Mumbai: Thirty years ago, riots erupted in the city after the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya on Dec 6. One of the best known incidents during the riots that erupted again the following month was the attack by a police posse on unarmed workers at a bakery and two adjoining structures on Mohammad Ali Road on Jan 9, 1993, leading to the death of eight people and injuries to 12. Three years since the trial in the case began in 2019, only 14 witnesses have been examined, three of whom have turned hostile.
On Oct 20, a new judge who took over the case directed the city’s Police Commissioner to appoint a competent officer to bring witnesses forward. The judge expressed displeasure that witnesses were not being produced despite repeated directions to testify in the “sensitive and serious” case.
On Nov 16, a new officer was appointed by the police station, but the court had not received a response from the Commissioner on its notice. On that date, too, a witness was not produced.
The court then warned that it would direct the police chief to be present in court if a witness was not produced on the next date, which is Dec 7.
The trial in the case started only on Feb 13, 2019, 26 years after the incident, with the very first witness failing to back the prosecution. A year later, the pandemic struck, pushing the trial into a limbo.
The first witness was an independent witness present during the police procedure conducted on the crime scene. The witness, a footwear vendor outside the bakery, said in court that police had taken his signature on a document and he was unaware of its contents.
One of the latest witnesses to turn hostile was bakery owner Suleman Mithaiwala. Aged 75, he was brought to court in a wheelchair on Sep 27. He told the judge he did not remember anything due to the passage of time.
After Mr Mithaiwala, the son of a victim testified. His father was allegedly assaulted, taken away by policemen from the madrasa adjoining the bakery, and later found dead. Testifying in October, the witness, who is over 40 now, said he could not identify the policemen who had taken his father away as he was only a child at the time. He was not declared hostile.
In the riots that took place from the evening of Dec 6 to 10, 1992, and again from Jan 6 to 21, 1993, approximately 900 persons lost their lives.
Then Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) RD Tyagi, now no more, had claimed that based on a tip-off that terrorists were hiding in the bakery, his team had raided the place and come under fire from the rooftop, after which he ordered his men to retaliate.
But a Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice BN Srikrishna found the police firing was unprovoked. Based on its report, the Maharashtra Government set up a special task force (STF) in 2000 to probe the incident. In 2001, the STF charged Mr Tyagi and 17 other policemen with murder, almost eight years after the incident. Mr Tyagi and eight others got clean chits in the case, leaving only seven lower-ranked policemen to face trial.
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