The move by the Uttar Pradesh government to withdraw 131 cases related to the Muzaffarnagar-Shamli riots of 2013 amounts to a subversion of the criminal justice system in the country. The list of accused in these cases includes senior BJP leaders including party legislators, who claim that the charges against them are politically motivated. These leaders have been pressing the state government to withdraw the cases — 12 of them related to murder — where the accused are Hindus. State law minister Brijesh Pathak’s recent remark that the “politically motivated” cases will be withdrawn indicates that the UP government is ready to oblige them.
The fact is over 60 people were killed in these riots and large-scale destruction of property was reported. Most of the cases are at various stages of trial and the victims are expecting that the culprits will be punished. The UP government’s decision to intervene midway in the process forecloses the possibility of a closure in these cases. This newspaper has reported how many victims already feel short-changed by the tardy investigation and prosecution. In two of the murder cases, a trial court had acquitted all the accused after the prosecution failed to establish their role in the crime. As one of the victims, whose parents had been killed, asked this newspaper, “Did nobody kill them?” Police investigation in many of these cases, no doubt, has been shoddy: FIRs were filed in a hasty manner, with entire villages booked for murder and arson in some cases. Complainants point to discrepancies in the FIRs and accuse the police of changing the names of rioters they had identified. The government ought to address their complaints and rectify errors in the investigation. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that due process is upheld and justice is delivered as quickly as possible. Any attempt to close cases without proper investigation and other procedures will send out the message that the government is hostage to partisan interests. It will also destroy the people’s faith in the criminal justice system and erode their faith in the state’s ability to function as a custodian of constitutional values.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often said that the Constitution is the holy text of the government and its sanctity will be protected. It is shocking that a government headed by the PM’s own party seems ready to ignore due process under pressure from politicians, who are accused of criminal offences. Since the judicial process has been set in motion, it is now for the courts to conclude whether the cases are politically motivated. If the government persists with its intent to close the cases, the courts must take note and step in to protect the rights of the riot victims.