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The Wadhwa Commission report

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    The Wadhwa Commission report

    THE CRIMINALS waited for less than a month, after the submission of the
    Wadhwa Commission report, to strike again. A Muslim trader and a
    Catholic priest have been murdered in a less than 30-km radius of the
    site of the Staines killings. Even the Orissa Government has
    acknowledged Dara Singh's involvement in the murder of the former and
    does not rule it out in the latter. But the Wadhwa Commission upheld the
    myth that no organisation was involved in the Staines murder. Has this
    stance encouraged the recent killings?
    For years, attempts have been made to cover up such crimes, thus
    encouraging the criminals. Soon after the Staines killings, three Union
    Ministers spent less than an hour at the murder site, without knowing
    the local dialect, and declared the crime a ``foreign conspiracy.'' Even
    before appointing the Wadhwa Commission, the Union Home Minister, Mr. L.
    K. Advani, had exonerated the Bajrang Dal. If they were so certain, why
    did they need a Commission at all? Why did they not take action against
    the ``foreign hand?'' Or, did they want a Commission only to repeat the
    platitudes they were mouthing?
    If that is what they wanted, the Wadhwa Commission has played its role
    well. Ignoring the evidence of its own counsel and investigation team,
    it exonerated every organisation. The counsel's report provides
    circumstantial evidence of Dara Singh's links with the Sangh Parivar. In
    seven First Information Reports (FIRs) on communal crimes, Dara Singh is
    linked to the Bajrang Dal and in four to the BJP. It states that he
    worked for the BJP in 1998, that he was active in the Goraksha Samiti
    and attacked Muslim cattle traders. Eyewitnesses testify that the
    murderous crowd shouted ``Jai Bajrang Bali'' and dispersed when a
    whistle was blown - an act known to be the slogan and strategy of a
    communal organisation. Even the draft refers to the counsel's evidence.
    But the final report absolves all organisations. So with no
    organisational support Dara Singh got information about the whereabouts
    of Graham Staines and motivated 50 persons to go to a village far from
    theirs to burn the Australian missionary and his two children to death.
    Also the Commission's way of identifying issues raises doubts about the
    forces at work. Many wanted the Commission to study the Staines murder
    in the overall communal context. At least 108 attacks on Christians were
    recorded in Gujarat alone during 1998. The year ended with tension in
    Karnataka. There was a major incident in Orissa just when the Commission
    was beginning its hearings. It had the authority to study the murder
    within this context. Clause B of its terms of reference asked the
    Commission to inquire whether any organisation was involved. Clause C
    gave it the power to study related issues.
    The Commission could have used this clause had it wanted to, but it did
    not. People with a vested interest in fomenting communal tension had
    blamed the Staines murder on conversions. Amid the violence in Gujarat
    and elsewhere, the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, demanded a
    debate on conversions, not on the acts of the criminals behind the
    attacks. The Commission used Clause C to discuss conversions. Under
    Clause B, it discussed the Sangh Parivar. It exonerated both but did not
    situate the murder in the overall national context.
    In so doing, the Commission played into the hands of those who use the
    conversion myth to divert attention from their crimes. Such diversion is
    an integral part of our national ethos. Whenever there is unrest against
    corruption or social injustice, those involved in the protest are
    declared naxalites and at times killed in pseudo-encounters. But those
    who burn innocent people to death go scot-free. Conversion has become
    one such convenient scapegoat. Finding scapegoat is not confined to any
    one party as the inaction of the Orissa Government shows. It has filed
    FIRs against Dara Singh but has not arrested him or declared him an
    absconder. He is free to go around burning people or instigating others
    to do so on the pretext of opposing conversions. Little wonder then that
    there were two murders within a fortnight.
    After the murder of the Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Arul Doss, the Home
    Secretary of Orissa said Christians divided families and caused tension
    by converting people. In this thinking murders are understandable and
    may even be justified. The administrators are paid from the taxpayer's
    money to be impartial executives. But they understand only murderers,
    not the import of their irresponsible statements. They seem to ignore
    the fact that the proportion of Christians declined from 2.6 per cent in
    1961 to 2.3 per cent in 1991. Then how do they explain mass conversions?
    They do not have to know the truth but only need scapegoats to divert
    attention from their inaction.
    Thus the Wadhwa report is not the main issue. It brings into focus the
    very credibility of inquiry Commissions. Some of their doctored reports
    seem to encourage criminals. Was the BJP Government sincere in
    appointing it? And if it was, why did it appoint a Commission only when
    a foreigner was murdered and when there was a danger of international
    opinion going against it?
    Similar questions can be asked about many other Commissions appointed
    after police firings, communal massacres or train accidents. Most of
    them present what look like doctored reports. The Commission which
    probed the police firing in Banjhi, Bihar, in which 15 tribals were
    killed in April 1985, accepted the police version and exonerated the
    state though evidence pointed in the opposite direction. Look at the
    reports of the Commissions on the frequent railway accidents. Their
    reports are accepted when they give the official version, but their
    recommendations are ignored. See how long it took to initiate action
    against the small-timers mentioned in the Mishra Commission Report on
    the massacre of Sikhs. The big fish swim free.
    If a Commission does a good job, its report is usually rejected. The
    Srikrishna Commission report pinpointed responsibility and identified
    persons behind the carnage of Muslims in 1993. The Maharashtra
    Government rejected the report. The Commission on the Khanna train
    accident in Punjab in 1998 also fixed the blame. Instead of implementing
    its recommendations, another Commission was appointed. It is yet to
    begin its work.
    The criminals know where to go from here. They have shown it through two
    more murders in Orissa. But where does the honest citizen go? Do we
    throw up our hands and let the criminals have their way or come forward,
    be counted and demand justice to the victims? In so doing, it is
    important to situate these murders within the context of the growth of
    fascism. Criminalisation and communalisation are basic to it. So these
    crimes are human rights issues and do not concern the minorities alone.
    The economic and political forces with a vested interest in the growing
    poverty of the majority use religion to ensure that the poor do not wake
    up to the reality of their exploitation. Criminals are used when they
    raise their voice. They link the crimes with conversions to give them a
    communal bias.
    Thus there is a link between the 1984 massacre of Sikhs, of the Muslims
    in 1993, the frequent atrocities on the Dalits and tribals and the
    recent attacks on Christians. The fascist elements need to find and
    tackle one enemy at a time, thus ensuring that the enemy is divided. And
    many inquiry Commissions play the role expected of them. It is for the
    honest citizens to decide whether they want to let fascist, criminal and
    communal elements rule or come together against these destructive
    (The writer is Senior Fellow (Research), Indian Social Institute, New
    Courtesy The Hindu 11-09-99