New Delhi: Terming the verdict in the Babri Masjid demolition case as yet another nail in the coffin of Indian democracy, rights activists from several civil society organisations in Mumbai demanded that the CBI should immediately challenge the matter in the higher court. An online press conference cum public meeting was jointly organised on Thursday by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) Maharastra, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), Bebak Collective and the Forum Against Oppression of Women.
“Not only have none of the 32 accused been found guilty, most of whom are prominent players in the current ruling political dispensation in both Delhi and the state of Uttar Pradesh, but the sheer delay in pronouncement of this verdict makes it a sham on the due process of law,” read a note circulated by the organisations. They alleged, “Hard documentary evidence and powerful witness testimonies from those present at the crime site, including the police officials, have been will-fully ignored.”
Speaking to The Wire, the moderator of the meeting and a lead member of Bebak Collective, Hasina Khan said, despite clear and public evidence of the perpetrators, the way they are let off “indicates that issues of rights, security and justice are no more relevant in our democracy”. She also pointed out that due to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which eventually led to the demolition of the masjid, an atmosphere of hate prevailed across the country, leading to anti-Muslim communal violence in many parts, including Mumbai.
On Wednesday, a special CBI court in Lucknow acquitted all 32 accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, including former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, former Union ministers Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh. The judge said that the demolition was not pre-planned and the accused persons were “trying to stop the mob and not incite them”. He added that there was not enough evidence against the accused and that the court cannot probe the authenticity of the audio and video evidence provided by the CBI.
‘Unfortunate bur not surprising’
According to senior lawyer and member of PUCL Mihir Desai, the verdict is unfortunate even if it was not surprising. “It is hardly based on the facts widely available and seems to be driven by the particular ideology,” added Desai. Talking about the court’s reference to “the possible involvement of Pakistani intelligence agencies and anti-social elements and terrorists disguised as kar sevaks who had entered the site,” he said, “It is sad that such a narrative is built to save the real culprits.”
Farooq Mapkar, a survivor of the Bombay riots and who is a human rights activist, said the people need to stand up and speak against such a miscarriage of justice. “No one in the establishment is interested in justice and hence the perpetrators of violence are allowed to let go without any punishment for their crimes despite the fact there was enough evidence available against them,” said Makpar. “Hundreds of victims of the Bombay riots are still waiting for justice and no government is interested in ensuring that they get justice,” he added. Mapkar claimed that even judges are ‘afraid’ as they feel that if they rule against the perpetrators, they might have to face ‘serious consequences’.
It can be recalled that in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition, the city of Mumbai (then Bombay) witnessed widespread communal violence. As per the Justice Srikrishna Commission Report, 900 people were killed in mob violence and firing by the police, 2,036 injured and thousands displaced from their homes. Most of the victims were Muslims. Senior Journalist Meena Menon, who has written a book on the violence, while echoing Mapakar’s observation, said, “What is even more unfortunate is that the plight of victims and survivors is hardly news for most of the media houses and they tend to ignore it.”
“Despite meticulous work and massive evidence gathering by the Justice Srikrishna Commission, justice is still eluding the survivors,” said Menon, adding, “in a way it validates concerns of several survivors who told me that they are not going to get justice in this world.” She said that the latest verdict is yet another example of ‘institutionalised injustice’. According to her, over the years, all the political parties in the state (from the Congress to NCP to Shiv Sena) have let down the survivors and it seems pointless to say that there is no hope of justice. “Impunity has become the norm of the day,” she added.
Feminist activist and co-founder of Majlis Flavia Agnes said the very fact that it took 28 long years to compete the trial is a matter of huge concern about the state of the criminal justice system. “First, the criminal trial should have been completed and then the land dispute case would have been decided,” opined Agnes adding that the Congress party “did nothing” to stop the demolition nor to ensure that those involved in the crime are punished. “They not even tried to prosecute the perpetrators,” she added.
‘Have to keep fighting’
Noted activist Teesta Setalvad said, “We have to keep fighting and ensure that justice is being done.” Commenting on the verdict, Setalvad further said that “It is dangerous that courts are believing in ‘the new truth,’ which is based on falsehood.” However, she also added, “Given the political scenario, there is no other choice but to approach the judiciary.” Setalvad’s organisation CJP was one of the organisers of the Thursday meeting.
“We would also like to remind all Indians that the Indian Muslim community, the specific target of not just bloodletting but a sustained other-ing campaign that seeks to render it to nothing less than second class status, has reposed faith in the constitution and democracy when the nation – including the judiciary – has failed them, since December 6, 1992,” read the note circulated by the organiser ahead of the press conference.
“Indian Muslims have, in large measure, demonstrated patience nationwide, when the Supreme Court, in a questionable verdict, while recognising the ‘crime committed on December 6, 1992’, awarded the land on which the demolished Babri Masjid once stood a section of Hindus that have agitated this violent agitation. Tragically yesterday’s decision is in line with a long line of judicial pronouncements that has betrayed Constitutional and criminal law, let down the faith of the most marginalized in India’s secular democratic stricture,” they added.
Meanwhile, All India Lawyers Association for Justice (AILAJ) also issued a statement on Saturday demanding appeal into the matter. “We demand that the CBI file an Appeal and ensure that the perpetrators of this cultural cleansing be brought to justice, and the rule of law will be restored in our democracy,” read the statement signed by its National Convenor, Clifton D’Rozario.
“This judgement comes as yet another blow to the edifice of the judiciary and its independence from any political influence. It reflects the increasing detachment from constitutionalism, due process and justice that were the very thrust of the Indian democracy,” it added.