Crime and Punishment: Is Indian Justice System Impartial?

delhi riots

Indian society has been suffering the violence of many types. Two of these the communal violence and acts of terror have shaken the very humane ethos of our society from last few decades. Communal violence which began during colonial period has by now assumed the form of a majoritarian violence directed against religious minorities. During colonial period both types of communal streams contributed to this insane phenomenon. After Independence gradually the majoritarian violence has come to dominate the fore and is tormenting religious minorities with increasing intensity. The justice delivery system has so evolved that most of the culprits of violence belonging to majority community get away without any serious punishment.

We also witnessed the terrorist violence. Starting from Mumbai bomb blasts in March 1993, after an interlude it resurfaced during the period of 2006 to 2008. After the Sankatmochan terrorist attack, we there were blasts in Malegaon, Makkah Masjid, Ajmer Dargah and Samjhauta express in particular. Ahmadabad also saw the series of blasts in 2008, when during a period of few hours many a bombs exploded killing 56 people and injuring nearly 100 people.

How has the justice system dealt with these insidious acts of crime? In the recent judgment the special Court in February 2022, awarded death penalty to 38 Muslims and gave life term to 11 more in case related to Ahmadabad blasts. The principles of justice were rightly upheld and all those who had evidence against them were given the punishment.

What about the series of blasts Malegaon to Ajmer, how has the justice been delivered? In these blasts which were mostly in places of Muslim worship and took place at a time when Muslims congregate for prayers. The tally of total victims who died must have ranged over a couple of hundred. The justice delivery system begins with the police investigation. Initially the line of investigation in these cases was that ‘All Terrorists are Muslims’ and even when the victims were Muslims, another set of Muslims were arrested. When they were arrested it made front page headlines. In most cases the Muslim youth who were arrested, suffered a social boycotts and their careers were ruined. After sometime, most of these youth had to be released for the lack of any credible evidence. And there release made small news hidden in the back pages of the papers.

At around this time Hemant Karkare took over as the ATS chief (Maharashtra) and dived deep into the investigation. He came across the fact that motor cycle used in Malegaon Blast belonged to Pragya Singh Thakur, the ex member of ABVP. Incidentally she is currently the MP from Bhopal. She is one of the accused in Malegaon case but is on the bail most of the times on medical grounds. Interestingly during the bail period her pictures playing cricket or basket ball have surfaced.

Karkare’s investigation led to the whole range of people: Swami Aseemanand of VHP (RSS), Lt Col. Prasad Shrinkant Purohit, (Retd) Major Upadhyaya and many who had been either active or were past members of RSS and its affiliates. Swami Aseemanand in his confession in front of magistrate elaborated the whole process in which he along with other accused had set up suicide squads. In between in Nanded in Mr. Rajkondawar’s house a blast took place in which two youth belonging to Bajrang Dal lost their lives.

In due course the investigation picked up and the large number of activists related to Aseemanand and Pragya Thakur were behind the bars. Later during 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, Hemant Karkare was killed. The instructions were passed on to the public prosecutor Rohini Salian to go slow on these cases. Swami Aseemanand’s claim that his confession in front of the court was under coercion was accepted to release him. Most of the accused were given bail, many cases were closed. Still two workers, who are claimed to be ex-RSS pracharaks, Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel are in jail for Ajmer blasts. That’s about all.

Now the narrative is being constructed that UPA Government wanted to implicate the Hindu nationalists. The contrast between the Ahmadabad verdict and the lingering cases from Malegaon and other blasts are glaring. How the cases are put up in the courts is clear from what the judge acquitting Swami Assemanand, Jagdeep Singh said, “… conclude this judgment with deep pain and anguish as a dastardly act of violence remained unpunished for want of credible and admissible evidence. There are gaping holes in the prosecution evidence and an act of terrorism has remained unsolved.” In addition the prevalent biases are also operative where the social perception that all terrorists are Muslims may be guiding the outcome of many cases.

In case of communal violence the story is very different again. Starting from Mumbai violence the Shrikrishna Commission report did point out the acts of commission and omission very aptly. In Mumbai violence nearly 1000 people were killed out of which over 80% were Muslims. Despite the meticulous investigation by the commission no single death penalty or punishment of any serious consequence. While in the bomb blast which followed (March 1993) two were given death penalty and two were given life imprisonment.

In Gujarat carnage of 2002, close to two thousand people lost their lives. Ahsan jafri was killed in the same carnage. His case is still hanging in the court. In the same carnage, Babu Bajrangi, who openly confessed in sting operation by Tehelka that he was feeling like Maharana Pratap while playing the one day match of killing as many Muslims as possible in the three day period which was available to them! He got life imprisonment. Maya Kodnanai who was found inciting the violence was also given life term but has been released.

Criminal justice has its own logic at present and its discrepancies are not matching with the democratic ethos of our Constitution. Relief and rehabilitation is another sore point after the violence and our society needs a serious introspection on that lack of the same at present. The biases and hate against minorities do seem to have seriously distorted the justice delivery system.

To cap it all in the case of 38 being given death penalty, the BJP Gujarat posted a tweet with the cartoon   showing many skull cap wearing, beard sporting Muslims being hanged. Mercifully twitter has pulled down this tweet. Such are the acts which intensify the prevalent hate.

Can we hope for a just society with equal justice delivery system for all, irrespective of their religion?


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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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