Feminist Perspectives on Post-riot Judicial Inquiry Commissions in India

Date01 August 2017
Published date01 August 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Feminist Perspectives on
Post-riot Judicial Inquiry
Commissions in India
B. Rajeshwari1
This article argues that though communal riots bring different experiences
for men and women, yet this reality does not seem to be recognized by post-
riot justice mechanisms. Justice post-riots is viewed as a ‘blanket’ term for all
the victims irrespective of their gender. In so doing, women’s everyday experi-
ences seem to get pushed under the carpet. Drawing from feminist critique
of the legalistic approach to justice, this article problematizes the understanding
that there is only one singular, official version of truth in post-riot situations.
The article critically examines post-riot judicial commissions that were consti-
tuted to inquire into the Mumbai (1992–1993) and Gujarat (2002) riots from a
feminist perspective. I argue that the judicial inquiry commissions in their current
format are underequipped to deal with gender concerns that emerge after
communal riots. And that there is a need for feminist security studies to venture
into critically analyzing judicial inquiry commissions.
Communal riots, feminist security studies, Judicial Inquiry Commissions,
justice, India
My father-in-law, a retired school teacher, refused to leave the village with the
other Muslim families who fled to Kalol on 28 February 2002. He believed no one
would harm us […]. On Sunday afternoon (3 March 2002) the hut we were hiding
in was attacked. We ran in different directions and hid in the field. But the mob
found some of us and started attacking. I could see my daughter being pulled away.
She screamed, telling the men to get off her and leave her alone […] I could do
nothing to help my daughter from being assaulted sexually and tortured to death.
Independent Scholar, New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
B. Rajeshwari, Independent Scholar, H – 24/7, Shankar Vihar, New Delhi - 110010, India.
E-mail: rajeshwari.bala@gmail.com
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
4(2) 196–218
2017 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797017710747
Rajeshwari 197
My daughter was like a flower, still to experience life. Why did they have to do
this to her? What kind of men are these? The monsters tore my beloved daughter to
pieces. After a while, the mob was saying ‘cut them to pieces, leave no evidence’.
I saw fires being lit. After some time the mob started leaving. And it became quiet.
(Testimony of Medina Mustafa Ismail Sheikh, Kalol camp, Panchmahals district
to Women Fact-Finding Commission to inquire into Gujarat riots, 30 March 2002;
Hameed et al., 2002)
Shakeela Banoo Nurulla Sheikh Hussain (Witness No. 243–CPI) deposed that on
10 January 1993 at about 10:30 hours three truckloads of men came to Sanman Nagar
where she resided. These men went about systematically damaging the huts and
kucchha structures in that area. She along with her children and husband Nurulla Hussain
Sheikh fled from the area. While they were fleeing, they were attacked by five–six
people armed with wooden sticks, rods and swords. Her husband was attacked. One of
the attackers poured inflammatory liquid on the body of her husband and set him ablaze.
(Report of the Justice Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry, 1998, p. 185)
Both the testimonies are on communal riots and by women victims, yet the simi-
larity seems to end there. The first testimony, given before a citizen’s group,
which also calls itself a fact-finding commission, brings a first-person’s account
indicating the pattern of attacks against a particular gender and provides a window
to the trauma experienced by victims beyond physical terms. The second testi-
mony treats the victim more as a witness and therefore uses the testimony to
strengthen the argument that the commission later wants to make in the report.
The evidence, therefore, in the second case is more matter of fact and does not
highlight the gender of the witness or the gendered nature of the communal riots
which it inquires. Nevertheless, it is the judicial commission’s report, which
becomes the state’s narrative about the particular riot under inquiry.
The two testimonies also highlight the differing narratives of communal
riots and that there is a ‘struggle to control interpretations’. Most often, different
versions of a riot emerge, and attempts are made to define or attach meaning to
incidents of communal violence in a ‘struggle to control interpretations and explain
the violence’ (Brass, 1992, pp. 4–5). Out of this struggle, there is one version
which emerges as dominant and is accepted as the official version of the riot,
while the others are dismissed as trivial and not worthy of finding space as part of
the mainstream narrative (Pandey, 1992).1 For instance, there is always an attempt
to bracket the violence under different boxes like ‘riot’, ‘pogrom’ or ‘genocide’
based on its intensity, involvement of the state and its agencies or the position
from where the two groups indulge in violence.
In a post-riot situation, among the various steps that governments take to
restore normalcy is the appointment of an independent judicial inquiry commis-
sion to investigate the riot.2 Judicial inquiry commissions are mandated to
bring forward credible information related to the riot.3 In India, 42 judicial
inquiry commissions have been appointed to investigate incidents of communal
riots. There is considerable criticism levied on judicial inquiry commissions
because of the prolonged time they take to come out with their findings.
This criticism is not completely unwarranted. According to government records,

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