Murder he wrote

Ibrahim Rahimtulla has a direct interest in the findings of the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission.

Written by Jyoti Punwani | Published:July 11, 2009 3:24 am

Ibrahim Rahimtulla has a direct interest in the findings of the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission. This cattle-shed owner’s home was burnt on the night of January 10,1993,by people he identified as his neighbours,by name and as Shiv Sainiks,before the Srikrishna Commission,and again in court where they are being tried. The trial began only last year,and is still not over. Ibrahim is now close to 50. He and his neighbours continue to live in uneasy peace in the same area,and though 16 years have passed,he has not forgotten that night when he and his wife sustained burns in the attack.

The lives of thousands of Mumbaikars changed in the weeks following December 6,1992. 900 people died; 2036 were injured (Srikrishna Commission Report) in those dark,hate-filled days and nights. Their families have moved on. Those whose only sons died have got their daughters married off; but feel in a myriad ways,the lack of a young man in the house. Children whose fathers were killed have grown quickly into adulthood,keenly aware of their mothers’ sudden transformation into breadwinners. Some have managed to make it to college,struggling every year to pay the fees,ashamed to ask for help.

Then there are those like Ganesh Mahajan,who remembers a happy childhood spent among Muslims. Hiding in their home,he saw outsiders looting his own after smashing the idols of the ancestral temple where his father was the pujari. This was the morning after the Babri Masjid demolition. The trauma proved too much for the 15-year-old; the family left their downtown home for a Hindu-dominated suburb 50 kms away. The daily commute aged his parents prematurely. But Ganesh was fortunate; other kids had to drop out of schools in Mumbai and move back to their villages in UP after their homes were destroyed in the riots.

Ganesh has often wondered whether it was necessary for the Babri Masjid to be demolished; couldn’t the politicians have built the Ram temple next to it? Similar thoughts besiege those who line the benches in court as accused in the 92-93 riot cases that are still going on. Attending court for the last 16 years,they’ve seen magistrates come and go,policemen fail to turn up,their own lawyers seek repeated adjournments. Witnesses have died,migrated to their own community havens,or relocated as part of the redevelopment mania that has hit the city. Some refuse to lose a day’s wages to travel to court to testify against their assailants,who exercise clout in their area even 16 years later. Some of these accused were dragged from their homes and mosques,charged with crimes they never committed by policemen later indicted for murder by a judicial commission of inquiry. But 16 years later,they remain accused.

Then there are those accused,now greying,who cringe at the memory of those days when,swayed by the frenzied slogans of their leaders,they had poured into the streets and turned against their neighbours. Their actions propelled these leaders to power,but when it came to finding lawyers,paying their fees and convincing employers to let them take leave repeatedly for court appearances,the leaders turned inaccessible.

For all these Mumbaikars,the 17 years that Justice M.S. Liberhan has taken to submit his findings don’t seem very long. December 6,1992 might have been just yesterday,for their lives still bear the scars inflicted then. The demolition of the Babri Masjid shaped their lives; and though they know who was responsible for it,they need official confirmation from a judge who has sifted through reams of evidence. Exactly which politicians had a role to play; whose was the greater culpability — these have remained issues only of polemics and vote-grabbing. They see that no leader has suffered the way they have in the last 17 years. Instead,all went on to greater political heights,using them as stepping stones.

So when a judge pronounces his verdict on whose acts of omission and commission brought down the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya,Mumbaikars want to hear it,even if it is 17 years later.

The writer is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist

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