Better late than never. Stiff sentences awarded by a Delhi court to two convicts in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case are a welcome development. But the anguish over justice being delivered so late and in a piecemeal fashion remains. Eyewitnesses in the case had also testified that a local Congress leader led the mob which included the two convicts that killed two Sikh men. But the court’s hands appear to be tied because this leader was acquitted by a trial court in 1986 and the reopening of the case in 1993 or 2015 hasn’t been accompanied by an appeal against that verdict in a higher court.
The latest conviction was the result of a Special Investigation Team constituted in 2015. But the SIT is finding the going tough in several dozen other 1984 riots cases, with evidence having disappeared over the course of three decades. Recently, the 1987 Hashimpura massacre of 42 Muslims ended in the conviction of 16 UP cops. But the massacre of 72 Muslims in neighbouring Maliana a day later never passed the trial stage.
A convenient myth that India’s political class often resorts to is that communal rioting is the result of a spontaneous eruption of emotions when in reality what we need to see is more, and faster verdicts of the kind just returned in the anti-Sikh riots case, or previously for the Hashimpura massacre. It is not as if the impulse for communal or ethnic rioting is present only in India. But they are deterred elsewhere because rioters know that the justice system will catch up with them, whereas in India a sense of impunity has accrued over time due to the pathetic record of the state in prosecuting mob violence.
Ensuring justice is the state’s responsibility but it has shirked this mandate often enough, while conveniently placing the burden of responsibility on hapless victimised individuals rather than the mob threatening violence. The glorification of hurt sentiments, bans on movies and books, or the vilification of dissent are hallmarks of the misfiring mai baap sarkar – breeding a quasi-anarchist sensibility whereby ‘hurt sentiments’ matter for far more than hurt bodies, murdered people or the rule of law. The political patronage often extended to communal rioters or mob lynchers is part of this toxic process. Unless that changes, we may be condemned to keep repeating 1984.
Anguish: severe mental or physical pain or suffering.
Example: She shut her eyes in anguish
Synonyms: agony, pain, torment, torture, suffering, distress, angst, misery
Mob: a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.
Example: A mob of protesters
Synonyms: crowd, horde, multitude, rabble, mass, throng, group, gang
Acquitted: free someone from a criminal charge by a verdict of not guilty.
Example: She was acquitted on all counts
Synonyms: clear, exonerate, find innocent, absolve, discharge, release
Accompany: go somewhere with someone as a companion or escort
Example: The two sisters were to accompany us to New York
Synonyms: go with, travel with, keep someone company, tag along with, hang out with
Disappear: cease to be visible.
Example: He disappeared into the trees
Synonyms: vanish, pass from sight, be lost to view/sight, recede from view
Massacre: an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people.
Example: The attack was described as a cold-blooded massacre
Synonyms: slaughter, wholesale/mass slaughter, indiscriminate killing, mass murder
Impunity: exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action.
Example: The impunity enjoyed by military officers implicated in civilian killings
Synonyms: immunity, indemnity, exemption from punishment, freedom from liability
Condemn: express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure.
Example: Fair-minded people declined to condemn her on mere suspicion
Synonyms: censure, criticize, denounce, revile, blame, chastise, berate
Patronage: the power to control appointments to office or the right to privileges.
Example: Recruits are selected on merit, not through political patronage
Synonyms: power of appointment, favoritism, nepotism, preferential treatment