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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

WB post-poll pogrom: Sibal, Singhvi question NHRC findings, matter drags in courts while Hindus suffer

Political murders in West Bengal under the TMC government were ongoing from several years ago. Even the 2014 NCRB report had called out West Bengal as topping the list for political murders. The victims of political killings have been mostly BJP workers. The horrific post-poll pogrom however began on May 2.

The Calcutta High Court order to the NHRC on June 18 to set up a Committee to investigate the post-poll violence led to the constitution of a 7-member panel to investigate the matter. The panel submitted its report on July 13. It recommended that a federal body such as the CBI should probe the post-poll violence and that all trials should be held outside the state.

The panel’s report stated that, ‘at least 1934 police complaints were lodged in the state between May 2 and June 20, including 29 complaints of murder, 12 of rape and sexual assault and 940 of loot and arson. Out of the 9304 people named as accused, less than 3% are currently in jail.’

While these are findings on lodged complaints one can imagine that a larger proportion of crimes must have gone unreported due to intimidation and other obstacles to filing cases, which the panel confirmed. The panel visited 311 spots and found that ‘in 60% of the places, FIRs were not registered… Out of the 9304 accused cited in the FIRs only 1354 (14%) have been arrested and, out of these arrested, 1086 (80%) are already on bail. Thus, overall speaking, less than 3% of the accused are in jail, while 97% are out in the open, making a mockery of the whole system.’

The report explicitly states that ‘the police didn’t have the courage to take action against goons belonging to the ruling dispensation.’ The 50-page report also adds, ‘The situation in the state of West Bengal is a manifestation of law of ruler, instead of rule of law…This was retributive violence by supporters of the ruling party against supporters of the main opposition party.’ The NHRC is not known to use harsh language but in this case. it has unambiguously described the West Bengal post-poll situation as one that would ring the ‘death knell of democracy.’

The report recommended that ‘all heinous crimes, including murder, unnatural deaths, rape and grievous hurt, and complaints carrying these allegations should be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). . . Trial of all the above cases investigated by the CBI should be held outside the state.’ It also suggested a court-monitored special investigation team with a special public prosecutor, trial in fast track courts, deployment of central forces, and reforms in police.

The TMC has denied the charges and said that isolated clashes were being ‘exaggerated’. The state government called the findings of the report as ‘sweeping, homilies, absurd, and false.’

Even before the NHRC panel submitted its report, a PIL had been filed in the Supreme Court on July 1 by UP-based practising lawyer Ranjana Agnihotri and a social worker Jitender Singh through their lawyer Vishnu Shankar Jain. The petitioners are also being represented by advocate Hari Shankar Jain. The NHRC panel report is the product of a systematic investigation and therefore has legitimacy but this PIL filed by individual citizens had made similar assertions and sought much the same interventions.

Many of the assertions made in this PIL have only been reaffirmed in the NHRC report. For example, the plea stated that ‘the PIL has been filed in extraordinary circumstances as thousands of residents of West Bengal are being terrorized, penalised and tortured by the workers of TMC for supporting the opposition party- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the assembly pollssoon after the declaration of assembly polls result on 2 May, the TMC workers and supporters started creating chaos, unrest and setting the houses and properties of Hindus on fire, looting and plundered their belongings for the simple reason that they had supported BJP in assembly polls.’

Similar to the NHRC assertions, the plea spoke of the state government and its administration remaining silent spectators: ‘The government and administration remained silent spectators and no protection was provided to the victims by them. The government, officials and the administration and the police are supporting workers of TMC, due to which the life, liberty, prestige, dignity and modesty of women are being taken away as is evident from the fact that number of persons were harmed and mercilessly murdered and no steps were taken for their safety

The petitioners said they were espousing the cause of several Hindu citizens of West Bengal who were being targeted by Muslims as revenge for supporting the BJP.

The interventions this PIL sought also had much in common with the NHRC panel report recommendations. Thus, the plea sought immediate intervention of the court and asked for an SIT to probe the causes of the post-poll violence.

Similar to the NHRC recommendations, this July 1 plea also sought ‘direction to the Centre to deploy armed/paramilitary forces in the aid of the administrative authorities to bring normalcy in the state and to save it from internal disturbances.’

Additionally, the plea sought that the Union government exercises its authority conferred by Articles 355 or 356 in containing law-and-order breakdown and handling internal disturbances ‘keeping in view the deteriorating condition posing a threat to sovereignty and integrity of India.’

In the case of the NHRC panel report, in a hearing held on August 3, the High Court has reserved its verdict. Not surprisingly, among those representing the West Bengal state government in the NHRC case are Congress party lawyers Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Kapil Sibal, while one of the NHRC petitioners is being represented by Mahesh Jethmalani who reiterated the NHRC recommendation for a CBI probe since complaints were not registered in several instances.

Singhvi alleged ‘bias’ on part of three of the NHRC panel members. Sibal claimed that the NHRC team had not followed the ‘right procedure’ and that it was ‘biased’ against the WB Police and government.

During the August 3 hearing, Jethmalani made the following points:

  • The state of West Bengal says that findings (of NHRC) are wrong. That’s the most serious grievance. They have tried to impugn the findings. The NHRC has recorded statements, visited affected areas and it has tried to gather such evidence as it was possible to do.
  • Murder cases alone – Police says 29, NHRC says 52.
  • The situation with rape is even graver. According to police no rape is there — Whereas according to NHRC, there are 14 cases of rape, in addition to attempted rape & sexual assault cases which are 79 in number.
  • Glaring gaps outright (between NHRC and State of West Bengal claims). No one is deciding right or wrong at this stage. The state says the numbers are ‘vastly exaggerated’ and that a large number of victims have ‘withdrawn’ their complaints.
  • 3384 is the total number of cases. 1356 complaints have been found “not to be true” which is a grave dereliction of duty on part of West Bengal State. Over 1000 have not even been registered.

Readers would remember that the NHRC team was attacked by goons when it was visiting the burnt houses of BJP supporters in Jadavpur – all this was recorded on camera. WB Police was nowhere to be seen and the irate mobs could only be held back due to presence of central forces accompanying the NHRC team.

Due to the uncooperative attitude of the WB government, the NHRC team could not have visited all the places where violence took place. Another fact-finding team headed by a former Chief Justice of Sikkim High Court, which included 2 ex-IAS and 1 ex-IPS officers, reported that 15,000 incidents of violence took place in 16 districts of the state, and 7,000 women were sexually assaulted in the pogrom unleashed by state-sponsored goons after TMC’s victory on 2 May.

On the PIL filed on July 1 by Ranjana Agnihotri and Jitender Singh, the Supreme Court had sought answers from the first respondent, the Union of India; the second respondent, the West Bengal state government; and the third respondent, the Election Commission; but significantly left out the fourth respondent, Mamata Banerjee, the President of the TMC. The court set the hearing date a month away and scheduled it for July 30 despite the issue being a matter of life and death for many innocents residing in West Bengal.

Even more dismal was the fact that on the date of the hearing on July 30, the West Bengal government’s counsel was, not surprisingly, absent from the hearing. And even though it is BJP workers and supporters who have been systematically targeted in the West Bengal violence, yet the BJP Union government (its Counsel) also remained absent. Only the Counsel for the Election Commission was present at the hearing. The SC bench comprising Justice Vineet Saran and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari adjourned the hearing and pushed it forward by two more weeks.

The Supreme Court is also considering two other petitions relating to post-poll violence in West Bengal – those hearings too are proceeding at a snail’s pace. Compare this to the lightening pace at which hearings are held when a petition was filed by Harsh Mander and his daughter last year over Delhi riots and alleged ‘hate speech’ by BJP leaders. The real hate speeches during the illegal Shaheen Bagh sit-in and likes of AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan were swept under the carpet by the Lutyens’ cabal. Ironically, Mander too gave speeches in the run up to the Delhi riots, instigating people against both Supreme Court and Parliament and exhorting them to hit the streets! Yet he managed to get a midnight hearing with Delhi HC on his plea.

The victims of the ongoing violence are Hindus which explains why there has been no urgency to address the matter. Nor has there been any hue and cry by ‘human rights’ agencies like the United Nations, mainstream media, and political parties against the post-poll violence. While courts have agreed to admit some of the PILs, there is no suo-motu urgency or outrage by the justice system either.

Worldwide Hinduphobia is a fact of life that Hindus have been forced to live with. In fact, the ruling BJP government at the centre too has not sufficiently highlighted the post-poll violence and in fact chose to remain absent at a hearing on the matter. Meanwhile, the post-poll violence continues unabated.

(Featured Image Source: Twitter timeline of Ritesh Tiwari)

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