Blaming Victims of Communal Violence

THE recent verdict of a special SIT Court in the Gulberg society massacre case of Gujarat 2002 is a massive travesty of justice. It has not only acquitted several key masterminds of the massacre, it has shamefully blamed the massacre on provocation by the victims while absolving the perpetrators of conspiratorial intention.

The Gulberg society massacre was one of the worst massacres that took place during the Gujarat 2002 pogrom. Gulberg society was set on fire in broad daylight, killing 69 people. Ehsan Jafri, a former MP, was singled out, stripped, and paraded with his limbs chopped off before being burnt alive. Hundreds of Jafri’s neighbours took shelter with him, and for hours from 9.30 am to 1 pm, Jafri made desperate calls to the police, to political leaders, to the Chief Minister of Gujarat and the Home Minister of the country. These calls went unheeded and the senior police officers who visited Gulberg Society, did nothing to disperse the murderous mob that was baying for blood.

The verdict ignores eye witness testimonies regarding the armed mob that had gathered outside the society for several hours. It ignores the undisputed fact that senior police officers visited the site, saw the mob, and yet failed to call for reinforcements to disperse the mob. Instead the verdict condemns the eyewitnesses for ‘selective amnesia’ regarding ‘private firing’ by Ehsan Jafri. It claims that the mob only intended to burn vehicles and had no intention to kill people, and was provoked into murderous rage only by Jafri’s alleged act of firing on the mob. This is a verdict with shocking implications.

On the same day as the Gulberg massacre, not far from Gulberg Society, a communal mob massacred Muslims in Naroda Patiya. Muslims were massacred at several places all over Gujarat. Clearly, the communal mobs intended to kill Muslims, even in places where neither Jafri nor anyone else fired on them. How can the mob violence at Gulberg Society be called spontaneous, when the mob had gathered for several hours before the alleged firing by Jafri? The police had ample time to disperse the mob – why did it not do so? These are questions the verdict chose to ignore.

The verdict amounts to blatant victim-blaming. It denies the victims of mob violence, any right to self-defence. It puts the onus for safety on the conduct of the victims rather than on the perpetrators and on the police and Government that have a duty to prevent such violence. Just as Asaram Bapu had once suggested that the December 16th 2012 rape victim could have averted rape by calling the rapists ‘brother’ instead of fighting back, the verdict suggests that the Gulberg victims – rather than the police - could have averted the mob violence!

In passing such a verdict, the Special Court has echoed Modi, who in 2002 had blamed the Gulberg massacre on firing by Jafri, and had infamously invoked Newton’s Law and a ‘chain’ of ‘action-reaction.’

In the Bathani Tola verdict also, the Patna High Court dismissed eye witness evidence, acquitted all those accused of butchering Dalits, and implied that the massacre was preceded by firing by the Dalit villagers.

In the Dadri lynching also, the same pattern of victim blaming is emerging. The attempt to prove that Akhlaq, the victim, was ‘guilty’ of eating beef is loosely linked to the efforts to deny the communal conspiracy behind the lynching and justify the lynching as ‘spontaneous’ anger against beef consumption.

Meanwhile, the masterminds of the Gujarat pogrom who now rule India, continue with their politics of mobilising votes by stoking communal hate and violence. With an eye on the upcoming UP elections, the BJP (including the local BJP MP Hukam Singh, the Home Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP President Amit Shah) tried to raise the bogey of a Hindu exodus from Kairana and Kandhla in Western UP, due to Muslim intimidation. It is encouraging that the people of Kairana and Kandhla themselves called the bluff of the BJP, and exposed the ‘exodus’ to be a lie.

Indians are being asked to accept that political masterminds of mass massacres will enjoy impunity while at best, a few pawns may be punished. If the BJP and RSS leaders and police officers accused in the Gujarat massacre are yet to be brought to justice, the same is true of Congress leaders accused of massacring Sikhs in 1984. The recent Congress decision (withdrawn later following protests) to make 1984 massacre-accused Kamal Nath the party’s in-charge for Punjab rubbed fresh salt into the wounds of the Sikhs.

The quest of Zakia Jafri and other survivors of the Gulberg massacre for justice faces huge odds. The Supreme Court’s own SIT ended up being complicit in a cover-up. Modi and Shah, in power at the Centre now, are unleashing a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Teesta Setalvad and other activists who are supporting the survivors’ fight for justice. If higher courts fail to correct the massive travesty of justice in the Gulberg case, it will be a matter of shame for the Indian judiciary.

The Gulberg verdict is one that, by blaming victims for ‘provoking’ perpetrators of communal violence, is an affront to the very spirit of the Constitution and of democracy. 25 June 2016 marks the anniversary of the infamous Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi’s Government. The anniversary of the Emergency cannot be an occasion simply to condemn the tyranny of a Congress Government or a particular Prime Minister. Instead, it must be an occasion to resist the rampant, continuing violations of Constitutional liberties and betrayals of the Constitutional freedoms and dignity of Dalits, adivasis, minorities and women.

Liberation Archive