One of the graphic images of the riots that broke out in the city after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992 was that of Jamaluddin Khan sitting next to his mother in his house, which was looted after a mob attacked them.
And 25 years later, the wounds haven’t healed as Khan, a soldier in the Indian Army who was beaten up by a rioting mob as he returned from duty, refrains from discussing what transpired that day. All that the former soldier is willing to say is that justice was denied to the victims of the Mumbai riots, a feeling echoed by many other victims. The riots in December 1992 and January 1993 left close to 900 dead and as many as 2,036 people injured in Mumbai.
The Mumbai Police had lodged a total of 2,267 cases. However, over the years, more that 1,300 of them were classified as ‘A’ summary and closed. ‘A’ summary cases are those that are deemed to be true but undetected, and when there are no clues about the culprit or accused and no evidence to justify the trial. Only 892 cases were registered, of which 11 were tried under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act. As many as 11 Muslims were convicted of the burning of the Radhabai chawl in which six people lost their lives. The 11 who were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996 were subsequently let off by the Supreme Court in 1998.
With little progress in prosecuting the accused, the then Congress-NCP government was forced to set up two fast track courts in 2008. A total of 120 cases were referred to these courts. Conviction came in seven cases and the culprits included 20 Hindus. Subsequently, appeals resulted in the acquittal of almost all of them. The only major conviction was of former Shiv Sena MP Madhukar Sarpotdar, and two Shiv Sainiks Ashok Shinde and Jaywant Parab for giving inflammatory speeches and for inciting violence between two communities. The three were sentenced to one-year simple imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 5,000 each. They were immediately granted bail to appeal, and Sarpotdar died while the appeal was being heard. A sessions court subsequently reduced the term of the other two accused to two months.
The Srikrishna Committee, which was formed to probe the riots, had blamed the Sena for fanning trouble in the January phase of the 1992-93 riots. It had also pointed to the delinquency of police and had said evidence before the commission indicated that the police personnel were found actively participating in riots, communal incidents or incidents of looting and arson. It had also strongly recommended that the government take strict action against 31 serving police officers, including the then joint commissioner of police R D Tyagi who it said was guilty of excessive and unnecessary firing resulting in the death of nine Muslims in the Suleman Bakery incident. Subsequent governments, including the Congress-NCP and the BJP-Sena alliances, have not fully implemented the recommendations of the report.
Nine police officers named in the committee report for their role in the bakery firing incident, including Tyagi, have been discharged by a court, while nine others are still facing charges. The Mumbai Police has also taken departmental action against nine of its officials for their role in the riots. Activists, however, claim the action is cosmetic and too little for the magnitude of the crimes committed. “This is not about a fight between two communities. This is about putting responsibility on those who oversaw the murder of innocent Indians. Justice is the main pillar that holds up the edifice of any society. If culprits get away by committing such heinous crimes, you create an atmosphere where people start losing faith in the system,” says Dr Azimuddin, one of the petitioners who moved the Supreme Court in 2008 seeking implementation of the Srikrishna Commission report.
Azimuddin, however, acknowledges that fatigue seems to have set in among the victims with the passage of time, with many sceptical about whether they would get justice. While those like former Armyman Jamaluddin Khan want to carry on with their lives and advise Indians to empower themselves through education, there are still others like Farukh Mapkar who claim they will continue with their fight till justice is done.
Mapkar was injured during police firing at Hari Masjid in Wadala in which seven people lost their lives. He was subsequently arrested by the police for rioting but acquitted of all charges in 2009. Mapkar had lodged a complaint against the police for firing on innocents, which led to a CBI investigation into the Hari Masjid firing. The CBI, however, let off sub-inspector Nikhil Kapse who Mapkar alleges was responsible for the death of people at the masjid. A local sessions court accepted the CBI’s findings and closed the case last year. Mapkar, however, says he will continue to fight the case in a higher court. “Six men that I knew were shot dead in front of my eyes. I don’t think I will be able to sleep peacefully if I decide not to pursue this case further. I know many people believe that fighting the system is a losing battle but I believe there is still hope and someday justice will be done to all those who lost their lives in 1992-93,” he says.