Press Release, Gujarat,
June 16, 2003
The PUCL-VSA, who were active in relief and rehabilitation during the violence on Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat, have withdrawn from the proceedings of the Nanavati-Shah Commission scheduled to start its hearings at Vadodara on June 16, 2003. PUCL-VSA had earlier submitted an affidavit to the Commission based on the PUCL-VSA investigations into the violence in Vadodara city and surrounding villages. They have now submitted a second affidavit stating that, in view of their lack of faith in the inquiry proceedings, they will not participate in them further.
According to representatives of the PUCL-VSA, many Muslim victims and witnesses to key incidents in last year's violence would not be willing to appear before the Commission to depose and be cross-examined. This is because of the atmosphere of fear and insecurity prevailing among the Muslim victims a fact best exemplified by the Best Bakery case one of the key cases recommended by the NHRC to be examined by the CBI. In the said Best Bakery case many key witnesses have turned hostile, whereas in several independent reports by groups including the esteemed NHRC, these very same witnesses had testified on what they had seen. And today they tell a different tale, to the extent of declaring that the aggressors had in fact been saviours.
In addition, the PUCL-VSA find that human rights defenders, social workers, and lawyers of the minority community fighting cases for justice have all been threatened and face a serious threat to their lives.
The PUCL-VSA also record with shock and concern the comments made by a senior member of the Commission, Justice Nanavati, a former judge of the Supreme Court. In late May 2003, Justice Nanavati has been reported extensively in the media to have said, "The evidence recorded so far does not indicate any lapse on the part of the police or administration in controlling the communal clashes in several parts of the state." Thereafter, Justice Nanavati reportedly backed out and stated that the media had misquoted him. But a TV channel reported that Justice Nanavati, in an interview with the channel, had said the Gujarat riots were not one-sided and that there was limited evidence against the VHP.
"There is no real evidence that has been brought to name individual Bajrang Dal or VHP leaders," the TV channel quoted Justice Nanavati as saying. The PUCL-VSA considers such a pronouncement by a member of the Commission a serious breach of judicial propriety. The Commission has yet to initiate hearings at Vadodara and Ahmedabad, both among the worst affected during the communal violence of 2002. The Commission's proceedings so far, instead of inspiring confidence in an already demoralized group of potential deponents, most of whom come from poor and deprived backgrounds, have sown serious doubts about the impartiality, fairness and sincerity of the investigation. In fact the attitude of the Commission has affected the resolve of many witnesses, already under severe pressure, to depose openly and fearlessly before it.
Commission has followed a procedure of holding in camera hearings at which
individuals are only allowed to depose singly. Such a procedure is over-awing
and intimidating to many individuals from disempowered backgrounds, so
that they may fail to present their cases and evidence effectively. Apart
from this there is the already mentioned issue of safety of these Muslim
deponents outside the setting of the Commission's hearings, a fact aggravated
by the reluctance of the government machinery in
Denial of justice on such a scale will have disastrous long-term consequences for any society. The Nanavati-Shah Commission has made no attempts to inspire confidence among potential deponents and victims of last year's violence by publicly clarifying its stand and commitment to a fair inquiry. Concerted appeals to victims and witnesses to appear before it, and a public apology for any reported statements in the media that amounted to pre-judging and exonerating the State Police, one of the main accused in last year's violence, would have helped to redeem the faith of ordinary Indians in the process of Justice and Truth. As things stand, PUCL-VSA cannot be a party to a charade that will end up as a fraud on the nation and bring with it a grave miscarriage of justice.
For PUCL Vadodara