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Look what Best Bakery judge also dished out

Manoj Mitta

Sunday 20 July 2003, by MITTA*Manoj

- In his not-guilty verdict, he blames British ’divide and rule,’ links job reservations to communal riots, points to Parsis as model minority.

- They (leaders after Independence) accepted Partition and waited for the Britishers to go so that they could jump onto the kursi and, neglecting burning issues, become world figures

- Best Bakery? H U Mahida, the honourable judge, who acquitted all the 21 accused in the case has an answer, in fact several answers: the British policy of divide and rule; the emphasis on industrialisation at the expense of villages; frustration among ’’meritorious’’ people because of reservations.

NEW DELHI, JULY 18: What’s behind communal massacres like the Best Bakery? H U Mahida, the honourable judge, who acquitted all the 21 accused in the case has an answer, in fact several answers: the British policy of divide and rule; the emphasis on industrialisation at the expense of villages; frustration among ’’meritorious’’ people because of reservations.

If you thought this was a mere digression, take this: deciding on a case in which 11 of the 14 killed were Muslims, he gratuitously refers to Parsis as an exemplary minority. And rubs it in: ’’Even as the (Parsi) community practised its religion, it inculcated the spirit of nationalism. We all should learn from this community.’’

All this Mahida has put in black and white in his 24-page verdict which is one of the key documents the NHRC is carefully going through to decide what to do next with the case. On June 27, when he delivered the judgment, Mahida’s most quoted lines were: the massacre was a ’’blot on the cultural city of Vadodara.’’ And the prosecution failed to submit any ’’iota of reliable evidence.’’

What went unread is most revealing. For, nowhere in his entire judgment does Mahida deal with the possibility of prime witness Zaheera Sheikh and her mother turning hostile out of fear. On July 6, Zaheera’s mother Sehrunissa first told The Sunday Express how she lied in court afraid for her life.

Instead, from the 17th page on, Mahida holds forth on history and society in a bid to bolster his verdict. However, he does admit that not one conviction in such a gruesome case ’’is beyond the comprehension of the common man.’’

Consider these:

? He argues that he could not have done anything to save the case. Why? Because under his judicial system ’’bequeathed by the British,’’ a court goes ’’entirely by evidence on record.’’ From here, he takes a leap, defining a court in very unusual terms. ’’The courts are,’’ he says, ’’truly speaking, evidence courts and not courts of justice.’’

? Rather than dealing with the issue of key witnesses turning hostile, Mahida generalises that in riot cases police arrive late and arrest ’’bystanders’’ rather than the ’’miscreants’’ who would have already fled. ’’It is because of this tendency that those who genuinely want to depose as witnesses stay away from the police.’’

? The Best Bakery incident, Mahida says, was ’’a fallout of the Godhra carnage but the overall question of communal riots in the country is a fallout of the divide and rule policy bequeathed by the Britishers.’’

? In an apparent attack on Nehru and his colleagues, Mahida says: ’’They accepted the partition and waited for the Britishers to go so that they can jump onto the kursi and, neglecting burning issues, become world figures.’’

? In a further swipe, Mahida says those leaders made ’’a major mistake by blindly copying the Soviet system in a bid to make India a highly industrialised state.... Villages started to crumble and cities began to overflow with people.’’

Mahida’s solution: ’’Focus of today’s rulers should shift from the industrial sector to the agricultural sector...This could to a large extent help in keeping communal riots under control.’’

? Another startling solution he offers for preventing communal riots is to abolish all reservations. In this, he stretches the facts too. ’’The Constitution provided reservations for only 10 years,’’ he says, confusing job and admission quotas with reservation in the legislature. ’’But, thanks to vote bank politics, the period of reservations has been extended from time to time at the expense of the country.’’

The only quota he finds ’’understandable’’ is the one meant for ’’physically or mentally handicapped persons.’’ It should otherwise ’’be ensured that the meritorious are not affected by the reservation policies as it would amount to human rights violations.’’

? Echoing the commonly-held view that secularism in the Indian context means sarva dharma sambhav (all religions are equal), Mahida-echoing a Sangh refrain-holds out Parsis as a model minority.

’’Parsis are the pride of the country as they reflect the principle of sarva dharma sambhav. This community without creating hurdles to any caste or community, has achieved economic, social, administrative and judicial progress.’’

P.S.

"Parsis progressed without creating hurdles to any caste or community. Even as they practise their religion, they inculcate the spirit of nationalism. We all should learn from this community"

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