Tuesday, July 31, 2007

India, justice delayed…

Bombay’s trinubals surrounding the 1993 explosions that killed 257 persons in India's commercial capital took on a farcical, show-trial element today, as an apparently vindictive judge, PD Kode of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) court, sentenced Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt to six years of “rigorous imprisonment” for possessing a 9 mm pistol and an AK-56 rifle given to him by members of Bombay’s underworld at the height of the riots that preceded the 1993 terror attack.

One might be able to take such an unduly harsh sentence seriously (Dutt already served 16 months in jail in connection with the charges) had any attempt been made to bring the politically powerful who orchestrated large parts of the 1992/93 bloodshed to account.

It is hard to forget, of course, that, following the destruction of Babri Mosque in northeastern India by Hindu extremists in December 1992, Mumbai was engulfed in ghastly rioting that left over 2,000 dead , many of them Muslims targeted by Hindu mobs that a government commission later found were affiliated with the stridently sectarian Shiv Sena political party.

The Shiv Sena (or Army of Shiva, referring to Shivaji) was formed by Bal Thackeray in 1966, promoting themselves as Bhumiputra or "sons of the soil," while propagating that native Maharashtrians (those born in Maharashtra state and speaking the Marathi language) deserved greater rights in their eponymous state (of which Bombay is a part) than "foreigners," which in this case meant basically Muslims (the Shiv Sena also promoted the rather exceptionalist Hindutva philosophy) and "southerners" (those from south India).

The Srikrishna Commission Report on the violence, released in 1998, stated unequivocally that “from January 8, 1993 at least there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organizing attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders,’ singling out Thackeray for special condemnation.

To date neither Thackeray , nor any of his deputies, has ever had to answer for the terrible crimes they oversaw against their fellow citizens of India. Much as a shameless demagogue such as Narendra Modi - chief minister of Gujarat state who (at best) stood by in 2002 as 2,000 (most Muslim) citizens were slaughtered and now stands accused of involvement in extra-judicial police killings - has never had to appear and authoritatively answer the charges against him.

Pompous judges like PD Kode, evidently drunk with power, can satisfy themselves with sentencing private citizens to harsh stretches of prison time, I suppose. But until they muster up the courage to start hauling the political leaders who have contributed to so much division and destruction in India in recent years into the dock, their statements about the rule of law in India are as transient, transparent and feeble as the breeze blowing through the banyan trees on a hot Bombay day.

No comments: