By Sandhya Jain
The Union Home Secretary'sdirective to the Gujarat government to furnish details about the discovery of a so-called mass grave of post-Godhra victims at Lunavada in the Panchmahals, district is an unwarranted intrusion in the powers of the state government and a tacit encouragement to the scandalously adventurist postures of certain NGO activists. Press reports suggest that the activists and the Centre are keen to link the skeletons to the Bilkis Bano rape case, so that the CBI can step in, even though a CBI team that visited the spot clarified that the site of the mass grave is a good 100 km away from the place where Bano was raped.
It is shocking that visibly biased activists like Ms. Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace is moving around the state with the relatives of the 2002 riot victims, digging up various sites in search of the bodies of supposedly missing victims, with little regard for the sheer illegality of this action. This ?private? initiative, which unearthed skeletons on the banks of the Panam river, led the exultant activists to go to town with their ?discovery? and to file a writ petition in the Gujarat High Court.
In this connection, the Panchmahals district collector D.H. Brahmbhatt has done well to clarify that far from being a secret, the 20 bodies dug up by the relatives of riot victims were known to the administration and had been officially exhumed in October 2002. Eight bodies had been identified and handed over to relatives, and the unclaimed ones buried again (The Indian Express, December 29, 2005). Hence, there were no pending claims for bodies of riot victims with the police or administration.
A police officer has revealed that the bodies exhumed by riot victims and Setalvad'sNGO, with legal authority, were all buried with due legal procedure. The bodies had apparently been found in several villages, and as the minority community had abandoned these places, the police conducted post-mortems and gave the bodies to the Lunavada Nagarpalika, which buried them in accordance with Islamic rites. The fact that panchnamas of the burials were duly recorded shows that there was nothing clandestine about the burials, and the Gujarat High Court needs to question Ms. Setalvad about her unauthorised handling of dead bodies of riot victims.
This kind of unwarranted private activism with material evidence in legal cases, cocking a snook at the due process of law and law-enforcing agencies, could, if unchecked, lead to a situation in which motivated groups create and plant evidence with impunity. If justice is to be done in this country, it must also be seen to be done. As of now, what seems to be happening is a masterminding and brow-beating of the judicial process to secure a particular kind of verdict.
One has only to recollect how the Zahira Sheikh case was transferred to Mumbai on the basis of unsigned affidavits and a high-decibel media campaign, to realise the dangers of uncontrolled and agenda-driven activism. Already a man booked for bootlegging in 2004 has claimed that as a relative of a riot victim, he is being threatened by the police. While this may or may not be true, it is obvious that multiple agendas have come into play and need to be untangled.