Press Release, Gujarat,
June 17, 2003
The unusual and bizarre happenings surrounding the Nanavati-Shah Commission hearings into the violence in Gujarat of last year just refuse to vanish.
First the unusual statement from Justice Nanavati himself giving a clean chit to the Police and the Government before even starting hearings in Vadodara and Ahmedabad. Then there was the mass boycott of the hearings on June 16, 2003, the first day of the 3-day hearings in Vadodara, by a majority of Muslim organisations and also by the PUCLVadodara Shanti Abhiyan. Then last night (night of June 16) worried that the hearings will fizzle out even more, the Government lawyers and the Police got into the act.
The Police went knocking and telephoning Muslim victims many past midnight, some today morning and some yesterday evening asking Muslim victims, mostly poor, to depose. Many were told in plain language that the witnesses should highlight before the Commission what a good job the Police did last year in protecting the Muslims. Some, who did not understand oral communication, had the benefit of written fiats couched as "requests". Many were summoned for a "meeting" in the Narmada Bhavan premises in the morning before being told to march on to the Circuit House where the Commission hearings are being held.
What will you do if you are Muslim and poor and the Police, on whose mercy the plying of your thela or lari depend, wants your presence somewhere? No prizes for guessing.
The PUCL and Vadodara Shanti Abhiyan (PUCL-VSA) who were among the prominent boycotters yesterday - with Prof. J. S. Bandukwalla even standing in protest with a placard "Go Back Nanavati" later met the new Police Commissioner, Mr. Sudhir Sinha, to understand the reason behind the Police visits to Muslim victims' homes. The Commissioner denied any knowledge of such activities by his department staff. He even claimed it was not happening. In any case PUCL-VSA members should be worried only if their witnesses were being tampered or threatened, he said.
Many of the Police and its staff were accused and named in several reports by human rights organizations as well as the NHRC. In fact the indifference and active abettment of the Police during the violence is a well-documented fact. Now, what would you call repeated requests by your neighborhood police inspector or constable telling you to depose and give positive certificate of the Police's good conduct during the communal violence of last year? Friendly persuasion or tampering of the evidence by the accused? This when the Commission nor the local administration did not see it fit to give advertisements in prominent local newspapers of it intent to hold inquiry in Vadodara on specified dates nor gave notice to appear to any of the petitioners who had earlier field affidavits before it.
It is indeed a strange
irony that in the name of openness witnesses are asked to depose in a
room consisting of 50 persons consisting mostly of senior bureaucrats
(like the Collector) and police officers (like the DSP and former Police
Commissioner Tuteja) and their minions with for a good measure journalists
and lobbyists walking in and out of the room? Any way of conducting a
serious inquiry into a horrible carnage? Amateurish at best. Even by the
standards of going through the motions before a formal whitewash.
People's Union for
Civil Liberties, Baroda and Vadodara Shanti Abhiyan