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Justice delayed, but not denied

RASHEEDA BHAGAT
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Maya Kodnani, a former minister in the Modi Government, was adjudged as a kingpin in the Naroda Patiya massacre. — PTI
Maya Kodnani, a former minister in the Modi Government, was adjudged as a kingpin in the Naroda Patiya massacre. — PTI

The judgment of a special court in Ahmedabad, handing rigorous imprisonment to Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi for their involvement in the Naroda Patiya killings, will go far in boosting people’s faith in the judiciary.

The sight of BJP MLA and former Gujarat Minister for Women and Children, Maya Kodnani, being led by a policewoman to a special court in Ahmedabad, where the judge, Jyotsana Yagnik, sentenced her to 28 years imprisonment for her implicit involvement in the 2002 riots, must have warmed millions of Indian hearts. Particularly those of the relatives of the Muslims who were butchered in the 2002 post-Godhra carnage in Gujarat.

Even more heart-warming is the “life imprisonment till death” award given to Babu Bajrangi, former Gujarat chief of the Bajrang Dal. This prime accused in the butchering that took place in Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad was trapped in a sting operation by a Tehelka editor, whose spy camera captured Bajrangi boasting that, after the Godhra carnage, he had mobilised about 30 people on the night of February 27 and taken “revenge for Godhra”.

Foetus not spared

The most heart-searing and stomach churning brutality in Naroda Patiya was the butchering of the pregnant Kauser Bano, whose stomach was ripped open and the foetus foisted on the tip of a weapon. The “hero” of that atrocity was none less than Bajrangi. Recounting the burning and hacking of Muslims in that sting operation, he had gloated: “I felt like Maharana Pratap after killing them. I don’t care if I’m hanged.” The same sting operation had also established the involvement of Dr Kodnani, a gynaecologist, in the Naroda Patiya operations.

Eyewitnesses who deposed before the special court, survivors and families of victims have welcomed the judgment; one of them said simply: “Our real Eid is today, not last Monday.”

A record number of 32 convicts have been given life imprisonment by Judge Yagnik. That it took 10 long years for a substantial and definitive punishment to be meted out — appeals to higher courts will of course be made — is a pointer to the Gujarat administration doing its best to stall investigations into the carnage. The Judge noted as much when she said that Kodnani was “tremendously favoured by the then investigating agencies.”

Kodnani the “kingpin”

Kodnani, who continued to be a Modi confidante for years after the riots, till the criminal and judicial net closed in on her in 2007, made the outrageous plea that she was a “victim of politics”. The judge gave her a fitting reply by saying that, as an MLA, she was expected to serve the people as their representative. Instead, she was found “plotting and planning the conspiracy along with Babu Bajrangi to attack the Muslims. She led the mob and incited them to violence.”

Commenting on her “victim of politics” plea, Judge Yagnik described her as the kingpin of the violence and said the Gujarat police had actually helped her. She was elevated to a minister in 2007, despite the serious allegations against her vis-à-vis the 2002 riots. Apart from being helped by the investigating agencies, all care — against the interest of the victims — was taken to see that “Kodnani’s involvement does not come on the books.” This negated the plea that “she was ever a victim of politics”.

Blot on Modi

The judgment comes as a huge black mark on the Modi administration, to which hosannas are being sung at various forums on it being an ideal ‘development’ model for other States to emulate.

In a scathing open letter to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was busy answering laudatory questions from fans on Google hangout after the judgment came out, suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt wondered about the timing of the chat, even as Modi’s “trusted lieutenants” (Kodnani and Bajrangi) and “misguided foot soldiers” were given sterling punishment. “Was it perchance that you smartly distanced yourself from all these unfortunate people at an opportune moment,” he asked wryly.

Asking Modi if he had ever looked at the “real face behind the mask”, Bhatt added: “Have you ever introspected about your true self, concealed behind the meticulous imagery created by your media managers?” Of course, Bhatt’s letter will be treated with the customary contempt that Modi and his close circle of admirers and advisors reserve for any criticism against the Gujarat Chief Minister.

But the judgment, which fell short of awarding death penalties as these were, according to the judge, against “human dignity”, has once again unleashed the ghosts and terrible memories of 2002. It is very well for many intellectuals, who are no admirers of the BJP’s brand of Hindutva, or the hate politics of the more strident Sangh outfits such as the Bajrang Dal, to say that the country has to forget 2002 and move on. Try telling this to the aggrieved. The relatives of those who were killed, raped or burnt in the 2002 outrage need to get justice.

Another ridiculous factor is that any discussion/writing on 2002 has BJP supporters pouncing on you on two counts. Condemn Godhra first is one, and what about the 1984 butchering of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, is the other. Of course, the state administrative machinery failed to check the brutalisation of the minorities in both these cases, as it has so done many times earlier and in between.

A short chat with a Muslim friend, an advocate in Ahmedabad, revealed an interesting trend. A host of lawyers, he said, are extremely unhappy at Judge Yagnik’s judgment. “How can you pinpoint and establish culpability on a few individuals in a riots case. And that too, give them such harsh penalties as 28 years of imprisonment for Kodnani and imprisonment till death for Bajrangi, they are asking,” he said.

Conjure up before the mind’s eye the image of a heavily pregnant woman’s belly being ripped open with a sword and the foetus pulled out. Or an elected representative, a doctor at that, who has taken the Hippocrates oath to save lives, openly inciting people to attack, burn, kill.

Once you do this, no punishment appears too harsh. How Modi’s spin doctors and media managers handle this setback to his government will be interesting to watch in the coming days.

But this judgment will go far in boosting people’s faith in the judiciary. However delayed, justice has not been denied. For the aggrieved, the disadvantaged and the insecure sections in Gujarat, such judgments will bring closure to the wounds of 2002, more than any homilies on the need to move on.

Responses to rasheeda.bhagat@thehindu.co.in and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on September 3, 2012)
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Comments:

what is your view on no of local hindu residents of Jammu & kashmir are
being killed ? the no is too large than Gujarat riots.in riots innocent
people of all communities loose only political parties gain .....
it is better you all media people criticize all political people who try
to divide INDIANS ! they should be compelled to think total population
as a vote bank. every INDIAN is equal ! due to this regional parties
have become stronger because they talk for local people only.

from:  Pankaj Shah
Posted on: Sep 4, 2012 at 10:52 IST

It is too soon to celebrate this judgment although it certainly is quite comprehensive. Knowing our systems, this is but the first step towards justice delivery. It probably would take another 10 or 20 years before all the appeals processes are over and at any step the judgment could be substantially diluted or even overturned. In recent times we have seen this happen so often that one does not dare celebrate anything. But kudos to the judge and the prosecution that at least what seemed impossible has been achieved by the team, no matter what the future may hold.

from:  sandip
Posted on: Sep 4, 2012 at 11:00 IST

While welcoming the conviction of those who were involved in Naroda Patiya riots in 2002, we need to do some self-introspection. Why is it that a party like BJP which hopes to be in power in the Centre in 2014 does not condemn such violence in unambiguous terms? As a society, we should be concerned about the fact that there are good many people who believe in violence as a solution and even vote for the party which has consistently maintained the view that post-Godhra violence in Gujarat was a spontaneous reaction of people to earlier incident of burning of passengers in the train. Incidentally, let us not forget that government has miserably failed to bring to book and punish those who killed innocent Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 riots. Failures of the government machinery, (in this case, governments of both Delhi and Gujarat) to deal with violent mobs quickly and firmly, and prevent fatal attacks on innocent citizens perhaps compel people to seek solution in violence.

from:  Narendra M Apte
Posted on: Sep 4, 2012 at 17:06 IST

Every genocide is condemnable.But unfortunately when non-muslims
are victims muslims donot condemn.This is most unfortunate
feature.Especially when muslims are perpetrators of this heinous
crime they,both the press and opinion makers among muslims, look
the other way. This is the situation since British rule in India.

from:  satyam
Posted on: Sep 4, 2012 at 17:16 IST

Similar horrifying things had happened during partition.But nobody had ever been convicted.Mr.Jagdish Tytler,a minister is roaming free.He also led mobs and incited violence.Some cases are getting media attention and have harsh punishment.Similar cases are not being dealt similarly.For example,In Dharmapuri school bus burning case,the men got death sentences.What about exactly similar case involving the burning of 3 innocent persons in Dinakaran office burning case in Madurai?It did not get the media publicity and the case is forgotten.The case is buried.Our justice system in selective.

from:  Dr.R.P.Rajan
Posted on: Sep 5, 2012 at 17:04 IST


Read ur article.. Was nice.. I'd appreciate if u could also throw
light on 5 lakh kashmiri pandit victims, godhra train victims, 1984
sikh victims.. Hindus also are humans na? Try n find out how many
hindu familes are burnt, raped, how many hindu mother's pregnant
belly's are ripped apart?? Please be sympathetic abt hindu victims
also... The 2002 gujrat riots are an act of hatred.. Just like
godhra, 93 mumbai blasts, 84 sikh riots.. ALL culprits deserve to be punished. Why so hue n cry only against 2002 riot culprits??

from:  Nandakishore
Posted on: Sep 7, 2012 at 18:25 IST
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