The lawyer I know well flew into town again last week. He comes rarely now, though he used to come here often. Always business class. Always put up in a suite at one of the finest hotels in the city. Over the years, he has shared many superb dinners there with us.
He is part of the prosecution team in the famous Bombay bomb blast case. While the case was being heard, he was in and out of Bombay regularly, arguing the prosecution's case, cross-examining witnesses. Those visits ended about 16 months ago, when all arguments in the case ended. So this was his first visit since then -- he was here to clear up some points for the judge.
Unfortunately, we couldn't manage our usual dinner together.
But they did come to me again, the points I have discussed with him often. The bomb blasts happened on March 12 1993, killing some 250 people. Within a year, over 150 suspects had been arrested and the trial had begun in a special court. Most of those 150 have spent the last decade in jail while their trial has rumbled on. For the last 16 months, they have continued in jail while the judge considers all the evidence and writes his judgement. (Presumably, that is what he is doing).
Now I have no way of knowing, but it seems plausible to me that His Honour will find at least some of those 150 suspects innocent. I ask for no sympathy for those he will find guilty. But who will compensate the innocent for the years in custody? How? More important, who cares?
And even so, there is something else here that is worse than innocents jailed for a decade. Three months prior to the blasts -- yes, prior, despite a deliberately spread and growing impression to the contrary -- there were weeks of rioting in Bombay, killing about 1000 people and destroying countless other lives. The carnage in this city in 1992-93 traumatized all of us who lived through it, and was every bit as horrible as what happened in Gujarat in 2002.
Yet twelve years later, there is no trial for the riots, none in prospect. There is no cause for me to ask the question I ask about the bomb blast trial: who will compensate the innocent for their time in jail and how? Because nobody is in jail accused of crimes during the riots, nobody of any consequence so much as arrested. All we have is the report of an official inquiry into the riots: not a trial, just an inquiry with no penal powers. And even that report has been viciously trashed by some, utterly ignored by others. Even though, like so many other futile inquiries into national tragedies, it identifies the guilty.
For most of the past decade, I've wondered about this, and discussed it with the lawyer over our delicious dinners. Here's my dilemma.
One act of ghastly terrorism has seen arrests, long incarcerations, a laborious but full-fledged trial involving lawyers flying business class and staying in expensive hotel suites.
The other act of ghastly terrorism has seen nothing.
Why? What explains this glaring contrast in our response to two great crimes?
If in the bomb blast case, I wonder who will compensate the innocent, in the Bombay riots I wonder who will bring justice to the victims, the families of innocent Indians killed. Who will punish the guilty? I don't like to admit it, but somewhere inside me I know the answer: nobody. Nobody will get justice. Nobody will be punished.
And since we seem content with this profound failure of justice (and others), I also wonder: what does this say about our Indian aspirations? You know: become a developed country, become a superpower, defeat terrorism, sit on that Security Council for all time to come, make this the Indian century, take your pick.
What does this say about us?