Mumbai: March 1993. I had just turned 14 a few months ago and was studying in the French town of Pondicherry. But for all those who had someone living in Bombay - as it was still known then - life's realities weren't lost on me.
And certainly not of one particular date: March 12th, 1993. Now, infamously known as Black Friday, two decades ago, it was just another day before the weekend began. My father and my uncle were at the Air India building at Nariman Point in South Bombay for a business meeting. In an hour they left and reached their own office near Flora Fountain, just about 15 minutes away.
And then telephones began ringing. At around 2:30 pm, a massive blast had ripped through the concrete insides of the Air India's headquarters. My father and uncle could have easily been one of the 20 who died there. If not, then at least among the 87 people who were severely injured. Lucky. Plain simple lucky that they weren't. Like many others that day who would have just escaped death.
But not all were that fortunate. The 1993 serial blasts - the first inflicted on India - scarred the financial capital forever. It was also for the first time that the word "kaala saabun" was heard; that's RDX in bambaiyya Hindi, a black sticky deadly explosive that was packed into the 12 bombs that ripped through the city's prominent locations. 257 were killed. 713 injured. Officially, the losses were at pegged at Rs 27 crore.
Two decades ago, Bombay was made to bleed. Today, exactly 20 years later, Mumbai still waits for the wheels of justice to move and bring in the final closure. The trial, which I covered, continued for a humongous 13 years and finally in 2006, the Special Court found 100 of 123 accused guilty. Eleven men - mainly the bombers - had been awarded the death sentence while about 20 others were ordered to suffer a life-time behind bars. The Supreme Court has finished hearing their appeals and has reserved the matter for judgement. This entire judicial process - from 1993 to 2013 - has just crossed it's 20-year mark and we are still not done with it. Widows, orphans, the injured who were crippled for life and the families of those killed have been endlessly waiting for justice that our system has failed to deliver.
Two decades have past and the mastermind of the worst terror attack that India has ever seen -underworld don Dawood Ibrahim - is still absconding along with nearly 30 others. India says they are hiding in Pakistan and accuses the ISI of financing and providing arms to Dawood and his men. Today, we are hardly any closer to nabbing Dawood.
The quality of justice is further in question with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) not even having bothered to appeal in the Supreme Court against Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt's acquittal by the lower court on the more serious charges under the now defunct Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act or TADA. With no appeal by the top investigative agency, the top court is bound and can only look into the charges Dutt had been found guilty of under the comparatively milder Arms Act for which he got a six-year sentence. The other accused have repeatedly asked: why is the CBI soft on Dutt? Your guess is as good as mine.
But this is only one side of how the "system" has denied justice. As Dutt's case would explain, the terror strikes came after the communal riots in Mumbai after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. Confessional statements of the accused and police investigations revealed that the terror strikes were conspired to take "revenge" for the riots and demolition. Official figures claim 1,000 people were killed in the communal riots - the majority being Muslims. Isn't justice due to them as much as it is to those killed in the blasts?
In February 1993, then Congress Chief Minister Sudhakarrao Naik set up the Justice Srikrishna Commission to probe into the riots. The report was tabled in 1998 and clearly indicted the Shiv Sena. "Shiv Sena and the Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising attacks on Muslims... from the level of the Shakha Pramukh to the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray," Justice Srikrishna had observed.
But the Sena-BJP government that came to power after the riots rejected the findings. No Sena leader has ever been brought to book. Barring one, the 31 policemen who were indicted, too have been let off. Successive Congress governments - which have mastered the art of lip-service - have played the secular card election after election, promising to implement the findings of the report. Truth is that the 9,500-page report has long ago been confined to the dustbins of history.
Just as the 1993 terror attack can never be a justification for the riots, likewise, the idea of justice too certainly can't be coloured by religion or by blind vote-bank politics. After all in both cases those who died were murdered.
One by bomb blasts, the other by the sword. But murdered they both were.