SUNDAY MAGAZINE

And justice for all ....

Days of uncertainty ... Hazra Bi and her younger son.  

THE dark stairs lead to a small neat two-room house in Qureshi Nagar, a congested settlement in Kurla, in suburban Mumbai. For the past seven years, it is home to Hazra Bi and her two children, Shabana and Rizwan. Even today, the event which changed her life on a January morning in 1993 is clear in her mind.

"It was 10 a.m. on Saturday. My husband had just come home and he had not even washed or eaten, when a mob came in and started attacking him. They cut off my son, Salim's hands. There was so much blood on the walls ... everywhere ... I remember screaming. After that they threw me out from the second storey of my house and as I fell, my head hit a brass tap and I became unconscious."

When Hazra Bi regained consciousness in the evening, her house was deserted. Her two small children were away and her husband, Mohammed Farooq Qureshi and Salim were missing. "They have not returned till today and I was told they had been burnt alive," she says.

After this incident, she started to work as a domestic help and teach Arabic to raise her two younger children. "I got compensation only in 2001 for my husband and in 2003, for my son and that too, Rs. 30,000 each. The rest of the money (about Rs. 1.7 lakh each) is in the post office savings scheme. I cannot use the money for six years, though I need it now." In her husband's case, she had to pay Rs. 6,200 for an indemnity bond in case he returned. The culprits who are alleged to have taken away her husband and son were never arrested. "I had to sell my old house (in Wadala), as every day people would tell me to go to Pakistan. I feared for my children who were left alone," she says.

Hazra Bi was supported by human rights organisations, but justice is still a long way off, not only for her but also for many others who were affected by the worst-ever riots in Mumbai in 1992-93, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Farooq Mapkar who works in a suburban cooperative bank, is a bitter person after all these years. He is among the 57 people caught in the Hari Masjid case and charged with arson and attempted murder. "Since 1993, we have been summoned repeatedly for the case. The police came and fired inside the masjid, killing seven people. I got a bullet in my left shoulder. The same police officer, I hear, has been promoted. The Special Task force has been disbanded, the Commission report has not been implemented. Where is justice for us? The Congress did not even implement its election manifesto," he says.

At the newly built Sewri city and civil session court, in central Mumbai, several cases relating to the riots being tried and disposed of since last November. The accused are largely Muslims, who have been shot at, maimed, or forced to flee their homes after the riots. It is ironic that the court is also the venue for the re-trial of the "Best Bakery" case, which the Supreme Court has transferred from Gujarat. The apex court has placed much faith in Maharashtra for this re-trial, a State which has time and again failed to implement the report of the Srikrishna commission, submitted in February 16, 1998.

At the Sewri court, Mr. T.J. Jadhvani, lawyer, who is dealing with nine cases related to riots of January 1993, has managed to get 20 of his clients acquitted in April 2, over 11 years after the incident occurred. However, the group is charged with rioting and attempted murder in another case. "The accused were charged with attacking a police party in Malad, but the prosecution could not prove that a single policeman even received an abrasion," he says. In fact, the assistant sessions judge pulled up the investigating officer for recording the statement of police officers and filing chargesheets against the accused without an investigation and without taking pains to collect cogent evidence.

Alim Khan (name changed) was 19 years old when riots broke out in his area. He is among those recently acquitted in one case but still accused in another case of rioting. "We all knew we were innocent," says Alim, now working in a private company.

For the members of the Chiliya community in Malad, a northwest suburb, fleeing to Gujarat was the only option. Sixty-five-year-old Habib Kadiwala says he was arrested inside his housing colony after the police came and fired on them. He is among those acquitted in April. Three of the accused suffered injuries in police firing and two of them cannot work anymore. Those who have moved to Gujarat have to keep coming here for their case.

Shakeel Ahmed, lawyer and activist with Nirbhay Bano Andolan, who has worked with riot victims, said that 1,358 cases were closed after being found "true but not detected".

"The Srikrishna Commission had asked for these cases to be reopened but the special task force that was set up, only scrutinised 112 cases of which eight were reopened. On what basis only these 112 cases were scrutinised is a question mark. A senior police officer like R.D. Tyagi, accused in the "Suleiman Bakery case", was only technically arrested but he managed to secure bail," he says. The Commission had said that "the Joint Commissioner of Police, R.D. Tyagi and others were guilty of excessive and unnecessary firing resulting in the death of nine Muslims in the Suleman Bakery incident".

There are cases pending in the Supreme Court to implement the Srikrishna Commission and even Mr. Ahmed filed a case in 2002 in the Supreme Court, demanding the implementation of the Srikrishna report and the dismissal of all 31 policemen charged by the commission. But not a single police official has been suspended.

On the contrary, many of them have been promoted. Many families of the 168 missing persons are still waiting for compensation, says Mr. Ahmed.

In addition to the trauma of riots, victims have to contend with the lack of political will and continued apathy of the State.

Can the "Best Bakery" re-trial set a precedent for the long list of victims in this country, who can only pray for justice, which has eluded them all these years?