Looking for justice

NOT THE External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, who says that they (foreigners) cannot teach us secularism but the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, J.S. Verma, who has salvaged India from the ugly situation over Gujarat. Mary Robinson, U.N. human rights chief, was determined to take up the issue at international forums. Mr. Justice Verma met her in Geneva and convinced her that the system in India was so strong that the culprits would be brought to book. He reportedly said that India should be left to deal with the situation on its own.

I wish this were true. There has not been a single hanging till date for the 3,000 Sikhs butchered in Delhi in 1984. Nor has there been any firm action taken against those named in the Srikrishna report on the 1992 Mumbai killings. Then there are hordes of reports by commissions of inquiry, going back to Jabalpur (1961), Ranchi (1967), Bhiwandi (1970), Jamshedpur (1979), Meerut (1982) and Bhagalpur (1989), which have named the culprits, who have escaped punishment. Unfortunately, politics and crime have got so intertwined in our country that when it comes to prosecution or punishment there is little action, because the guilty use their influence or that of their party to go scot-free.

Mr. Justice Verma's effort at Geneva must be praised. The condemnation of the Governments in Ahmedabad and New Delhi has been so wide and so unanimous within the country that a discussion at some foreign forum might have given the Sangh Parivar a pretext to arouse chauvinist feelings to sidetrack the real issue. Even now, when a few countries made a reference to Gujarat, the Government reaction has been far from healthy. I do not know what it will do if and when the Gujaratis in the U.K. take the matter to the International Court of Justice.

Even belated action in Gujarat can mollify opinion in the country and abroad. But the BJP has made it a prestige issue. Or is Gujarat a dress rehearsal for its hidden agenda? Instead of being rehabilitated, the refugees face the closure of relief camps. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative has circulated a note among MPs on the helplessness of the refugees. Without jobs, compensation and, most of all, adequate security in their native villages, the Government has left them at the mercy of providence. They have no choices. Some have already begun to migrate to neighbouring States. The brunt will ultimately be borne by the womenfolk who will fall easy prey to traffickers in human beings.

The NHRC has shown guts in taking up the matter suo motu. It should persist with unilateral steps. True, its preliminary report on Gujarat, pointing out a serious failure of action by the State Government, has not been liked by the BJP. But then the party has never been comfortable with the NHRC. The party stalwarts have now expressed their unhappiness with the Commission's chairman. But he is the one whom the BJP lionised when, as Chief Justice of India, he gave a judgment: Hindutva is a way of life. (An appeal against the judgment is, however, pending.)

The Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani, is reportedly so angry that no officer dares to mention the crimes committed in Gujarat. Despite the undertakings given in Parliament, very little has been done. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence and inaction between New Delhi and Ahmedabad when it comes to taking punitive action against those who perpetrated the Gujarat carnage. Even those mentioned in the FIRs are not being arrested.

Whether the real story will ever come out is difficult to say because the State Government's intelligence agencies are tainted. Some officers have complained that they have no free hand. The story done by Star TV that the Godhra train burning was not pre-planned, was meticulous frame by frame. It would have done any mediaperson proud. The story recorded a state CID officer as saying that even after two months they had no evidence that the Godhra incident was pre-planned. Both the State and the Centre got so perturbed over the story that they not only ran it down but took the State intelligence agency to task. It was apparent that the story did not fit into the falsehood which the BJP and other members of the Sangh Parivar were spreading. If any agency could have ferreted out the truth, it was the CBI. But for reason best known to the Home Ministry, the CBI has been kept out of the picture. At one stage the Prime Minister said the Godhra probe had been entrusted to the CBI. Are the Centre and the State holding parallel inquiries or is it only the State CID, because the Prime Minister counts less and less in the affairs of the Government?

The BJP has been saying that it is not to blame for the killing and looting by Adivasis since it has very little representation in the State Assembly from the areas they live in. A former IAS officer, who is working in the tribal belt, says BJP workers gave the Adivasis money and provided them with kerosene oil and petrol. At one time, he was willing to give the names of the BJP workers who masterminded the entire episode.

The police complicity in Gujarat has not, in any way, touched the conscience of the force on the whole. Once again, the NHRC has said in a report that the number of custodial deaths in the country has gone up. It averaged seven a day last year. I wonder how many officers and policemen have been suspended. I think that there is something basically wrong with the training. We seem to be producing men who are trigger-happy. Why does the National Police Academy at Hyderabad not take up the matter of training in different States seriously? Third degree methods still dominate in investigations. What needs to be imparted to the force are certain basic values. One of them is: the protector shall not kill the protected.

The behaviour of policemen is still our major problem. The treatment meted out at a thana (police station) has not changed since the British days when the authority was sought to be flaunted to suppress the natives. The Government is reportedly changing the present Police Act, which is more than 100 years old. But this alone will not improve the policemen who have to be taught civility, if not humility. The Gujarat and other riots also tell us that the police force has to be saved from religious prejudices, which are spreading rapidly in the country.

It is not so much religious prejudice as sheer terrorism which has disturbed life in Jammu and Kashmir. The tragedy in Jammu — there have been similar tragedies earlier — is a deliberate attempt from across the border to create a communal divide in India. Even knowing that our troops are in a combative position on the border, the military junta in Pakistan continues to provoke us. It did not bother about the presence of Christina Rocca, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, on our soil. That she should have condemned the terrorists is natural. What is not understandable is America's inability to put pressure on Pervez Musharraf. Washington is on trial. If it does not send a strong and curt message to Islamabad, India's faith in George W. Bush will be shattered. Human rights violations do not change in intensity when they are committed in India, and not America.

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