1984: What’s in a killing?

By Preet K S Bedi

1984. 49 convictions against 2733 murders. 8 got more than 5 years and 156 between 3 to 5 years. 117 paid fines and were ‘warned’. They apparently paid a few hundred rupees and were told never to murder again.

Eyewitness accounts suggest that most incidents involved multiple murders. If we are to assume an average of 1.5 murders per killer, there must have been about 1825 people who actually slit a throat or lit a match. This means that 1540 and odd murderers have been roaming around free and unchallenged for 30 years. We could be meeting them every day. In crowds. In offices. On the roads. In the malls. In lifts. In temples and gurdwaras.

2002. By now we had a more robust media and activist judiciary. The ratios improved. Against the official toll of 1267, 218 have so far been convicted. This is thanks to the Supreme Court, not the government, some cases have been reopened and the situation is fluid.

anti-sikh riotsUsing the same 1.5 murders per killer rule, in Gujarat there were about 850 who actually slit throats and lit the matches. Which means 625 and odd have been roaming free for 12 years. As in Delhi, we could be meeting them every day. In offices. In crowds. On the roads. In the malls. In the lifts. In temples, gurdwaras. And mosques.

The rest is bizarre.

In any civilized society, after a riot, a case should be registered against each murder and pursued with diligence. In most riots and certainly in Delhi the killers were local people and therefore identifiable. Once those prima facie guilty are all in jail, the leaders who ‘incited’ are bound to be identified. But that would be boring. And who really cares about catching the killers as long as the headlines are interesting?

From catching the actual culprits, attention shifts to somehow implicating the political class for some kind of ‘incitement’. On the assumption perhaps that the average Indian is an innocent dud, poor fellow, who can be ‘incited’ to slit throats and burn people alive but can hardly be held responsible for his acts.

Once the focus has shifted to somehow involving the political class, it is downhill all the way.

Political leaders who incite violence are no fools. They cover their tracks well. Not every leader is stupid enough to actually deliver weapons as Kodnani had done. By its very nature, incitement is tough to prove and even if proved the maximum the conviction will fetch is a few months or years.

In order to raise the stakes and involve politicians in more serious charges, witnesses are manufactured and evidence is fabricated. The more artificially the case is propped up, the tougher it is to get conviction.

While so much energy is wasted on weak trumped up cases, most of the real cases die a natural death. After all the police and other departments also read the same headlines that we read.

Everyone of us is complicit. Activists, media, you and me. By chasing sexy headlines we let the real killers get away. And get ready to be ‘used’ by the next set of ‘inciters’ for the next set of killings.

Preet K S Bedi is an adman, a keen observer and writer. He can be contacted on preet_bedi@hotmail.com



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