India: Mumbai riots a 'chilling precedent' to Gujarat warning

Little action has been taken over the Mumbai riots and Amnesty International fears that authorities may also fail to bring to justice those responsible for mass killings in Gujarat this year.

Though a Srikrishna Commission of Enquiry in 1996 identified 31 police officers in Mumbai as responsible for killings, negligence and rioting during the 1992 violence, charges were only brought in 2001, and only against 17 officers. No-one has yet been tried, while according to some reports, some of the 17 have since received promotions.

Amnesty International UK Director of Communications Richard Bunting said:

'Ten years of apparent impunity in Mumbai is a ‘chilling precedent' for those seeking justice after this year's atrocious violence in Gujarat.

'The Maharashtran government must urgently take steps to restore credibility in the justice system, a move that is vital for the mass victims of both Mumbai's and Gujarat's shocking killings.'

Though the Srikrishna Commission recommended implementation of long-term preventive measures to avoid a recurrence of communal violence, no steps have yet been taken. Amnesty International is calling for the Commission's recommendations to be fully implemented to help prevent similar abuses.

Background on the Mumbai riots

On 6 December 1992, after months of political mobilisation by extremist Hindu parties, about 2,000 people marched to the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh and demolished the mosque. This occurred in the presence of large contingents of security forces that remained inactive. Soon after, inter-communal violence was reported throughout India.

On 7 December 1992 Muslim groups in Mumbai protested violently against the demolition. Extremist Hindu groups, and in particular the Shiv Sena, used the situation to mobilise Hindus to 'teach Muslims a lesson,' and the situation escalated to full-scale riots, abating only six weeks later.

The Srikrishna Commission, while unsparing of acts of violence by Muslims and Hindus, clearly identified and blamed extremist Hindu groups for the pre-planned targeting of Muslim life and property in Mumbai. It also accused the Maharashtra state government for its confused response to the violence, noting that sections of the police remained inactive or even actively participated in violence.

A petition later filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of Mumbai residents challenged the inaction of the authorities with respect to the police officers accused by the Srikrishna Commission. The petition is scheduled for a final hearing in the second week of January 2003.

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