Riots Commission: On verge of justice

Formed to probe 1992-93 riots, Srikrishna Commission indicted influential people; but legally its recommendations couldn't be enforced

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Wednesday, December 07, 2022, 03:55 AM IST
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Supreme Court of India | Photo: Representative Image

Mumbai: It's Dec 7 today. The date marked unprecedented turmoil 30 years ago as the city witnessed 1992-93 riots in the aftermath of Babri demolition. Amid the hue and cry, a Commission headed by retired Supreme Court justice BN Srikrishna was constituted to probe the reasons behind the riots.

The Srikrishna Commission had indicted policemen, including former top cop RD Tyagi and late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. However, nothing much was done since a Commission’s findings are not binding like a court of law. Under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, an Inquiry is not a court of law, even if it conducts proceedings like a court of law. Hence, a Commission’s recommendations can't be directly enforced.

The Shiv Sena-led government disbanded the Commission in January 1996. Following public uproar, it was reconstituted on 28 May 1996; though its terms of reference were extended to include the 1993 bomb blasts.

Highlighting the role of Shiv Sena and its leader in the riots, the Srikrishna Commission said, “There is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and the Shiv Sainiks took lead in organising attacks on Muslims..., from the level of Shakha Pramukhs to Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray”.

The report also condemned the BJP and the Congress, and found that the Mumbai police systematically discriminated against Muslims. It said that Maharashtra's government, then headed by the Congress, provided “effete political leadership”. For four days in January 1993, it failed to take concrete action to stop Shiv Sena-led mobs from rampaging through Muslim areas.

The Commission investigated the police role in various incidents like the Hari Masjid firing and Sulemen Bakery cases.

As far as the incident at Hari Masjid was concerned, the report concluded that the version of police is “wholly unbelievable and had been fabricated to support the unjustified firing which resulted in the killing of seven Muslims”.

Statements of several witnesses recorded by the Commission stated that over 100 Muslims had gathered at the Hari Masjid for the afternoon namaz when suddenly police barged in and started shooting.

Former top cop RD Tyagi was indicted by the Commission for his role in the Suleman bakery case. The police booked 18 police personnel for murder and attempt to murder. However, the sessions court discharged nine of them, including Tyagi, and rejected the discharge of other officers in 2003. The high court also upheld Tyagi and eight policemen’s discharge.

Last month, the Supreme Court provided a ray of hope when it issued a slew of directions for payment of compensation to the families of victims and for revival of criminal cases which are lying dormant. It observed that there was a failure on the part of the State Government to maintain law and order and to protect the rights of the people guaranteed under the constitution.

One of the rare convictions related to the riots cases was that of Shiv Sena MP Madhukar Sarpotdar and two other party activists who were sentenced to one year jail by sessions court on July 10, 2008. However, their sentences were suspended and they were immediately released on bail. The parliamentarian died in 2010 without serving his sentence.

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