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January 13, 2000


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

Few Notice The Terror

Few noticed, but Sajjan Kumar was acquitted last week. If you're asking "Sajjan who?", you shouldn't be. Sajjan Kumar, Congress leader from Delhi, is the kind of Indian we should all remember long and well.

The sole report I found about his acquittal was a minuscule one from PTI. "The prosecution alleged", it says, that Kumar and his co-accused Ishwar Singh were "leading a mob armed with iron rods and lathis, which attacked people belonging to the Sikh community." The police charged the two with attempt to murder. For they "had allegedly incited a mob for violence in [the] Sultanpuri area of the capital after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984."

The police charged them all right, but the police's efforts seem to have ended right there. Additional Sessions Judge R C Yaduvanshi, trying the case, observed that the prosecution failed to produce sufficient evidence against Kumar and Singh. So he acquitted both.

Which brought to a close yet another feeble attempt to bring justice to the families of 3,000 Sikhs murdered in 1984. In the wake of what is undoubtedly the worst single crime, the greatest shame, in our half century, this is all those families have had by way of justice: the occasional feeble attempt that meanders into nothing.

Naturally, there have been those favourite ruses of the Indian state in the wake of riots: inquiries. They have painted clearly the role played in those riots by Kumar and such other Congress politicians as H K L Bhagat, Lalit Maken, Jagdish Tytler and Dharam Das Shastri. All were accused of crimes then, of egging on murderous mobs. But as inquiries do, these have only gathered years of dust. Home Minister Advani has even proposed yet another such exercise. (An inquiry, not the dust-gathering, though those might amount to the same thing).

And there has been the occasional case. Two women who lost their husbands in that nightmare, Darshan Kaur and Satnami Bai, filed one against H K L Bhagat. Four years ago, it actually resulted in a warrant for the man's arrest. He was brought to court. But as politicians do, this one promptly complained of chest pains caused by his entry into court. The pain attracted caustic comment from the judge about how convenient illnesses afflict politicians -- but Bhagat went to hospital anyway. Some months later, Satnami Bai, who had previously identified Bhagat as the man who led a mob that attacked her house and burned her husband alive, mysteriously could not identify him any more. Darshan Kaur was left to hint at why: "I and my children are still getting threats," she told the court. Yet she had not been cowed -- yet. The "neta with black goggles," she said to the judge, "told the rioters to kill the people."

That's the last heard of that case, for nearly four years now. And today Sajjan Kumar has been acquitted in another case. Fifteen years later, these powerful men with their political connections remain free, as do others accused of crimes in the 1984 murders. Not just free, but hiding behind the highest security available, paid for by Indian taxpayers. Including the families of Indians killed in that 1984 carnage. (Maken, of course, was shot dead in 1985).

Few noticed, but December 22 saw a case adjourned yet again because the accused refused to show up. A familiar tale, because it has happened as many as twenty-four times since October 1997. This case is the CBI's Special Court of Inquiry into the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6 1992. It was initially set up by the Uttar Pradesh police's crime branch three days after the demolition, but turned over entirely to the CBI in August the next year. Leaders such as present Ministers Advani and M M Joshi, Uma Bharti, Bal Thackeray and others are accused in the case for their involvement in the demolition. They are charged under a host of Indian Penal Code sections: ranging from 147 (punishment for rioting) to 153(a) (promoting enmity between communities on the basis of religion) to 295 (destruction of a place of a worship) to 395a (dacoity) and many more.

The inquiry has followed a tortuous, if languorous, route since August 1993. The CBI filed a charge-sheet in October. In August 1994, the Special Court was allotted a judge. Three days later, the CBI asked to conduct "further investigations" in the case, even though it had filed its charge-sheet nearly a year before. In January 1996, "further investigations" presumably complete, the CBI filed a fresh charge-sheet. One-and-a-half years later, in September 1997, the Special Court ordered charges to be framed against the accused. Immediately, the accused filed petitions challenging this order. Some of those were upheld, staying the Special Court's order to frame charges.

Since then, the Court has set 24 successive dates to hear the case -- to hear, let's be quite clear, the objections of the accused to the order issued to frame charges. On all those dates, the accused have themselves chosen absence and consequent adjournment.

Now you may see not a thing wrong with such continued defiance of court proceedings, especially if your particular political predilections lie in the direction of Advani and his mates. But consider that the demolition was the climax of a long campaign led most visibly by Home Minister Advani himself, riding on a Toyota pretending to be a chariot. Consider that Advani, as home minister, is himself ultimately responsible for the prosecution of a case in which he himself is an accused.

Consider that something like 2,000 Indians were slaughtered in the riots that demolition triggered; that just as with the 3,000 Indians who were slaughtered in 1984, nobody has been punished for these murders. Consider that there was a five-year-long inquiry into the riots in Bombay after the demolition: an inquiry whose inconvenient conclusions Advani and his mates have blithely ignored, just as inquiries inconvenient to Bhagat, Kumar and mates have been ignored.

And consider, in the light of all that, these few statements about this inquiry that Home Minister Advani made in a recent interview to Outlook" 'The law will take its own course. ... [But] I am completely innocent. ... [A]s far as the demolition is concerned ... it was the saddest day of my life. And *I* am accused of conspiring to pull down the structure! I had nothing to do with the demolition. ... Chhodo, jayenge jail (I'll go to jail) if it comes to that. I am innocent.'

The man rode a chariot for months to whip up passions about that mosque, but he "had nothing to do with the demolition" and "it was the saddest day" of his life when it happened. He wants the law to "take its own course" and is quite willing to go to jail "if it comes to that," but has skipped court appearances 24 successive times over two years and more.

Our home minister. Not acquitted in that demolition case, or not yet. But he might as well be.

Few noticed, but Santosh Kumar Singh was acquitted on December 3, 1999. This young man was tried for the January 1996 rape and murder of Priyadarshini Mattoo in New Delhi. He was acquitted, much as Sajjan Kumar was, because of a series of "lapses" by the prosecution and the CBI as they investigated the case. The lapses are hardly surprising: Singh happens to be the son of J P Singh, the inspector-general of police in Pondicherry.

Mattoo was assaulted, raped and strangled to death in her home. She had 19 injuries on her body. For over a year, Santosh Singh had been stalking her, telephoning her at home and making threats, stopping her car and shouting at her. She was given personal security by the Delhi police, but that didn't slow this maniac. A neighbour even noticed him at the entrance to Mattoo's flat shortly before her murder.

All this was noted by Additional Sessions Judge G P Thareja, trying the case. But he also noted a wide range of apparently deliberate attempts to weaken the case against Singh. He faulted the CBI for not following "official procedure", for hiding evidence from the court, for hiding a fingerprint report, for fabricating documentary evidence that supported Singh, and for "fabricating DNA technology." He wondered, in his judgement, "if the CBI during trial knowingly acted in this manner to favour the accused." He also wrote that "the Delhi police attempted to assist the accused during investigation and also during trial. ... [Their doings] suggest that the rule of law is not meant for those who enforce the law nor for their near relatives."

Faced with a case apparently subverted from the start, Thareja actually concluded: "Though I know [Santosh Singh] is the man who committed the crime, I acquit him, giving him the benefit of the doubt."

Few of us noticed these three events. Many more noticed and were outraged by the terror in Kandahar. Yet may I submit: the riots that killed 3,000 Indians in 1984 were nothing but terrorism. The riots that the demolition of a mosque set off in 1992 were nothing but terrorism. A man who stalks, rapes and murders a woman is nothing but a terrorist.

Mine is a government, a country, unwilling and unable to punish those responsible for such terror. Mine is a country where a judge observes that "the rule of law is not meant for those who enforce [it]." Why should I, or any Indian, or anyone, believe mine is a country that wants to fight terror as seen in Kandahar?

Dilip D'Souza

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