February 20, 2012
This fortnight marks the 10th anniversary of the horrendous Godhra train fire and the communal carnage that followed in Gujarat, which consumed thousands of innocent lives. Among all factors that reflect on the vulnerability of the secular, democratic foundations of modern India, this decade
highlights the serious limitations of our system of delivery of justice. This is one of the main yardsticks that measures the character of a modern republic. On this count, India finds itself wanting. This is, unfortunately, not confined only to the victims of the communal genocide in Gujarat, but continues to plague the victims of other carnages as well. The old adage 'justice delayed is justice denied' cannot find a more tragic manifestation than what is happening to the hapless victims of the Gujarat genocide.
The delivery of justice continues to elude us despite the latest order of the apex court (January 25, 2012) entrusting the inquiry of all extrajudicial (encounter) killings by the Gujarat police between October 2002 and December 2006 to a retired Supreme Court judge. In response to the charges of subversion of the criminal justice system, the higher judiciary had earlier ordered the transfer of riot cases outside the state, reopening of more than 2,000 closed cases by the Gujarat police, the appointment of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to reinvestigate nine major incidents of mass killings and directing the CBI to investigate some specific complaints and fake encounters. Much speculation has been generated by the CBI's sealed report submitted to the judiciary. On the one hand, there are serious allegations of complicity and, on the other, chief minister Narendra Modi has claimed that this 'exonerates' his administration's role in subverting the delivery of justice. The report is yet to be made public officially. Notwithstanding all this, the fact remains that the delivery of justice continues to elude us.
While the RSS and its political arm, the BJP, continue to pride themselves in these events as representing the success of the 'Hindutva laboratory' in Gujarat, the tentacles they use to spread the communal virus continue to extend further. Following its successful experiment in controlling the reins of governance at the Centre for six years by keeping its core communal agenda - the construction of a temple at Ayodhya, abolition of Article 370 and imposition of a uniform civil code - on the backburner to elicit the support of its NDA allies, it refrains from using these issues for communal polarisation. However, this polarisation is being pursued vigorously on other grounds.
It has revived its old issue of 'cow protection' in an aggressive manner. Since its inception in 1925, the RSS had founded a wide network of 'Gau Raksha Samitis' (cow protection societies). In 2010, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) conducted a yatra on this issue in different parts of the country. The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh has enacted a new law, the 'Prohibition of Slaughter of Cow Progeny Amendment Bill'. With this, it has become the first state in the country to make consumption of beef illegal, going beyond the laws enacted by other BJP state governments. This law puts an accused on a par with someone charged under anti-terrorist laws where the onus of proving innocence lies with the alleged violator, reversing the fundamental tenet of our criminal law that states that an accused is 'innocent until proven guilty'.
The Gujarat government, in its latest move of polarisation, has enacted a law for preventing distress sale of property in areas dominated by another community. This is designed to consolidate the further ghettoisation and, thus, communal polarisation in the state. The state government has also refused to implement the central scheme of scholarships for Muslim minorities on the grounds that it did not want to allow special privileges to religious minorities. This scheme was introduced in 2008 following the national outrage over the findings of the Sachar Committee report on the status of Muslims in India. In Gujarat, only 26% Muslims reach matriculation compared to 41% overall. Urban poverty among Muslims is 800% higher than among high caste Hindus and 50% more than the OBCs.
Simultaneously, in all BJP-ruled states, the massive parallel education machinery of the RSS continues to grow steadily. The Vidya Bharati, established in 1977, today runs nearly 30,000 educational institutions with 32.5 lakh students and 1.6 lakh teachers. Its declared objective is to "develop a national system of education which would help to build a generation of young men and women that is committed to Hindutva and infused with patriotic fervour". As early as 1996, the NCERT, on the basis of a survey of the Vidya Bharati textbooks, concluded that they were "designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the younger generation".
A more disturbing aspect of this process of communal polarisation comes with the latest arrest of an RSS activist by the National Investigation Agency for his involvement in the terrorist attack on the Samjhauta Express to Lahore, which claimed the lives of 68 passengers in February 2007. This re-establishes the RSS links to the growing web of Hindutva terror in the country. Earlier, investigations had established such links with terrorist attacks in Malegaon (September 2008), Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad (May 2007) and the Ajmer Sharif Dargah (October 2007). It needs to be reiterated that terrorism of all varieties feed and strengthen each other. This is anti-national and the country must display zero tolerance.
All such insidious efforts by the RSS and its affiliates to sharpen communal polarisation must be defeated to strengthen the secular democratic foundations of modern India.
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal)