Encounter With A Judge
The Indian Express,
June 12, 2003
The inquiry into the Gujarat
riots is yet to cover Ahmedabad and
Vadodara, where most of the killings took place. Obviously, this is
no stage for anybody, least of all the head of the inquiry
commission, Justice G.T. Nanavati, to say anything that tends to
prejudge the communal violence. So, what on earth could have made Nanavati,
a former Supreme Court judge, make the gratuitous assertion that the
evidence recorded so far did not indicate ''any serious lapse'' on the
part of the police or administration? How could he be so unmindful of
the adverse effect his statement would have had on the victims intending
to depose before him on the horrors they suffered in Ahmedabad and Vadodara?
Self-inflicted as it is, the damage to the credibility of the inquiry
has caused much consternation.
But to me, this premature
clean chit to the Gujarat police does not
come as a surprise. Nanavati did something similar not so long ago on
more than one occasion with regard to the Delhi police while probing
the 1984 massacre of Sikhs. I was personally involved in one instance
as he called me about two years ago to appear before his Commission
in connection with a story I did then on the 1984 carnage. The article
shed new light on a gallantry medal given by the Rajiv Gandhi government
to a high-profile police officer, Amod Kanth, for recovering ''deadly
weapons'' and arresting ''indiscriminate shooters'' from a house at
Paharganj in central Delhi. The shooters referred to in the citation
were in fact a Sikh family which fired at a mob attacking its house.
But the police, which intervened in the shootout, booked all the family
members, including women, on the
charge of murder as a member of the mob and a soldier were killed along
with the head of the family. Knocking the bottom out of Kanth's gallantry
medal, my story revealed that the entire family has since been exonerated
by the court as a forensic study established that none of the bullets
recovered from the bodies of the rioter and soldier matched the weapons
recovered from the family. The Carnage Justice Committee (CJC), appearing
for victims, requested the Commission to recommend that Kanth be immediately
stripped of his medal. Declining to give any interim report to the government,
Nanavati said he would deal with the CJC's application only at the end
of the proceedings.
When I appeared before the
Commission, Nanavati did not fault any of the facts contained in the
report. All he did was to take umbrage at the headline which described
Kanth's gallantry medal as a ''badge of shame''. I said the matter was
indeed shameful because if any police officer was rewarded in that context,
one would expect it to be for acting against mobs that attacked Sikhs.
Instead, Kanth was rewarded for rounding up a Sikh family which was
so clearly acting in self defence from its own home. But Nanavati showed
no sign of appreciating that incongruity.
Worse, he continued to quibble
about the ''badge of shame'' headline in that hearing even after Kanth
inadvertently disclosed a serious illegality committed by his men right
inside the Commission. While making all sorts of allegations against
me, Kanth accused me of doing the story on the basis of a ''non-existent''
affidavit. It turned out that an affidavit filed by one of the affected
family members, Trilok Singh, was no more on the records of the Commission.
That was totally contrary to the law because no document can be physically
taken out of the Commission's records for any reason whatsoever without
Nanavati's orders. Much to his discredit, Nanavati desisted from
uncovering the complicity of his staff with the efforts to shield
Nanavati's reluctance to
hold the police to account was even more evident on another occasion
while he was dealing with a Delhi colony called Trilokpuri, which saw
the massacre of over 300 Sikhs. Having recorded the highest concentration
of killings in a single locality, Trilokpuri was the 1984 equivalent
of Naroda Patia in Ahmedabad, where about 80 Muslims were killed last
year. The CJC alleged that the police contributed to the massacre in
Trilokpuri by seizing all arms from Sikhs and making them all the more
vulnerable to attacks. Nanavati answered that he did not find anything
wrong with the seizure of arms from Sikhs as a pre-emptive measure.
The CJC pointed out that it would have been alright if the police had
by the same token disarmed Hindus as well. A combative Nanavati challenged
the CJC to give evidence revealing that Hindus also had arms.
Each of these instances shows
that Nanavati has a certain mindset which makes him give the benefit
of the doubt to the police in the face of all indications to the contrary.
More importantly, Nanavati shares this mindset with a lot of others
in judicial circles. He perhaps imbibed this attitude as he worked for
several years as a government lawyer in Ahmedabad. Regrettably, a majority
of the judges are recruited from among government lawyers. The bias
is in-built. Nanavati is a typical product of the system. And that is
why he does not even seem conscious of the bias he displays.