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An Empirical Intervention

Shweta Moorthy

Edited by Surabhi Chopra and Prita Jha
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2014, pp. xx 374, Rs. 750.00


I n November 2014, twelve years and twenty-four extensions later, the Nanavati Commission of Enquiry submitted its final report on the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat. Published a month before the report came out, On their Watch provides us the means to understand how the Indian state disburses justice in the aftermath of communal violence. Are inquiry Commission such as the Nanavati (that also enquired into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots) effective in holding government officials accountable? Does the criminal justice system have the capacity to indict and prosecute perpetrators of communal violence? Are survivors of violence provided adequate relief and rehabilitation? These are the questions that the authors of this book seek to answer. It is to their credit that their assessment raises even more questions about substantive and procedural elements of justice. This review is organized around the substantive and empirical contributions of the book. On Their Watch, to the benefit of its readers, makes the scope of its inquiry clear. First, it specifically seeks to examine the record of the Indian state with respect to ‘mass communal violence’. These are episodes of violence targeted at a certain religious group occurring in a defined geographical space and time (pp. 2–3). Thus defined, they identify four episodes of large scale communal violence—Nellie (1983), Bhagalpur (1989), Delhi (1984) and Gujarat (2002). Second, the book focuses on the aftermath of communal violence i.e. the manner in which the Indian state’s criminal justice system, accountability mechanisms and rehabilitation services worked once the violence had been initiated in those four cases. Thus defined, this book builds on existing literature on communal violence in India and contributes to it as well. As the authors note, scholars and civil society alike, have justifiably paid considerable attention to uncovering the complicity of the state in perpetrating all types of violence against certain communities. This book completes the story of violence and marginalization of certain communities wherein they are not only targeted for violence but are blocked off from seeking justice as well. The state not only conspires to expose their citizens to violence and fails to guarantee their security, it also gives little opportunity for redressal to the targeted community. That points to violence of a different variety— where institutional machinations at different stages of the justice process exacerbate the marginalization of targeted communities. For instance, the editors of the book, Surabhi Chopra and Prita Jha, note the (a) low proportion of ...

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