjid, and said the firing was not an indiscriminatory act. The apex court stayed the CBI investigation. For activists and lawyers fighting for Mapkar this was a final nail in the coffin. The Srikrishna Commission held that Kapse’s role in the entire incident was condemnable and he is guilty not only of unjustified firing but also of inhuman and brutal behaviour.
There are several petitions pending in the Supreme Court regarding the riots and one of them filed by lawyer Shakeel Ahmed relates to the involvement of 31 policemen named by Justice (retd) Srikrishna in his report. It has been a long and bitter battle for those who have sought a legal course of action. Advocate Yusuf Muchhala who has fought several cases, is quite convinced that the government is certainly not going to do anything about justice. Even the media has failed to keep the issue alive in the public consciousness.
While Mapkar has approached the Supreme Court, there was another setback. The Bombay High Court upheld a lower court order as just and legal and cleared the former Mumbai Joint Police Commissioner (crime), R.D. Tyagi, and eight other policemen accused of forcibly entering and killing nine people in another case, the Suleiman Usman Bakery firing, on January 9, 1993. This case was examined by Justice (retd) Srikrishna and he said, “the Commission is of the view that the story of the police does not inspire credence.”
Justice Mridula Bhatkar’s order of October 16 upheld that the trial judge has rightly observed that the firing in the Bakery was unnecessary. “Indeed it was a cruel and atrocious act on the part of the police. In the case of the communal riots, a humane and sensitive approach is expected,” she says. “However, it should be within the legal framework. Howsoever be the serious or heinous offence, an innocent cannot be put to trial,” the order continues. The court held there is no sufficient evidence against Tyagi and others that they either had common intention to murder the inmates in the Bakery or have committed or abetted the offence of criminal trespass.
The State government in 2001 had filed a case against 18 policemen, but nine of them, including Tyagi were discharged in 2003 by the trial court. Despite promises, the government did not appeal against the discharge. It was left to another victim of firing, Noorul Huda Maqbool Ahmed, a madrasa teacher near the bakery. It is now his turn again to approach the Supreme Court.