Naroda Patya verdict –Justice at last — Narendra Modi on notice

August 30, 2012 at 2:58 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A stunning verdict

(Hindu editorial August 30, 2012)

The conviction by a Gujarat court of BJP legislator Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi along with 30 others for their role in the Naroda Patia massacre is the strongest judicial affirmation yet that large-scale communal violence is almost always a product of pre-meditated political planning and calculation. An estimated 95 Muslims, many of them hapless women and children, were hacked to death in Naroda, a minority neighbourhood in Ahmedabad targeted by armed mobs under the indulgent gaze of the Gujarat government in the wake of the February 27, 2002 Godhra train carnage. The verdict is a landmark one. It is for the first time that an Indian court has convicted a sitting MLA — Ms Kodnani was also a minister in the Narendra Modi government from 2007 to 2009 — for mob aggression against members of a religious community. Secondly, the court has not only upheld the charge of criminal conspiracy against the 32 individuals convicted, it has also found one of them guilty of rape and sexual harassment.
The establishment of conspiracy augurs well for the future of communal violence prosecutions, where the judicial trend so far has been to uphold murder but not conspiracy. It is a victory particularly for the Special Investigation Team that was brought into the picture by the Supreme Court following the failure of the State police to properly prosecute the post-Godhra riots cases. For the families of the Naroda victims, who identified the aggressors braving threats and intimidation and who were able to come forward to some extent because of the protection offered by the apex court, there cannot be a greater vindication than the trial court finding evidence of rape and molestation. It has been their plaintive cry that the violence was orchestrated and targeted against women, who were subjected to gang rape and worse before being slaughtered. Violence against women is a pattern established over and over in anti-minority pogroms, and the judgment has done yeoman service in foregrounding this fact. Needless to say, the conviction is a huge setback to the Gujarat Chief Minister personally. The fact that Ms Kodnani led the Naroda killings was common knowledge, yet Mr. Modi made her a minister, even putting her in charge of ‘women and child development’ as if to thumb his nose at the victims. A bigger worry for Mr. Modi ought to be the establishment of conspiracy. The Chief Minister has maintained all along that the “riots” were a spontaneous act by crowds enraged by Godhra. It stretches credulity that Ms Kodnani could enter into a conspiracy with her co-accused without the government getting a whiff of the group’s criminal intentions and conduct, before, during and after the killing.


A watershed judgment (My views)

For the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the scores of scarred members of the minority community, it must have come as a huge relief to see so many convictions in the Naroda Patya riot case. One of the prominent convict is Maya Kodnani, the sitting lady MLA, who had served as the Women and Child Welfare minister in the Narendra Modi government between 2007 to 2009, three years after her notorious role in the 2004 carnage. That a woman social leader could lead the charge against hapless men, women and children in such a barbaric rampage that involved rape of women and subsequent slaughter causes revulsion in the minds of whoever who listen to the account of those fateful days in 2004. Another person to be convicted is the Bajrang Dal stalwart Babu Bajrangi, on whose shoulders Narendra Modi leaned heavily for propounding aggressive Hindutwa ideology.

The conclusions one draws from the trial is both heartening and disturbing. The Narendra Modi government’s police and prosecution machinery tried, in the initial stages to thwart the course of justice by thinly-disguised attempts. They had vainly tried to frighten the victims not to give witness so that the seriousness of the offences were watered down. This attitude of the Modi government is utterly reprehensible. The Apex Court stepped in and constituted a SIT to conduct the prosecution competently and freely. The assiduous work of the SIT has borne fruit. This is a hopeful sign.

Similarly, the way the victims of the minority community braved the intimidating tactics of some BJP goons is commendable. Of course, the Supreme Court directive to the state government to offer protection to the witnesses must have emboldened them to come to the court and narrate the truth. Nevertheless, their persistence is praiseworthy.

The most important aspect of the trial court’s verdict is the highlighting of the ‘conspiracy’ angle of the pogrom. Perhaps, this is the first time in the history of independent India that a Court has brought the conspiracy angle of a communal incident to the fore. It does not portend well of for Narendra Modi who headed the government then. He has maintained all along that it was a spontaneous Hindu backlash against the Muslims, who were perceived to be behind the Godhra massacre. Now, his theory of non-complicity of the government in the carnag lies in tatters. A systematic massacre like this perpetrated by his erstwhile comrades could not have occurred without careful planning and his tacit approval. Let us hope the trial to fix high-level involvement, now mired in administrative and legal mess, gets expedited hereafter.



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