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August 20, 1998


E-Mail this column to a friend Dilip D'Souza

Do You Want More Crying?

I remember living through those days. One afternoon, I watched columns of smoke turn my world black near the Charni Road station, billowing still through the corners of my mind. I remember the man in a JJ Hospital bed who rolled back his trousers and showed me the long, deep sword slash on his thigh. The crowd I saw on the wall next to the railway near Mahalaxmi station, all carrying long knives glinting as fiercely as their hungry smiles. I remember that feeling of panic the day I was speaking to the owner of the only shop that had been destroyed on a short street, writing down what he said for an investigation some of us were doing, and I felt every eye in the area on me, hostile, vicious, threatening, and I looked up to see a few young grim-faced men stalking me till I left the street.

Those snapshotted memories remain as clear and sharp as the glinting on those knives -- and even so, I knew so little of what went on in my city in that hellish time. And even so, reading a judge's report on what happened then has been a hard, sad business. And even so, I sat upright in some shock when I came to this one laconic paragraph the judge writes.

In [a case from the DB Marg police station during the January riots] there appears to have been a case of mistaken identity. Three Hindu accused are alleged to have chased a Tamilian Hindu boy under the impression that he was a Muslim and, being unable to understand his shouts in Tamil, killed him.

For me, that summed up the mindless savagery of it all. The futile, perverse, nauseating, mindless savagery of it all. The savagery that left thousands of families distraught, destroyed.

Everyone has their own rationalisations of riots, their own ways to square them away in their minds. Attack, retaliate, temple, mosque, the ever-emptier words flow on and on. But what it comes down to in the end, and we all know so, is killing. Death. Blood. Stupid, gory, sickening, bewildering killing. That's it.

That's what has been so hard, so sad, about reading the Srikrishna report.

Since I lived through those weeks, I had an idea of what happened, who was responsible. As the years went by, as I attended some of Justice Srikrishna's deliberations and read about others, but mostly as the years went by, I began wondering: what if I had indeed got things entirely wrong, as several erudite readers and writers assured me I had? What if there was something I had missed about the riots, some grand design that, once revealed, would turn my ideas about them inside-out? In those five years, I never saw a sign of such a something, but still: what if it had somehow slipped past?

Reading this report, I know. On the basis of evidence presented to him by every side in this whole bloody mess, Justice Srikrishna came to certain inescapable conclusions. There was, after all, no grand design. There were just the plain unvarnished impressions anyone who was in Bombay then would have gathered. The judge has mountains of examinations and evidence to bolster them, that's all.

While I believe every Indian would benefit greatly from reading the report, clearly that is an impossibility. But some extracts might be revealing enough of those impressions. So let's remember some of them with the judge, shall we?

One of the inquiry's terms of reference was to determine "whether any individual or group of individuals or any other organisation were responsible for such events and circumstances." In his conclusions, Justice Srikrishna addressed this in these three paragraphs:

1.1 December 1992:
As far as the December 1992 phase of the rioting by the Muslims is concerned there is no material to show that it was anything other than a spontaneous reaction of leaderless and incensed Muslim mobs, which commenced as peaceful protest, but soon degenerated into riots. The Hindus must share a part of the blame in provoking the Muslims by their celebration rallies, inciting slogans and rasta rokos which were all organised mostly by Shiv Sainiks, and to a marginal extent by BJP activists.

1. 2 January 1993:
(i) Turning to the events of January 1993, the Commission's view is that though several incidents took place during the period from 15th December 1992 to 5th January 1993, large scale rioting and violence was commenced from 6th January 1993 by the Hindus brought to fever pitch by communally inciting propaganda unleashed by Hindu communal organisations and writings in newspapers like Saamna and Navakal.

It was taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders who continued to whip up communal frenzy by their statements and acts and writing and directives issued by the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray. The attitude of Shiv Sena as reflected in the Time interview given by Bal Thackeray and its doctrine of retaliation, as expounded by Shri Sarpotdar and Shri Manohar Joshi, together with the thinking of Shiv Sainiks that "Shiv Sena's terror was the true guarantee of the safety of citizens," were responsible for the vigilantism of Shiv Sainiks. Because some criminal Muslims killed innocent Hindus in one corner of the city, the Shiv Sainiks "retaliated" against several innocent Muslims in other corners of the city.

(ii) There is no material on record suggesting that even during this phase any known Muslim individuals or organisations were responsible for the riots, though a number of individual Muslims and Muslim criminal elements appear to have indulged in violence, looting, arson and rioting.

Note that this is not to say the judge simply exonerates Muslim riot criminals, as many uninformed writers have already assumed angrily. Several times, he comments on police failures to take action against Muslim rioters. For example, he writes:

When the police searched Al Madina Mansion, not only did they recover petrol bombs, but they also seized certain quantity of materials useful for making crude bombs from the terrace. [Senior PI Tikam admitted] that this might have been stored [there] as a plan to attack on the Hindus and the police and that such an act would be an offence. Strangely, no offence has been registered, nor is the officer able to give any explanation as to why none was registered. ... [I]n this instance at least, [the Sena's] grievance appears justified.

The judge was also asked to inquire into the March 1993 bomb blasts; in particular, he was asked to find out if there was any link between the riots and the blasts and if they "were part of a common design." Now in rejecting Justice Srikrishna's report, Chief Minister Joshi pretended a righteous outrage that the Justice dismissed the blasts in just three or four pages. But that pretended outrage only obscures the truth in the way this Government knows so well. The Justice points out:

[T]he Commission ... directed the Government of Maharashtra to disclose the material available with it [pertaining to the blasts]. ... [The Government replied on 5th February 1997] that all the material which the Government was in possession of had been disclosed in [six affidavits, listed] and that there was no other material besides this.

The Commission issued a public notice in newspapers calling on all members of public to disclose ... any information they may have in [this connection]. The only affidavit filed pursuant to the notice was ... by Prabhakar V Pradhan, Advocate.

[This affidavit] appears to be based on rumours and [has no] concrete material which would be of use to the Commission. ... The Commission feels that the contents of the affidavit appear to be sheerly (sic) speculative.

As for the link and design, here's what the judge concludes:

One common link between the riots ... and bomb blasts of 12th March 1993 appears to be that the former appear to have been a causative factor for the latter. ...

There is no material placed before the Commission indicating that the riots ... and the serial blasts were part of a common design. In fact, this situation has been accepted by Mahesh Narain Singh who was heading the team of investigators who investigated into the serial bomb blasts case. He also emphasises that the serial bomb blasts were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993 and the Commission is inclined to agree with him.

When all is said and done, Justice Srikrishna's report raises a number of questions for any of us who care about India. Certainly he is being attacked for being "anti-Hindu" and "biased", but that kind of hollow bluster won't make the questions go away. Do we truly want to be free of murderous riots? Do we truly want an India ruled by law? Do we really want no more corrupt, criminal leaders to rule us? Do we honestly want to build a strong, secure, prosperous India?

Ask yourself those questions and try answering them. It seems to me that if I answer "Yes" to even one of them, I will have to view Justice Srikrishna's report for what it is: an unusually thorough, fair examination of those misbegotten days I endured in 1992-93.

If I choose instead to swallow whole the bluster from the very people whose guilt the judge so unerringly points to, it is really not the rule of law I must want for my country. No, I must instead want some more of that mindless savagery.

And I need have no doubt: I will get it.

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