APPEAL FOR LAWYERS FOR LEGAL JUSTICE IN GUJARAT
Nyayagrah: People’s Campaign for Justice and Reconciliation in Gujarat
Gandhi spoke of Satyagraha as a people’s struggle for truth. In the context of continued injustice, impunity and economic blockade faced by people in Gujarat only because they follow a different faith, a people’s campaign for justice and equal rights guaranteed under the constitution, peace and reconciliation in under way in Gujarat called Nyayagrah.
We believe the struggle for defending secular democracy in India is in the nature of a second freedom struggle. And healing and justice for the survivors of the brutal state-sponsored massacre of 2002 in Gujarat, has become both the symbol and necessary condition for the success of this vital democratic battle for equal rights of all citizens. The battle for justice is important to prevent the recurrence of such mass crimes in the future. It is also important for upholding the dignity, equal rights and freedom from fear and intimidation of the survivors. Justice is an essential feature of reconciliation because no genuine reconciliation can be constructed on fear and injustice. The battle for justice must be resolute but must also create spaces for dialogue and healing. As Desmond Tutu of South Africa says, “There is no future without forgiveness”
In the face of this colossal degree of state impunity, subversion and open hostility to minorities, and extensive bias in the judiciary, the resistance by human rights groups and many who have never engaged in legal justice work in the past but feel impelled to now join the fight for these, has been utterly remarkable, and in the long history of communal violence in India unprecedented.
Most organisations decided to focus all their attention and resources on a few selected “major” test cases, where there was a great deal of loss of life, and to fight these with the best legal talent, considerable resources and efforts for witness protection and support. The outcome of these efforts has been salutary. The recent orders obtained through the
sterling efforts of Citizens for Justice and Peace in the Best Bakery case have greatly strengthened the battle for justice. Before this, away from the media spotlight, the Foundation for Civil Liberties has also secured two extraordinary convictions, in the mass murders of Gharghoda and Anjanwada.
Nyayagrah is attempting to complement and support the major efforts for justice. Despite the very important wider impact of the legal efforts focussed on a few major cases, in a practical sense an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the victims are still struggling on their own to fight their legal cases. This would be a formidable human rights challenge even in more “normal” circumstances, but it can be devastating both for justice and people’s morale in the situation of massive unprecedented state subversion of justice. This is compounded further by the atmosphere and intimidation, in which large numbers of people are being coerced to concede to humiliating “compromises” of agreeing to withhold or even reverse their evidence that can bring the guilty to book.
We believe that this struggle for justice and equal rights before the law that must be waged primarily by people themselves, and further that the greatest contribution can be made by resolute and courageous peace and justice workers or nyaya pathiks, both Muslim and Hindu, who emerge from among the very communities that have survived the mass violence.
The majority are youths; most from working class or farming backgrounds These nyaya pathiks are trying to help the survivors to rise above thehate and fear that has bitterly divided their communities and almost broken their spirits. They try to work without compromise, hate or fear with steadfast commitment to justice, and with compassionate support for the survivors and witnesses.
The historic order from the Supreme Court in September 2004 to re-examine all cases that were summarily closed or acquitted opens up the opportunity to secure justice for thousands of survivors of the Gujarat carnage. More than 2000 cases that were closed after investigation without even trial, and nearly 300 cases which were heard in court with deliberately weakened and openly partisan investigation and prosecution resulting in the accused being acquitted. An enormous success is that the Gujarat government in January 2006 has finally had to bow down to the repeated pressures in the Supreme Court as well as on the ground, and ordered the reopening of all but 22 of the closed cases.
This means that the opportunity to secure justice has been successfully reclaimed for thousands of the victims of the massacre.
Beginning with three major districts, Ahmedabad, Anand and Sabarkantha that account for an estimated 50- 60 percent of all cases and affected people, teams of nyaya pathiks and young lawyers have been set up. The teams are identifying all legal infirmities by examining the record, making contact with the complainant victims and witnesses, and
attempting to build and sustain their confidence to pursue the cases and help them overcome fear and despair. Numerous people were reached out to and were able to overcome their fear and to give evidence. This has now become the main immediate challenge, to reach to as many of those complainants and witnesses of these reopened cases. Hundreds of applications have also been filed for compensation.
The other major challenge is the on-going social and economic boycott in all villages where people returned after violence, and the hundreds of villages where return is not possible. A structured process of reconciliation is imperative in these villages, but most agreed that reconciliation can be authentically built only on the foundation of acknow-ledgement, remorse and justice.
Some young lawyers are on board, but more are needed with the motivation, integrity, secular values and professionalism. With literally several hundred cases in hand, we desperately need more legal hands, especially young lawyers who are willing to spend a year or two steadfastly in fighting for legal justice. Each case brings its unique challenges : of many forms of intimidation, fear and boycott, people occupying the properties of internal refugees, prejudices of police, prosecutors and judges and so on, and each demands a specific legal response, to be crafted together by the community workers and lawyers for peace.