‘Congress ran away when 1992-93 riots broke out’
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Advocate Yusuf Muchhala, who has battled for over two decades for implementation of Justice Srikrishna report, speaks with The Indian Express editorial team about the feeling of alienation and other issues of the minority community.
Swatee Kher: What is the status of the riot cases?
Muchhala: Sixty per cent of the cases have been closed. Of the 892 registered, 11 were tried under TADA and three resulted in convictions. Some 120 cases were referred to the fast-track courts set up in 2008. Conviction was ordered in seven of these, but again appeals resulted in acquittals in five. Two cases are pending.
What is the point in referring cases to a fast-track court after almost 16 years? Many witnesses are untraceable and have lost interest. Some have even lost memory. It is sort of eyewash.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: When the state fails in its roles and responsibilities, what does the constitution provide for? At a time when we are seeing a completely different emergence of regional parties, do you think it will become more and more difficult for the central government to intervene in state affairs?
Muchhala: All parties want to draw political mileage. Whatever formulation comes to power, it will look to draw political mileage. We need a strong constitutional setup to take charge in such times. Like the national and state human rights commissions that came into existence after 1995. During the 1992-93 riots these institutions did not exist.
Governments like to control such institutions. Maharashtra state human rights commission (SHRC) is without members since February. The state government, which processes appointments of SHRC members, has taken over a year to fill the vacancies. We need a vigilant civil society to raise these issues.
In Gujarat, so many (riot) cases have come up because of SHRC that filed writ petitions before the high court. We have to strengthen such institutions and ensure they do not come under government pressure.
Sukanya Shetty: When riots break out, most state governments do not use power. What role did Congress play during the 1992-93 riots, as it was in power in the state as well as at the Centre?
Muchhala: Congress ran away. No Congress worker was seen on the street. But at the time of election they included these things (riot cases and Srikrishna Commission report) in
Zeeshan Shaikh: Do you also see a failure on the part of the community? Do you think the community is suffering from some sort of persecution complex? Is there a need for the community to introspect? All is not well with the Muslim community, after all.
Muchhala: I would not call it a persecution complex, but a sense of alienation. There is distrust between the Muslim community and the establishment. But do you blame only Muslims? After the Mecca blast, Muslim boys were picked up. After Malegaon, again Muslim boys were picked up. Then again for Ajmer blast. It is not that Muslims do not commit crimes, but it is the way the community is targeted.
A feeling of alienation is definitely there. Muslims feel police are against them. After the 1993 blasts, police kept 45 Mahim families captive for a number of days as they suspected involvement of a member of one.
Police said produce him and go home. After it became hot for police to keep so many people captive, they locked up one member of each of the 45 families at the office of the commissioner in Crawford Market. I had to file a writ petition to get them released. The government later claimed no one was detained.
Smita Nair: When someone like Bal Thackeray gets a state honour, what do you think? You have been closely interacting with the (minority) community, what was its sentiment, reaction?
Muchhala: It was not a correct decision. Though there was no conviction, he faced serious allegations. Such honour was not required. It was a decision of the Chief Minister.
Swatee Kher: What changes do you expect in law?
Muchhala: There is nothing wrong with the laws. The problem is implementation. We have 153 (a), 295 (a). Prosecution under these IPC sections happens only if the government grants sanction. The government does not.
If it does, it does after many years. By then, evidence is lost and so is the purpose. There is no political will to implement laws. There is no accountability in our system of law.
Accountability can be brought by introducing Communal Violence (Prevention) Bill that is pending consideration by so many forums.
Commissions after commissions have made the same observation, if the local administration is vigilant it can control riots within 24 hours. In many cases, riots were controlled. Accountability, along with the aspect of justice after riots and rehabilitation, can be covered in the Bill. Unfortunately, so many political parties are opposing it on the pretext of federalism.
Mayura Janwalkar: Coming to hate speeches. How can we ensure the law does not deny freedom of speech and at the same time is not misused?
Muchhala: There must be a proper system in place. We already have a law under IPC and its validity has been upheld by Supreme Court. Existing laws should be properly used.
Sukanya Shetty: A majority of 1992-93 riot cases were closed as "A summary", which means true but undetected. Were the reports not filed before a magistrate, a pre-requisite?
Muchhala: No, none of the reports was filed before a magistrate. It was all done at the police level, a wrong practice. It is actually for the magistrate to decide. Unfortunately, nobody raised the issue.
Sukanya Shetty: How proactive has the judiciary been in this process of justice to the riot victims?
Muchhala: Our writ petitions are still pending before Supreme Court. Justice A S Anand was proactive, others were not interested. There is no consistent judicial policy.
Mayura Janwalkar: Will the commission report be implemented? Is there hope?
Muchhala: The report is valuable as it forms a government archive. The information that flows from the government archive is not pure. Without such a commission, the future generation will not know what happened in 1992-93. Conscience is kept alive and it helps ensure such incidents do not recur.
Sukanya Shetty: Commissions are not meant to be brilliant archives. Maharahstra has seen several of them, but findings of none were implemented. The commissions became political tools. So, what is the real use?
Muchhala: I agree with you that commissions are used for political benefits. But it is not correct that Srikrishna Commission did not serve any purpose. It is an honest report.
When I decided to participate in the commission, the reaction of the Muslim youth was dangerous.
"Aise bhi marte hain, toh chaar ko maar ke marenge", was the feeling. They are not criminals. They did not participate in riots or in blasts. But the anger was there. Sense of injustice was there. That expression was very dangerous.
The moment the commission started its inquiry, people started phoning and giving information. These are intangible benefits. The manner in which Justice Srikrishna conducted the inquiry, hats off to him. He allowed people to open their hearts.
So far as the guilty are concerned, they were shivering in their trousers.
Swatee Kher: Many went missing after the riots. And as per law, if a victim is not traced for seven years s/he is declared dead. But this aspect was not considered by the government while disbursing compensation.
Muchhala: As many as 165 persons were reported missing. We (NGOs and activists) have referred to Supreme Court seven cases in which compensation was denied. After so many years, those seven persons are also not traceable. Of the 165, state has compensated over 100. That too after a lot of reluctance and after we approached Supreme Court.
From 1993-2005, all attempts at bureaucratic levels failed. At election time some people got active and money was paid.
Smita Nair: What is your opinion on the August 11 Azad Maidan violence?
Muchhala: Some people indulged in violent activities. They needed to be booked and they were.
The commissioner (Arup Patnaik) handled it wisely. He could not prevent it (the violence), but he tried to control it. Police were at fault, I agree. Subsequently, police took the right decision by filing cases.