Almost all of us have heard horror stories of the 1984 riots from our Sikh friends and their parents. The details have always been gut-wrenching.
I was first exposed to the proceedings of cases related to these riots a decade ago, as a young reporter covering the courts in Delhi. I have seen how Sikh activists and lawyers pleaded the cases — and how they were disappointed.
Justice has come three decades after lives were torn apart in the 1984 anti-Sikh violence. (Photo: India Today archives)
When Congress governments were in power at the Centre, justice for these victims seemed impossible. But finally, though delayed, justice has seen the light of day. One of the accused in the riots — Congress leader Sajjan Kumar — has been found guilty by the Delhi High Court.
It should never have taken three decades for Kumar to pay for his crimes.
All the guilty should have been brought to book long back.
But that is the problem with our country.
Politicians use hatred to get to their goals. Rioting has been used as a political tool many times, and all efforts made to save leaders’ henchmen.
The conviction rate in communal rioting cases is so abysmal that often, victims lose all hope.
Take some recent cases. The horrible Gujarat riots in 2002. Who doesn’t know the pain the sufferers have been undergoing for the past 16 years? Imagine the plight of these victims when they see some of the accused caught on TV sting operations, boasting about their acts. Women like Zakia Jafri, whose husband died trying to save innocent people in the Gulbarg Society of Ahmedabad, are still knocking on the doors of the higher courts.
The victims of the Gujarat riots of 2002 still wait for any kind of closure. (Photo: PTI)
Another recent example of rioting is the Muzaffarnagar case of 2013. The riots caused the death of 62 people, out of which 42 were Muslims and 20 Hindus. Scores of families were displaced, and continue to live in fear. Apart from other triggers, local politicians were alleged to have fanned the hate here. This case, too, is pending. Victims continue to wait.
India has seen several riots post-Independence, and politicians were implicated in many. Rather than being punished, many such ‘leaders’ were rewarded, sending out the signal that hate could be used for political gains.
The system, which should have been swift in delivering justice, often responded in a frustratingly slow manner — thus, the low conviction rates.
Most people who get caught in such terrible acts of violence hardly ever get closure. The reason is the prolonged and tiring legal processes. NCRB data shows the conviction rate of riots has gone down over time — and the year 2016 saw the least number of such convictions.
In Muzaffarnagar, local politicians were alleged to have been involved in stoking the violence. (Photo: PTI)
A careful analysis of the data suggests that there are flaws in the legal system. Other than the lumbering judicial process, there is negligence on behalf of the police too.
It is the duty of the state to ensure that justice is delivered to the victims. The system should be helping those who have been wronged — not the other way around.
Sajjan Kumar’s conviction is a welcome development — but matters shouldn’t just stop here.
All those who have perpetrated gruesome violence against helpless people should be brought to book, irrespective of their political affiliations. And this should happen irrespective of the party in power. Why should Sajjan Kumar only get convicted when the BJP is in power, and not when the Congress is governing the country?
Also, if politicians or people in power are found guilty of such crimes, they should be shamed, punished and isolated, without anyone trying to come to their support or rewarding them. A conscious stop to the incentivisation of hate is the only way this country can actually be secular in nature.
The day that happens, this country will become truly inclusive, where members of every community can live without fear of being persecuted.