One wonders what the family of Subodh Kumar Singh, the police officer killed in Bulandshahr on December 3, 2018, by a mob protesting cow slaughter, must feel at reading that the National Security Act (NSA) has been invoked against three Muslims arrested for suspected cow slaughter, while the arrest of Singh’s killers is happening at a leisurely pace. Two of the main accused in the inspector’s killing had even posted videos of themselves immediately after. Yet, the Bulandshahr police claimed for weeks that they were untraceable.
The theory propounded by Bulandshahr district magistrate Anuj Jha for invoking NSA against the alleged cow-slaughterers is not new. Their crime, said Jha, was the reason behind the violence on December 3.
This reminds one of two pronouncements made by heads of state, which will never be forgotten. The first: “When a big tree falls, the earth must shake”; and the second, “A chain of action and reaction is going on.” The first was said by Rajiv Gandhi three weeks after 3,000 Sikhs were massacred in the three days following then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984. The second by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the second day of the violence against Muslims across Gujarat, which followed the burning to death at Godhra railway station of 58 passengers travelling on the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002.
The “justice” set into motion after these two events was in accordance with the pronouncements of the two leaders. While Indira Gandhi’s killers were hanged in 1989, the first sentencing for killing Sikhs took place only in 1996. A prominent instigator went to jail only a few days back. Many of those who wreaked revenge on an entire community for the acts committed by just two of them remain unpunished. In Gujarat too, while those who set Coach S-6 on fire had the draconian POTA applied to them, till the Supreme Court revoked it in 2008, those who avenged their barbaric crime on innocent Muslims across Gujarat were arrested under regular laws. Most would have been acquitted had not the Supreme Court stepped in two years later.
Strangely, a theory propounded by two senior and popular leaders belonging to two ends of the political spectrum wasn’t applied to other violent events as earth-shaking as the carnages of Delhi 1984 and Gujarat 2002.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, sparked riots across India in which about 1,700 persons were killed. The consequences of this act of destruction of a place of worship, which shamed us all, are still being felt.
Of the 1,700 deaths in the violence following the demolition, 900 took place in Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993. The repercussions of the violence in the country’s financial centre were felt across the country. These riots also became the cause of the country’s first major instance of terrorism, that took 257 innocent lives: The March 12, 1993 bomb blasts, planned by gangster Dawood Ibrahim from Pakistan, and executed mostly by a handful of Muslims in Mumbai.
Those responsible for the original crime — be it the demolition of the Babri Masjid or the Mumbai riots that followed — were not difficult to find. The demolition took place in full view of thousands of security men. In Mumbai, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray unabashedly instigated and glorified violence against Muslims through his newspaper Saamna; and the marauding mobs didn’t bother to hide their political affiliation.
But, forget being punished, one of the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition went on to grace the posts of deputy prime minister and home minister of the country, while his co-accused became part of the Union government. In Mumbai, while 60 per cent of the riot cases were closed by the police, the perpetrators of the blasts were arrested under TADA, and 100 of them faced punishments ranging from death to life in prison, albeit these were handed out 13 years later. The number of those convicted for the riots? Just four. Two died while out on bail; the appeal of other two is pending.
So, in which cases of cataclysmic violence does the action-reaction theory apply? Going by the record, it would appear that when the perpetrators of the violence — be it “action” or “reaction” — are minorities, the process of justice is swift and terrible. But when they form part of organised Hindu militant groups, the fabled long arm of the law barely moves. That these double standards apply even in an exceptional case, where the victim is a Hindu police officer, shows the real nature of our “secularism’’.
This article first appeared in the January 17, 2019, print edition under the title ‘The law, ours and theirs’
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