Gujarat 2002: What Justice for the Victims?
The Supreme Court, the SIT, the Police and the State Judiciary
"In 2002, after the death of 59 Hindus, burnt alive in two coaches of the Sabarmati Express which was bringing them back from Ayodhya, Gujarat was the theatre of anti-Muslim mass violence that affected 151 towns and 993 villages. Twenty-six towns were put under curfew following days – even weeks – of rioting (Jaffrelot 2006). This violence, which in several places took on the scale of a pogrom, claimed approximately 2,000 Muslim lives, including many women and children. The official death toll is lower (1,169) whereas some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) mention the figure of 2,500 victims on the basis of information gathered from families about the missing persons – those whose bodies were never found.
The judicial aftermath of this violence merits analysis not only because India, theoretically, abides by the rule of law, but also because the holding of trials in due form is generally considered, in such circumstances, as the condition for any possibility of reconciliation. In fact, most of the countries – at least the democratic ones – where such a traumatic event has taken place have set up a commission for justice and reconciliation.
Ten years after the events, the results of judicial proceedings are very few in Gujarat. While the heaviest sentences – 11 death sentences – have been handed down in cases where Hindus in Godhra had been victims of violence, a very large number of cases have been closed before prosecution and many others are still pending, with a handful of them completed or near completion. The reasons for this failure of the rule of law – whose magnitude will have to be qualified since proceedings are still underway – lie in the grip that Hindu nationalism (as an ideology and a political movement) holds over the state machinery (including the judicial system) in Gujarat and the central authority's relative powerlessness (both at the executive and judicial level) to counteract it. ..."