The missing

This week the official death toll for Gujarat 2002 goes up. Why’s justice still so slow?

Written by The Indian Express | Published: February 23, 2009 10:53 pm

The official death toll in the 2002 Gujarat riots will stand at 1180,up from the present 952,on February 28. The state will list the 228 who went “missing” among the dead — finally. The reason for this acknowledgement is a technicality — the stipulated seven years will have passed at the end of this month since these people were last seen alive. It will end an exhausting,traumatising and,for some,also desensitising period of visits to the police and the courts,of repeating their story to the media,of travelling the self-same tracks. Nevertheless,an official statement of the obvious will not mitigate their immutable sense of pain and loss.

Yet,the official declaration of the 228 “missing” as “dead” will put an end to a narrative that had run itself out a long time ago. Some are awaiting February 28 to move on with their lives,to lay the ghosts to rest,as far as they can. There are others for whom February 28 will end the debate which had been getting in the way of their larger fight for justice. The surviving kin will be able to claim the compensation amounts offered by the Union and state governments once the death certificates are

issued. Their living trauma is by no means over.

This formality,once completed,should also,and importantly,speed up the judicial process. Justice will not bring back the dead,or fix long-shattered lives,but it will help address the social rupture by punishing wrong-doers — those who rampaged murderously and those who abetted them — and giving victims some faith in life and the system; faith that’s essential to carry on with the tangible,everyday side of their ordinary lives. The investigative and judicial processes pertaining to the Gujarat riots have seen far too many controversies and delays. The recent spectacle of a minister in the Narendra Modi government being declared an absconder was disgraceful. The Supreme Court’s intervention and the setting up of the Special Investigation Team to re-investigate some of the riot cases have moved things,as had shifting cases like that of the Best Bakery out of Gujarat earlier.

India does have a justice delivery mechanism that works. It’s

time to deliver that justice for Gujarat 2002.

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