What is your opinion about the judgment in Bilkis Bano case?
The judgment is a landmark and eye-opening event. It asserts that the culprits in riot cases can be booked if proper investigations are done. If a case is pursued systematically and investigation is done sincerely then it is not impossible to unearth the truth and reach the bottom of such crimes.
You are calling it a landmark judgment, please explain.
In our country the record of punishment for criminals is very poor. It is poorer in the case of riot cases. You may understand the situation with the fact that less than one per cent of the persons named in riot cases is punished. A majority of such criminals are able to walk scot-free, rather scratch-free, from our legal net.
In what sense this is an eye-opener judgment?
In this case the police had closed the file. Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) reinvestigated the case and in the process 13 persons have been convicted. This shows the sorry state of affairs of the police functioning. This tells the story of political interferences in the functioning of the police. Further, this case speaks loudly about the need to reform police administration.
Another sensitive issue of this judgment is the involvement, rather conviction of, district level functionaries of BJP, the ruling party in the state. Their conclusive involvement in rioting proves the direction from which the disturbances were planned and executed.
This is eye-opener from one more angle. Civil society in general and Muslims in particular should note that justice is possible if a matter is pursued properly. Quality of preparation and presentation of the cases are required to be upgraded. Justice is possible if it is sought in a proper manner.
The courage and perseverance with which Bilkis Bano has chased the case is also an eye-opener. She has proved to be an iron lady. We are proud of her and these qualities are worth imbibing.
The judgment says that this is not a ‘rarest of rare case’ so no capital punishment is needed. Do you agree?
This was a rarest of the rare case. Death sentences are called for. The verdict has given importance to the mob fury for the crime. So it says that the case does not fall under the category of rarest of the rare case. On the contrary, the mob was made furious by a planned manner of instigation. As I already told you district level functionaries of the ruling party in the state have been convicted. Their planning and instigation to the mob is obvious. One cannot agree with this contention of the verdict. And this may become a basis of appeal against the judgment for securing capital punishment to the named and convicted rioters. The judgment should have been further speaking, deliberating about the role of these ruling party functionaries and clearly spelling out the persons and groups behind the crime-cum-carnage. As it appears, the planners and executors of the crime are one and the same.
This is the second case shifted from Gujarat to Maharashtra where convictions have been done. Do you find any pattern in this?
You are right. It is noteworthy that conviction is done in both the riot related cases which were transferred from Gujarat to Maharashtra and reinvestigations done by the CBI under the orders of the Supreme Court. In both the cases the police had closed the files which CBI investigations opened and the judiciary found merit in such investigations to give punishment to the perpetrators of the riots. This cent per cent success in convictions in these two cases gives credence to the appeal of the civil society that all transfer cases pending in the Supreme Court should likewise be shifted outside the state of Gujarat along with reinvestigations by the CBI so that justice may prevail there also. I would like to record my assessment that mere transfer of cases outside Gujarat is not sufficient. The reinvestigation by the CBI is the necessary ingredient for the exercise to be purposeful.
If this reasoning is applied, all riot cases should be transferred?
This is not a question of logic. It is impossible and impractical to shift all cases from Gujarat. Major cases were highlighted and taken up. Out of nine cases for which the civil society approached the Supreme Court, two have been transferred and convictions done while others are pending in the apex court for disposal.
What is the status of other cases?
Out of several hundred cases which were summarily disposed and closed by the state police 2170 cases were reopened on the orders of the Supreme Court. It is an irony that the agency, i.e. the police that had closed the cases is the same that is reinvestigating these reopened cases. Despite this inherent weakness, or call it fallacy of the system, some progress has been done. FIRs were lodged, detainees released on bail, suspensions of some police officers done and part or full compensations paid in a few cases.
Does such summary closure of cases by the police and consequent suspension of some of them not prove that the police in the state have been communalised?
It is not so. There are communal elements in the police. But we cannot generalise and call the whole police force communal or bad. This is a case of defects in the functioning of the police and corruption therein including its vulnerability with and inclination towards political establishments. Not to talk about riot cases, the police is not able to get conviction in majority of cases they take up. The whole situation calls for the much talked about police reform.
Kindly elaborate what you mean by police reform?
I would say that the most essential aspect of police reform is to make it free from political interferences. Another aspect is that the police should be made sensible about human rights. This sensitisation about human rights and human sufferings requires a training programme that can make them feel and react like fellow human beings. Further, the training provided for the force should develop required scientific skills in them. Regular updation and upgradation of the skills and techniques is a must. Finally, I shall add that investigation should be delinked from law enforcement. When same agency does the investigation and enforcement of the cases, chances of errors, inefficiencies, frauds and biases increase.
There are a number of NGOs working in Gujarat. Is there any clash of work between them?
Major NGOs in Gujarat are broadly working on mutually exclusive fields. So there is no clash of working areas. For example, Action Aid has taken up POTA defences, Harsh Mandar is following 2170 cases of reinvestigations, Mukul Sinha is facing the Commission, Teesta Setalvad is behind Best Bakery case, and, Mukhtar’s and Gajan Sethi’s efforts have resulted in the success in Bilkis Bano case. No list of the work being done by the NGOs is intended to be given. This is simply to stress that there is no clash of working area and all the NGOs including Cell for Legal Help and Guidance (CLHG) under Islamic Relief Committee of Gujarat (IRCG) have their exclusive area of service. Every individual and group in this area is cooperating with each other.
You have personally been subjected to harassments in riot cases. How do you feel?
Well, I am affected. I am a human being and the way my son has been implicated has its bearing on me and my family. But this has not affected my resolve to devote my life for the cause of humanity at large. I am not the only person who has been subjected to harassment. Harsh Mandar, Teesta Setalvad, Malika Sarabhai and others have faced and are facing harassments. Despite this the civil society is doing its part of the positive and constructive work.