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India: Victims of communal riots await justice 28 years on

India: Victims of communal riots await justice 28 years on
Commission holds political bigwigs responsible for orchestrating deadly riots in Mumbai in 1992

By Riyaz ul Khaliq

ANKARA (AA) - India's commercial capital of Mumbai has not yet healed from the traumatic memories of the communal riots of December 1992.

They started soon after the demolition of a 16th-century mosque and left 900 people dead and more than 2,000 injured in the course of a month, according to official figures.

India's top court last November ended the decades-old dispute between Hindu right-wing groups and Muslims over ownership of the Babri Mosque with a ruling.

There have since been growing demands of justice for the victims of the riots that followed.

Talking to Anadolu Agency from New Delhi by phone, prominent Muslim lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi said even after 28 years, justice has eluded the riot victims of Mumbai.

“The scales of justice cannot tilt to one side only. Thousands of riot victims, mostly Muslims are awaiting a similar urgency and vigor as shown by the government on Mumbai blasts,” he said.

Nothing has been done for the riot victims despite a report dubbed Justice Srikrishna Commission which was made public in 1998.

It named many prominent leaders in the government for inciting the mob during riots.

In stark contrast, cases related to the 1993 string of bombings across the city which killed 317 people were taken up swiftly by the courts. So far, 100 people have been sentenced, including ringleader Yakub Memon.

Owaisi demanded justice on similar lines for the riot victims as well.

"The bomb blast cases are over; the accused have been punished. But the Srikrishna Commission report on the Mumbai riots is still not implemented. When will Prime Minister Narendra Modi act on it?" he asked.

- Muslim bias

An online Indian publication Scroll.in interviewed at least two victims of the riots.

Zakir Shaikh was 14 and remembers being stranded in his school in Dharavi in eastern Mumbai with two girls when the violence broke out.

A teacher promised to drop the three children home but then vanished. Shaikh remembers every detail of their journey home and the destruction he and his two classmates saw at every turn.

Shaikh’s uncle was burned alive minutes after he had left their home.

Reshma Makki, who converted to Islam when she married Umar Makki, had to hide her husband when a mob of Hindu right-wing Shiv Sena party workers attacked her home on Jan. 9, 1993.

She identified the mob. According to the report, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's loyal fighters, controlled mobs like the one which attacked Reshma Makki's home.

Shiv Sena's Mumbai municipality official Milind Dattaram Vaidya was arrested for ordering his cadre to set fire to shops owned by Muslims. The politician was accompanied by a police constable, Sanjay Laxman Gawande, who witnesses said had been waving a sword.

The commission noted that Madhukar Sarpotdar, a member of the provincial legislative assembly, had played a key role in spreading rumors that Muslims had demolished an idol of Hindu deity Ganesh.

He did not, however, pass on the evidence he possessed to the police, nor did he disclose his sources.

"The response of police to appeals from desperate victims, particularly Muslims," the report records, "was utterly cynical and indifferent."

"Police officers and men, particularly at the junior level," the commission found, "appeared to have an in-built bias against the Muslims."

When Makki contacted senior police Inspector Vinayak Patil for help, he flatly refused to help.

"If a Muslim dies," he said according to Frontline magazine, "there would be one Muslim less."

- Big names go unpunished

Witnesses before the commission reported several cases of cold-blooded executions of Muslims uninvolved in the violence.

The commission named R. D. Tyagi, a senior police officer, as having organized the murder of nine Muslims at a local bakery.

Although Tyagi claimed to have opened fire when the victims attacked him, forensic expert Pritam Phatnani held that all of them were in fact shot in the back, probably while attempting to flee.

Then, although Tyagi claimed to have been fired upon by at least one sten gun, not a single shell was recovered from the site, barring an unspent Kalashnikov cartridge.

Far from being tried and punished, Tyagi was nominated for election to the Maharashtra Assembly by the Shiv Sena in July 2000.

Vaidya went on to become mayor of Mumbai. He was neither charged nor punished and continues to be an influential figure in the Shiv Sena hierarchy.

Also, Sarpotdar's political career thrived which led him all the way to a seat in the parliament.

On July 10, 2008, a Mumbai court sentenced Sarpotdar and two other party activists to a year's rigorous imprisonment. However, he was immediately granted bail. He died in February 2010 without serving his sentence.

The commission examined 502 witnesses. The 9,655-page report has 2,903 documents as annexures.

Currently, Shiv Sena is ruling Maharashtra state of which Mumbai is capital.

source: News Feed
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