Friday, January 25, 2008

Majoritarianism still has democracy's mask - by: Teesta Setalvad, Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace

BILKIS Bano's steely determination and victory, partial since policemen and doctors responsible for the criminal offence of destruction of evidence in a case of multiple gang rapes and murders, have been let off, exposes the dark underbelly of Indian democracy.
Democracy is not and cannot be reduced to brute majoritarianism, a crude game of numbers. In matters of conscience the majority has no place. And, the Bilkis case, the Best bakery case, the Eral and Anjanwa cases, the Gulberg Society carnage and similar echoes of macabre behaviour in Odh, Sardarpur and Naroda should deeply shake our nation's conscience. The response of those indicted for state-sponsored genocide and their growing, respectability and hold on positions of power should seriously question the writ of constitutional governance. Are some above the law and the Constitution? If so how does this fact reflect upon a 60-year-old democratic republic's experiment with equality and freedom?
Above all, it is the rule of law that ought to be a non-negotiable edifice on which a politics of the people, for the people and by the people is built. The law of numbers without the rule of law can fast reduce us to a mobocracy. In moments of time, even with a spiralling sensex, we appear to be just that. What is stark and chilling for me after the verdict was the question she directed at the Gujarat government, a query that should burn a hole in every Indian's heart. Why should there be fear after the judgement, she asked? Why can't I enter my village even now? Why is the Gujarat government not answering my cries and offering me protection?
That Bilkis received no answer caused no raised eyebrows even as each one of us knows what the answers are. We know also that those who have stood for justice in Gujarat are excluded from home and hearth. We know also that the man at the helm has brought back, only the day before yesterday, those men to head the Gujarat police who, like him, have been indicted for complicity in mass murder and destruction of evidence. We know it, they know it. We all know it. Indian democracy and the Constitution are being scoffed at in the face, Modi's way. It is knowing this, and accepting it without challenge that poses the most profound threat to Indian democracy today.
Prashant Bhushan
Senior Advocate Supreme Court
More a wake-up call for fixing the system
THE sentencing of 11 persons for life imprisonment for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the mass murder of several persons accompanying her has been widely reported as a sign that the Indian judicial system works. The Bilkis case was only one of the several hundred cases of mass murder and rape in Gujarat — during the 2002 post-Godhara carnage — waiting for proper investigation and trial. The Supreme Court, by a rare judgement in 2004, transferred the investigation of this one case to the CBI on a justified perception that the Gujarat police was not conducting a fair probe. They transferred the trial out of Gujarat on the basis that in the communally vitiated atmosphere, with the government supporting perpetrators of the mayhem, Bilkis would not get justice. There were innumerable reports of independent inquiry commissions and the NHRC, about how the Modi government abetted the carnage and has gone out of the way to protect the perpetrators.
Yet, it was only the Bilkis and Best Bakery cases, which were transferred out of Gujarat. Several hundred other similar cases have been closed by the Gujarat police or languish in farcical trials in the state. Even six other prominent cases of mass murder such as the Gulberg Cooperative Society case, where Congress MP Ehsan Jaffry along with hundreds of others were burnt alive, are languishing because their trial has been stayed by the apex court, and it has not found the time to hear the transfer petitions.
All this while there has been only one judgement from Gujarat where some persons have been sentenced. But this failure of justice in Gujarat is not the only such instance in the country. The anti-Sikh killings of 1984, the Bombay "riots" of 1993 and many other cases of such mass killings, particularly where the minorities have been targeted, have all remained unpunished. It shows the gross failure of the criminal justice system. That is largely responsible for extremism and violence. If one has had to watch ones family being butchered and then has to watch the perpetrators cock a snook at the justice system, it is not unnatural for one's rage to boil over into violence. So, while celebrating the Bilkis judgement as a blow for justice, one should regard it as a wake-up call to fix the criminal justice system in the country.

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