Bitter legacy

Print edition : February 02, 2018

A riot victim on Reay Road, Bombay, in December 1992. Photo: Sudharak Olwe

THE riots that tore Bombay (now Mumbai) apart from December 1992 to January 1993 not only were the worst riots the city had seen but also changed its essential social fabric from cosmopolitan and all-embracing to distrustful and insular. The insensitivity, cruelty, bias and extreme unreason that were in full display in those two horrific months affected the city’s psyche badly.

The riots began on December 7, 1992, the day after the Babri Masjid was torn down, and continued unabated until December 27. Then there was a brief lull, after which the second phase began on January 7, 1993, and lasted until the 25th of the month. Just as the city was staggering back to some semblance of normalcy, it was ripped apart again on March 12 by a series of bomb explosions. The bombs had been strategically placed at 12 locations. A total of 257 lives were lost and close to 1,500 people were injured.

The Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry was constituted by the Maharashtra government to investigate the riots. Barring a gap of five months when the commission was disbanded by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government that had come to power in the State in 1995, it held its hearings over five years. In its reconstituted form, the terms of reference of the commission included the bomb blasts as well.

In his report, Justice Srikrishna indicted the Shiv Sena, which goes a long way in explaining why the saffron government rejected the recommendations of his report. Under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, an inquiry is not a court of law and hence its report is not binding on the government. Although the recommendations remained on paper, the very fact that they are a matter of record is a form of justice.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the riots, Frontline invited three people who were closely associated with that time to recall that tragic and brutal milestone in Mumbai’s history. For those who experienced the riots, the articles will bring back chilling memories as well as lump-in-the-throat pride for stories such as that of Vimlabai Khawnekar, recounted in Teesta Setalvad’s article in which she also speaks of the accumulating injustices that have been heaping up in the country.

Jyoti Punwani’s relentless coverage of the Srikrishna Commission’s hearings gave her tremendous insights into not only the judicial system but the undercurrents that play out in our daily lives. It comes alive in her story of how one Muslim deposing before Justice Srikrishna said his heart sank at seeing a tilakdhari (tilak-sporting) judge and how it soared when he realised that religion for the judge was a personal matter that did not enter his professional sphere.

Irfan Engineer’s piece is a sober reminder of the new direction that India took after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, of how communalism has become a political ideology, and of the more recent, sinister trend of numerous small violent incidents instead of large communal riots.

Lyla Bavadam

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