Riots of 1992-93 | Suleman Bakery is moving at a snail’s pace

Mumbai: Thirty years ago, riots broke out in the city after the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya on December 6. One of the best-known incidents during the riots that broke out again the following month was the attack by a police detachment on unarmed workers at a bakery and two adjoining structures on Mohammad Ali Road on 9 January 1993, killing eight people and injured 12. Three years since the trial in the case began in 2019, only 14 witnesses have been questioned, three of whom have turned hostile.

On October 20, a new judge taking up the case ordered the city’s police commissioner to appoint a competent officer to present witnesses. The judge expressed his displeasure that no witnesses came forward despite repeated instructions to testify in the “sensitive and serious” case.

On November 16, the police station appointed a new officer, but the court had not received a response from the Commissioner on his notification. A witness did not appear on that date either.

The court then warned that it would order the police chief to be present in court if a witness did not appear on the next date, which is December 7.

The trial in the case began on February 13, 2019, 26 years after the incident, and the first witness did not support the accusation. A year later, the pandemic struck, throwing the trial into limbo.

The first witness was an independent witness present during the police procedure carried out at the crime scene. The witness, a shoe salesman outside the bakery, told the court that police had taken his signature on a document and was unaware of its contents.

One of the last witnesses to turn hostile was the bakery owner, Suleman Mithaiwala. Aged 75, he was wheeled into court on September 27. He told the judge that he did not remember anything due to the passage of time.

After Mr. Mithaiwala, the son of a victim testified. Apparently, his father was attacked, police from the madrasa next to the bakery took him away and later found him dead. Testifying in October, the witness, who is now in his 40s, said he could not identify the police officers who took his father because he was just a child at the time. He was not declared hostile.

In the riots that took place from the night of December 6-10, 1992, and again from January 6-21, 1993, approximately 900 people lost their lives.

The then Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) RD Tyagi, who no longer exists, had claimed that, based on a tip that terrorists were hiding in the bakery, his team had raided the location and been shot at from the rooftop, after which he ordered his men to retaliate.

But a commission of inquiry headed by Judge BN Srikrishna found that the police shooting was unprovoked. Based on his report, the Maharashtra government established a special task force (STF) in 2000 to investigate the incident. In 2001, the STF charged Mr. Tyagi and 17 other police officers with murder, almost eight years after the incident. Mr Tyagi and eight others were given the go-ahead in the case, leaving only seven lower-ranking policemen to face trial.

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