One of the important recommendations of Justices (retired) GT Nanavati and AH Mehta Commission to Gujarat government is to put “reasonable restriction” on media during the time of communal riots while citing certain statements of police officers to the effect that because of the wide publicity given by the media to the Godhra incident and subsequent riots, “people got excited and indulged in communal violence”. While making the recommendations, the Commission has produced statements of two former IPS officers — RB Sreekumar and Rahul Sharma — whose evidence otherwise was rejected by it.
“Not only the police officers but also some persons from the public who have given evidence or statements before this Commission, have stated that because of the wide publicity given by the media to the Godhra incident and the incidents which happened thereafter, people got excited and indulged in communal violence,” states the Commission report.
“Sreekumar who was then head of the State Intelligence Bureau, has stated in his one of the affidavits that ‘biting and chilling live reportage by media’ and publishing the news relating to communal riots in a ‘greatly irresponsible manner’ had led to communal violence at many places. Rahul Sharma who was then the Superintendent of Police of Bhavnagar district, has also stated that it was because of publication of a report in a local daily that violence broke out in that district,” it added.
The Commission then recommended that, “…during the time of communal riots, reasonable restriction should be placed upon the media in the matter of publication of reports about the incidents. Media should be made to understand that it is their duty to report in a responsible manner in such difficult times and they do not become instrumental in provoking more communal violence by publishing exaggerated reports about the incidents. The authorities concerned should see that the media acts with restraint during such difficult times and immediate effective action should be taken against the media if it is found to be transgressing the limits.”
The report is loaded with testimonies by bureaucrats and police officers that suggest reporting of the Godhra carnage and the riots that followed, by media escalated violence. For instance, then additional chief secretary, (home) Ashok Narayan has been quoted as saying, “there was widespread reporting of communal riots in violation of all journalistic norms and ethics by the media, both electronic and print. That had inflamed communal passion”.
The commission notes how the media had shown “intemperate tendency to over emphasize” certain aspects and quotes phrases used in the media then, like “state sponsored terrorism”, “state complicity”, “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” as examples. It adds how the media did not report on “how fast the administration had moved to control the violence and provide succor”.
The Commission has cited an affidavit of a senior IPS officer and the then Ahmedabad police commissioner PC Pande who had listed examples of nature of rumours that were spread during the riots. “Rumours have become integral part of the communal disturbances and when the disturbances are of this magnitude, rumours play major role in fueling violence and keeping alive tension in the city,” the report stated.
Citing Pande’s affidavit, the Commission stated, “On April 8 (2002), the day following suspension and transfer of police officers as a result of Medha Patkar’s incident at Gandhi Ashram, there was a strong rumour that the police was likely to go on strike and that flooded the police department with innumerable calls to verify this fact and he was compelled to rush to Doordarshan studio and announce that it was merely a mischievous and malicious rumor.” Apart from this, the Commission has also recommended to remove a weakness of the society where some religious leaders, organisations and anti-social elements take disadvantage of hatred between some sections of Hindu and Muslim communities.
“…root cause for the communal violence that followed the Godhra incident was the deep-rooted hatred between some sections of Hindu and Muslim communities…Some religious leaders and organisations and other anti-social elements interested in dividing the two communities for their own interest, take advantage of this hatred… Poor and illiterate people are easily led away by religious leaders or by such interested persons and they indulge in communal violence without properly appreciating the effect of what they are doing,” said the Commission while recommending, “This weakness of the society can be changed only by properly educating the masses about what true religion is and how harmful the communal violence is to the welfare of the society.”
The Commission also concluded that, “…absence of police or their inadequate number emboldened the mobs to indulge in violence. If the law and order is to be properly maintained, the Commission is of the view that there should be adequate number of policemen so that their presence is felt at every place.”
“It is, therefore, recommended that the state should periodically examine the requirement of adequate police force and see that vacant posts are immediately filled up and proper training is given to the police force. Unless we have properly trained police force, we cannot expect them to completely deal with difficult situations like communal riots,” it added. The Commission also recommended that adequate number of police officers should also be equipped with means of communication, vehicles, arms and ammunition.