MUMBAI: Anger and frustration boiled over during the public hearing of the National Commission for Minorities on Wednesday, as the Muslim community voiced its anguish at the “betrayal” by the Congress government and the lack of political will to implement the Srikrishna Commission’s report on the Mumbai riots of 1992-93.
People expressed their feelings of aggrievement and insecurity 14 years after the communal carnage in Mumbai. The hearing in the afternoon at the State government guest house took a noisy turn when people’s representatives tried to speak and articulate issues concerning the community.
Arif Naseem Khan, Congress MLA, bore the brunt of the anger and his speech was shouted down with cries of “down with the Maharashtra government.”
Various individuals and NGOs said there was no need for an MLA to speak here and they had no faith in the elected representatives or the government. The proceedings were disrupted for a while as everyone protested against the Congress-NCP government which they said had done little to implement the Srikrishna Commission’s report or punish the guilty.
Next in the line of fire was Maharashtra Minister of State for Labour Baba Siddiqui, who tried to calm down the angry gathering. He too had to stop speaking. Finally, the Commission said that only NGOs or individuals were required to speak. Some calm was restored after Dr. Zoya Hasan, member of the Commission, suggested that women speak for a while.
Absence of justice
The National Commission for Minorities headed by former Union Minister Mohammed Shafi Qureshi was hearing public representatives and NGOs on various issues concerning the minorities. It will meet the Maharashtra Chief Minister on Thursday. Though important issues such as education, lack of jobs and overall discrimination were raised, the most vital point was the complete lack of justice after the riots.
Speaker after speaker said the government, despite an election promise way back in 1999, failed to keep its word. Farid Batatawala, who has been campaigning for riot victims for 14 years, said that in the two major incidents during the riots — Suleiman Usman Bakery and Hari Masjid incidents — the government must punish the guilty policemen. Habib Fakir, educationist, said the government lacked the political will to implement the Srikrishna Commission’s report.
The Commission also heard depositions from the riot victims. Tariq Wagle narrated how his son Shahnawaz, who was 16 in 1993, was shot dead by the police in front of him. Till now, the policemen involved had not been punished, Mr. Wagle said. He had named all the people involved, but they had been promoted, he said.
Farooq Mapkar, who was injured in the Hari Masjid firing, said that he was a victim but the police had charged him with murder. Till today, no case had been filed against the policemen but he was facing trial.
Nirbhay Bano Andolan and several other groups demanded the dismissal of policemen involved in the Mumbai riots. Hasina Sheikh from Awaz-e-Niswan, said that people did not come forward and register complaints as they feared the police. The government must open the over 1300 cases which had been closed, she said.
Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, Professor of Islamic studies, said that, “as an Indian, it is a big shame that I have to come here and ask for justice when the Indian Constitution does not discriminate.”
Women also complained about the way the police harassed their sons and husbands. Khatoon Sheikh from the group Hukook-e-Niswan, said that there was a lot of fear and the government must ensure their security.
NGOs also made the point that ensuring justice was not the responsibility of Muslims alone. The entire society must participate in demanding it. Saumya Uma from Women’s Research and Action Group said that when the State government decided to implement the Srikrishna Commission’s report, the Shiv Sena said it would cause problems. Why did the State not act against the Sena’s threats and punish politicians inciting the people, she asked.
There was also scepticism about the outcome of the hearing. This is the fifth National Commission for Minorities and this is the first time it is visiting various places and assessing the problems for itself. It has already submitted a detailed report on internal displacement after the Gujarat riots.
A member clarified that it was not an executive body, but it could add its voice to the voices of the people.