ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Relevance of Vishnu Sahai Commission

Judicial Inquiries into Communal Violence

Most judicial commissions appointed to look into communal riots since Independence have faced issues related to credibility, vagueness in terms of reference, lack of cooperation from the state government concerned and most importantly, collecting credible evidence. How will the Vishnu Sahai Commission, appointed to look into the Muzaffarnagar riots in Uttar Pradesh, fare remains to be seen considering that its findings can be used by different political groups for electoral gains.

The immediate reaction of any state government following a communal riot is to constitute a judicial inquiry commission. It was not a surprise therefore when the Akhilesh Yadav government constituted a one-member judicial commission led by Justice Vishnu Sahai to inquire into the Muzaffarnagar riots. What is the message that a government wants to convey in appointing a judicial inquiry commission? The paramount concern of any government after a communal riot should be to restore the confidence of the victim community after the acts of violence and judicial commissions are primarily set up for this purpose. The rationale is that an independent inquiry would help bring forward credible information related to the riot as often it has been observed that there are different versions emerging and there is an attempt to define or attach meaning to incidents of communal violence. The government orders a probe to demonstrate its neutrality particularly when there are questions raised on the actions/inactions by different agencies of the state during the riots. The commissions are expected to compile a report on their findings and name the groups or persons responsible for the communal riot and also recommend adequate compensation for the victims.

Since the main purpose of appointing judicial commissions is to bestow an aura of neutrality and fairness, it would be useful to analyse whether judicial commissions in the past have been successful in fulfilling this purpose. Can we come up with a singular and universal conclusion on judicial inquiry commissions inquiring into communal riots? What are the parameters under which the Sahai Commission and others like it should be judged? What lessons can there be for the Sahai Commission from the past experiences of judicial inquiry into communal riots?

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