pic courtsey- http://bhagalpurinfo.blogspot.in/
Vol – XLVIII No. 03, January 19, 2013 | Warisha Farasat , EPW

Twenty three years ago Bhagalpur district witnessed one of the worst communal riots in post-independent India. The victims – mainly Muslims – are still struggling, socially and financially. This essay lays out the main findings of the official commissions of inquiry set up to investigate the carnage and interweaves the context of a research study by the Centre for Equity Studies documenting the experiences of victims/survivors in Bhagalpur on justice and reparations, and makes policy recommendations on the framework for reparations for the victims.

Warisha Farasat ([email protected]) is with the Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi.

Two months before the riots, between 12 and 22 August 1989 on the occasion of Muharram and Bisheri Puja, communal passions were already running high in Bhagalpur, which had a history of communal clashes. However, the immediate trigger of the Bhagalpur riots was the five-day Ramshila programme of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). As part of a wider nation-wide Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, Ramshila – bricks for the proposed grand Ram Mandir (temple) in Ayodhya – were to be carried in five processions through the rural areas of Bhagalpur and converge on the 24th in the town. The growing influence of the right-wing forces to polarise society on communal lines had already vitiated the atmosphere and provocative actions during the processions made matters worse.

The outbreak of communal violence on 24 October 1989 in Bhagalpur was preceded by a series of rumours spread by criminal elements that around 200 Hindu students living in lodges near the university area had been killed by Muslims. This was followed by another rumour that 31 Hindu boys had been murdered and their bodies dumped in a well at the Sanskrit College. As it turned out, both rumours were baseless, but they fanned the communal violence (Minorities Commission 1990: 242).

A three-member Commission of Inquiry, which was established by the Bihar state government to investigate the Bhagalpur pogrom, concluded that the riots were triggered by the Ramshila procession (Sinha and Hasan 1995: 14). It also named several police officials, including the then superintendent of police, K S Dwivedi for failing to stop the violence and recommended further investigation into the role of the official machinery during the riots.

The Political Players

The Bhagalpur riots took place when the Congress was in power in Bihar and Jagannath Mishra was the chief minister. Rajiv Gandhi, then prime minister, during his visit to the riot-affected areas ordered that Dwivedi be immediately transferred because of his controversial role in the riots and anti-Muslim bias. However, the transfer orders triggered protests from the VHP and other Hindu right-wing forces, forcing Gandhi to rescind his orders (Chopra and Jha 2012). Even today, survivors note that had Dwivedi’s transfer order not been revoked at the time, many lives would have been saved since many of the worst atrocities took place after this. Indeed, the subsequent Commission of Inquiry constituted to probe the riots indicted Dwivedi and noted in its report:

We would hold Dwivedi, the then superintendent of police, Bhagalpur, wholly responsible for whatever happened before 24 October 1989, on 24th itself and [after the] 24th. His communal bias was fully demonstrated not only by his manner of arresting the Muslims and by not extending them adequate help to protect them (Sinha and Hasan 1995: 114).

The Congress government at the time did little to either stop the riots or provide relief and rehabilitation to the victims and their families. Even Lalu Prasad Yadav, who won the 1990 elections on a secular platform in Bihar, did not make enough effort to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Bhagalpur riots. Indeed, many among the survivors believe that Yadav avoided any action because many of the rioters who led the mobs against the Muslims belonged to his caste.

Similarly, even the efforts of the current incumbent, Nitish Kumar, who heads a coalition of Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state, have been piecemeal, and the major issues of justice, accountability of police officers, and reparations remain unresolved. The wounds of the mass violence were kept open and festering; even now victims recount the brutality of the massacre and the lack of justice thereafter in great detail.

Awaiting Justice

Though 23 years have passed, the victims of the communal carnage are still struggling, socially and financially. In only a handful of cases, such as the Chanderi and Logain massacres, have the guilty been punished. In Chanderi village, 65 Muslims were hacked with machetes and their bodies thrown into a pond. Mallika Begum – the sole surviving witness – courageously withstood all threats and enticements offered by the accused to secure the conviction of 16 persons who were involved in the massacre. In Logain village, 118 persons were slaughtered. To hide the truth, the perpetrators buried the bodies in the fields and subsequently planted cauliflower over this mass grave.

Even in the handful of cases where the rioters were convicted, such as Kameshwar Yadav in the infamous Parbatti case, the witnesses live under fear of reprisal. While Kameshwar Yadav was involved in many killings and incidents of leading the mob during the riots, he was finally convicted in 2007 for the murder of Mohammad Munna, son of Bibi Waleema, who was a resident of Parbatti area in Bhagalpur town (Yadav 2007). No protection or support was provided to these witnesses who testified against the rioters. A relative of Bibi Waleema, who is a street vendor, told us that he has stopped selling goods in his locality and now plies his trade far away as he fears for his life.1

The most heartbreaking challenge for the victims of the Bhagalpur riots is their struggle against forgetfulness. The brutality of the mass violence committed against the Muslims has faded out of public memory even as the victims await justice and rehabilitation. The stories of the murder of around 1,000 Muslims – men, women and children hacked with machetes, entire families killed and dumped in ponds, or people locked inside their homes and burnt alive – are now remembered only by the survivors or the immediate families of the victims who have been fighting a lonely battle.

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi was perhaps one of the few civil society groups that documented the riots in detail, particularly the role and complicity of the police in the rioting (People’s Union for Democratic Rights 1996). Apart from PUDR’s effort, there have been intermittent visits from individual activists to meet with the survivors and the victims’ families. Overall, there has been very little documentation or support extended by human rights groups to the survivors of the carnage.

The official records of the Bhagalpur riots, alongside other major instances of communal violence, have been comparatively examined and analysed extensively in an earlier report by the Centre for Equity Studies (CES) titledAccountability for Mass Violence: Examining the State’s Record (Chopra and Jha 2012). This report provides a fresh insight into the mechanics of communal violence at the four sites – Bhagalpur (Bihar), Gujarat, Nelli (Assam) and Delhi (the anti-Sikh riots of 1984) – and concludes that the state has failed to punish the perpetrators or provide adequate compensation to the victims and their families.

A Fractured Town

This lack of redress has meant that even in 2012, Bhagalpur remains a deeply divided town. Today, the BJP’s national Muslim face, Shahnawaz Hussain, represents Bhagalpur in Parliament. His two consecutive victories in the Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket are being projected as a new harmony. However, the truth on the ground is contradictory. With little movement towards justice, rehabilitation or reparations, the political dispensation has always been keen to avoid confronting the ghosts of the 1989 riots. The threat of communal violence returning may seem to have diminished, but in various ways the occurrences of 1989 loom large. The communal divide run across all societal and business transactions. It has been widely reported that Hindus buy provisions from Hindu shopkeepers while Muslims patronise Muslim businesses and shops.

In fact, an anecdote from a recent experience of the CES research team reaffirmed this communal divide. The CES local team comprises researchers and activists from different religious communities. Last year, when we were in the process of setting up an office in Bhagalpur, we identified an apartment. An agreement was reached between CES and the landlord, and one month’s rent was paid in advance. However, after barely a couple of days, the landlord, who was also living in one of the apartments of the building, created a huge ruckus over a small issue and asked us to vacate the premises within two weeks. After we had found another office space to rent and were finally moving our furniture from the apartment, we confronted and asked her why she had asked us to vacate the apartment so suddenly and without any reason. Her response was:

Hum Musalman aur scheduled caste ko ghar nahi dete hain; agar mujhe pehle pata hota ki is team mein Musalman bhi hain, main kabhi ghar nahi deti(We do not let our houses to Muslims and scheduled castes and if I had known earlier that this team had individuals from the Muslim community also, I would have not agreed to rent my apartment in the first place).

While her response disturbed us, it also laid bare the social realities of modern India: though secularism was enshrined in the Constitution a long time ago, in practice it is present only at the fringes. Indeed, communal and religious polarisation pervades our societal interactions.

Social scientist Ashutosh Varshney has argued that state and police bias have little to do with communal rioting; fractured civic relations and engagement between communities are mostly responsible for communal rioting (Varshney 2002). In the context of Bhagalpur, though, it appears that the communal violence in fact led to fractured civic relations. As far as the rioting was concerned, the police and other state authorities failed to protect Muslims. The complicity of the Bihar police in the riots was spelt out in the Commission of Inquiry Report, which indicted the local police at various levels. Not only did the local police fail to control the communal violence, in several instances they participated in targeting Muslims.

The State of Bihar

The lack of justice and compensation for the victim/survivors is further exacerbated by the dismal and impoverished state of affairs in Bihar. To understand how little has changed in the state you need to travel through rural Bihar in the peak of summer. The summer months are marked by oppressive heat and acute power outages, with several districts receiving electricity only once in two days. In the Human Development Index Report 2011, Bihar ranked the lowest in the distribution of households with electricity for domestic use in 2008-09, at a mere 30.5% (Institute of Applied Manpower Research 2011: 390).

In fact, in rural Bihar only 24.5% of the households have electricity for domestic use, with rural Uttar Pradesh (UP) a close second at 37.6% rural households receiving electricity (ibid). This past summer, even urban townships in Bihar reeled under massive power cuts. Even the wealthy were left in the dark, as there was no electricity to charge the power backups. Only 3% of the government schools in Bihar have electricity and only 8.8% of children under age six have received any service from an anganwadi centre in the past year (ibid: 194). A social worker in Bhagalpur complained: “Nitish has given more power to Patna so that everyone thinks that Bihar has changed. But Bihar lives in its villages. Nothing has changed there.”

Since Bihar is one of the most densely populated states in the country, much of the village life spills over on to the highways. Little children scurrying about, men and women carrying stacks of dry paddy on their heads, mud houses lined with cowdung cakes, and farmers ploughing their fields make for an idyllic imagery of village life. But life is not easy. A local shopkeeper tells us that kerosene lamps still remain the most reliable method of lighting their houses in the evenings.

With Bihar remaining one of the most impoverished states in India, the question of just reparations and accountability for communal violence is even more important since many of the victims/survivors affected by the Bhagalpur riots belong to desperately poor backgrounds. In the following sections this essay lays out the main findings of the official commissions set up to investigate the carnage. It then interweaves the context of the CES research study documenting the experiences of victims/survivors in Bhagalpur on justice and reparations. Given the failure of state institutions to respond to victims/survivors’ demand for legal justice and reparations, where do the victims/survivors stand? What about crucial questions of accountability and reparations for instances of mass violence such as Bhagalpur? In this regard, the essay will outline a few interim findings of the research and make policy recommendations on the framework for reparations-compensation for Bhagalpur survivors.

Commissions of Inquiry

In 1990, the Government of Bihar constituted a Commission of Inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act (1952) to examine the communal disturbances. The inquiry sought to provide an explanation for the occurrence of the communal violence, examine individuals and institutions responsible, and recommend measures for preventing the reoccurrence of such disturbances. A total of 126 witnesses were examined. According to the report, the riots spread to 250 villages in which approximately 900 people were killed and about 50,000 people were affected (Sinha and Hasan 1995: 10).

Ultimately, two separate commission reports were compiled – one by the chairperson, justice Ram Nandan Prasad, the other being collectively released by the two other members of the commission, justice Ram Chandra Prasad Sinha and justice S Shamsul Hasan. Justice Prasad chose to submit his report independently due to a disagreement with the findings of the other members on the Commission.

In addition to the three-member Commission of Inquiry, the then chairman, S M H Burney, and members of the Minorities Commission of India also visited Patna and Bhagalpur on 22-24 January 1990 and prepared a report. In its own words, the Minorities Commission explained that its mandate was to examine the measures being taken for the rehabilitation of those affected by the riots rather than inquire into the causes of the riots, which had been entrusted to a Commission of Inquiry. The findings and recommendations of both commissions have been drawn upon and interwoven wherever appropriate in this essay.

During his election campaign in 2004, Nitish Kumar promised that if elected he would ensure that justice and compensation were provided to the victims of the Bhagalpur riots. When he assumed office as chief minister after winning the elections, he made some efforts to revisit the Bhagalpur riots. While this endeavour was a good first step, it failed to go beyond tokenism and many victims are still waiting for justice and reparations.

As part of its election pledge, the Nitish Kumar government first pushed for the formation of another commission of inquiry to reconsider the issues of justice, compensation and rehabilitation for the riot victims/survivors. Consequently, under Section 3(1) of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Act XL, 1952), the governor of Bihar in February 2006 constituted another single member commission of inquiry headed by justice N N Singh since it was felt that the earlier three-member Commission of Inquiry did not deliberate on issues regarding fixing individual responsibility, and that adequate and sufficient rehabilitation had not been provided to the victims and their families.

Moreover, a large number of cases arising out of the Bhagalpur riots had also ended in submission of final reports or acquittal of the accused. The N N Singh Commission of Inquiry was mandated to inquire into the conduct and performance of the investigating and prosecuting agencies of cases arising out of the Bhagalpur riots, which ended in the submission of a final report and acceptance thereof by the court in the absence of concerted, coordinated and proper steps by the prosecuting agencies. Moreover, it was asked to analyse the circumstances under which investigating officers submitted final reports, and lapses on their part that may have led to closure of court cases. This commission was also asked to examine the issue of relief and rehabilitation for the riot victims, including the issue of distress sales. Finally, it was asked to suggest remedial measures to prevent the recurrence of communal riots.

It was also laid down that the deputy inspector general of police, northern region, Bhagalpur would supervise the team, which would report its progress to him every fortnight and he would, in turn, report to the commission about the progress made in the investigation every month. However, the fate of the N N Singh Commission of Inquiry has been no different than what plagued the commissions set up previously. This commission has received several extensions and even after six years of its formation, a final report has not been submitted to the government or made public. Recently, the tenure of the N N Singh Commission was extended, yet again, until 28 February 2013 (The Telegraph,2012).

A second initiative of the Nitish Kumar JD(U) government was to mandate the deputy inspector general of police (criminal investigation department) Girija Nandan Sharma to scrutinise the records in the Bhagalpur riot-related cases and examine whether some of these cases could be revived. After visiting the courts, examining the records, and studying the cases that were closed, Sharma recommended the reinvestigation of 29 cases, which included seven cases in Banka district and the rest in Bhagalpur district. Subsequent to the riots, as part of administrative realignment, a separate Banka district was carved out from the former Bhagalpur district. Sharma recommended that the cases that were closed was because of lack of evidence or the failure of the police to produce witnesses before the court be reopened. Amongst these were several cases of murder, arson, rioting, and destruction of property.

The CES Research Study

The official figure of the number of persons that were killed in the Bhagalpur riots was 1,000, but the unofficial count exceeds 2,000, double the official figure. Though the extent of the bloodshed and destruction during the riots was massive, it has completely faded out of the public memory. In fact, the strategy of the consecutive governments in Patna seemed to continuously defer any action, and with the passage of time turned the riots into a forgotten carnage. In fact, a survivor once remarked during a trip there: “Agar yahan pe airport hota to shayad zyada NGOs aur log hame bhi dekhne aate” (If there was an airport in Bhagalpur, then perhaps more NGOs and individuals would have come to see us/our condition also). Ironically, the anatomy of the Bhagalpur riots is quite similar to that of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom – both were large-scale rural riots. We believe that if there was speedy and comprehensive legal justice for the Bhagalpur communal violence, it would perhaps have been harder to carry out the Gujarat pogrom.

Given that very little has been written about the condition of the victims of the Bhagalpur communal violence, CES launched a detailed research study with the victims/survivors to document their experiences of justice, rehabilitation and reparations for the communal riots. The research study is qualitative and primarily hinges on the narratives and experiences of the victims’ families. Within traditional research methodologies, there is a clear distinction between “research subjects” and researchers, wherein the former are supposed to provide the information that the researcher is supposed to record and analyse. The research methodology for the CES study breaks away from this traditional paradigm, with the research being conducted alongside victims/survivors and members of the local community. By using this methodology, there is no doubt that a nuanced learning on issues of communalism, reparations and justice would emerge.

Detailed narratives of victims/survivors from the riot-affected areas in and around Bhagalpur are being collected by a team of local researchers. In these accounts, their experiences about the three main aspects of justice, compensation and rehabilitation are being documented. As we have started a preliminary analysis of the victims’ interviews, and juxtaposed it with the official policies, the challenges in government policy and its implementation regarding the riot victims become evident. While a clearer and a more detailed set of findings will be outlined in the final report, the present essay identifies and lays down some of the preliminary and interim findings of the research. A caveat is that some of these findings may be clarified further or modified subsequently based on a final analysis of the interviews, since data collection is still underway. However, these interim findings are being put in the public domain with a view to start a discussion on the almost forgotten Bhagalpur riots, alongside the larger issue of reparations and accountability for communal riots in general.

The following sections explore the two urgent issues of compensation and justice in the context of some of the interim findings of the research documenting the experiences of the victims/survivors.

Issue of Compensation

Working closely with the victims and their families in Bhagalpur over the last year, we have been confronted with challenges that have beset the government compensation policy for the victims of the Bhagalpur riots. Even after 22 years, many victim families have not received any compensation. The state government had announced an ex gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh for persons whose family members were killed. Later, in 2006, the compensation amount was enhanced to an additional Rs 3.5 lakh for the family members of those killed. However, there have been several discrepancies both in the compensation policy as well as the implementation of the policy whereby many families have been left out. In several cases, CES has facilitated the process of the survivors preparing their compensation applications to the district authorities responsible for disbursing the compensation.

(A) Need for a Holistic Concept of Reparations: With the development of a rights-based approach, the term compensation is beginning to be replaced by reparations, which symbolises a more holistic, dignified and just way to address the harm suffered as a result of human rights violations. Financial or monetary compensations are just one of the components of a comprehensive reparations policy. Reparations initiatives can be designed in many ways. They may include a range of measures such as financial compensation, social services such as healthcare or education, and symbolic measures such as formal apologies or public commemorations. Within this scheme, reparations are viewed more as a matter of right for the victims rather than charity on the part of government. The United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to Remedy and Reparations provides for compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, and guarantees of non-repetition. Under these principles, effective remedy includes: (a) equal and effective access to justice; (b) adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered; and (c) access to relevant information concerning violations and reparation mechanisms.2

In India, the law on compensation has evolved through cases of custodial killings, torture, and communal violence. With the decisions in D K Basu vsState of West Bengal (AIR 1997 SC 610) and Nilabati Behera vs State of Orissa(1993 Crl LJ 2899), the right to receive compensation for violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution or the right to life has been crystallised. In cases of communal violence, the government has been ordered by the Supreme Court to pay compensation.

(B) Interim Policy Recommendations on Compensation: We have placed the information received by the victim families within this legal and policy framework and tried to identify the challenges in the current compensation policy to make policy-based recommendations. The following insights are therefore informed both by best practices and applications received from the riot victims.

Foremost, for the Bhagalpur riots, there is no provision of any compensation for property other than the loss of a house. Therefore, a more holistic compensation package should be developed to provide at least some monetary compensation to the victims whose shops were looted and burnt, cattle was destroyed or looted, and household items were destroyed or looted, as well as those persons who lost their fertile agricultural land and were forced to flee their villages.3

The loss of property was not properly assessed or quantified, government policy for the repair of destroyed houses was grossly inadequate, and the amounts that were paid to the victims’ families were meagre. The amounts that have been paid for the loss of a house should be enhanced at least 10 times of what the victims originally received, or an actual market value estimate of the houses should be made for persons who have already received some compensation. At the same time, it should be determined whether some families have been left outside the ambit of compensation for loss of property and their names should be included in the fresh list.

Since no steps were taken to resettle or rehabilitate persons who were forced to flee their villages and homes due to the communal violence, a clear policy needs to be developed to assist families who have not returned to their villages but may still want to go back to their native place, which they left behind during the riots.

The current compensation policy also restricts the incidents of rioting for compensation for death to a time frame that is unfair and unrealistic. The time frame for compensation has been fixed for incidents of rioting or violence that occurred between 24 October 1989 and 30 November 1989, and 20-21 March 1990.4 It is well known that the pronounced communal atmosphere continued until much later and there were smaller incidents for almost the entire year during which many persons went missing (and were presumably killed) or were found dead. Therefore, the policy should be revised to include cases of killings or missing persons within a full year of the riots. Missing persons, in particular those who went missing on the dates other than those prescribed by the government notification, remain a major issue for compensation and a clear policy needs to be outlined to include their families. More specifically, the timeline should be extended to include incidents that took place between 24 October 1989 and 31 October 1990.

There are many cases of death in which no First Information Report (FIR) has been registered by the police and since government authorities have refused to accept anything except for a FIR as proof of death, many victims have been unfairly left out of the ambit of compensation. It is therefore recommended that the government direct its officers to include other documents as proof of death, including a letter from the mukhiya (village headman) stating that the person was killed during the riots, a letter from any other local government authority stating that the person was killed during the riots, a birth certificate or other documents that prove that the person was living in the local area and has been missing since the riots, or any other document or testimony that points to the fact that the person was killed during the riots.

Although there is provision for compensation for injured persons, only 23 persons have been paid under this scheme. Even those who have been paid have received a meagre Rs 1,000-Rs 10,000. The revised policy on injured persons itself states that an amount of up to Rs 1,25,000 can be paid to injured persons. It is recommended that as there are many cases where family members suffered serious injuries, they should also receive compensation that is due to persons who were injured.

There is no clarity on the issue of lineage or descent, which has resulted in many applications being rejected, or close family members of persons who were killed not receiving compensation in the end. These discrepancies need to be clarified at the earliest and in a manner that there is no scope for confusion, and without any loopholes, so that family members can receive the compensation money.

Finally, in some cases, government authorities have refused to pay compensation claiming no funds were available. Several families of victims were recently informed that they could not be given the enhanced amount of Rs 3.5 lakh for the death of their kin as sufficient funds are not available with the local authorities.5 It must be noted here that it has been almost 23 years since the Bhagalpur riots, and several of the victims who are eligible by government standards have also not been fully compensated. This money should be released immediately.

Issue of Justice

The larger study will examine legal justice and the experience of victims/survivors in great detail. Nonetheless, a few urgent observations are underlined here. As mentioned earlier, 29 cases were reinvestigated based on the recommendations made by the report submitted by DIG Girija Nandan Sharma. It was encouraging that several of the serious cases of rioting from Bhagalpur were reopened based on Sharma’s reports. Nevertheless, today we see that these cases are not being tried in a speedy and rigorous manner. The Office of the Special Public Prosecutor, which was mandated to pursue these cases in the courts, has been working without any government oversight or supervision. Obviously, government is not supposed to interfere in the legal process, but it should at least require the Special Public Prosecutor to submit progress reports from time to time on these cases, and ensure that these cases are prosecuted diligently. Otherwise, merely reopening of cases would not mean much.

Often, the victims themselves are not in a position to understand or access the legal justice system to ascertain that their cases are meticulously prosecuted. In other states, including Gujarat, the reopened cases have been diligently prosecuted not because of the efforts of the government but because civil society organisations and public spirited individuals, along with victims/survivors, have kept a close watch and intervened in cases whenever required. However, while efforts in Gujarat are extremely human and financial resource-intensive, very few resources are available to pursue legal justice or reparations in Bhagalpur.

Furthermore, in his report Sharma concluded that many of the investigating officers were deliberately negligent in investigating the cases that were assigned to them after the riots and did everything to delay and hinder proper investigation. In fact, the Sharma named individual investigating officers and police officers in his report who were directly responsible in stymieing investigations after the riots. Similarly, the three-member Commission of Inquiry had also named several police officials in their report but no action has been taken against these police officers until now.

Even K S Dwivedi, who was indicted by the Bhagalpur Commission of Inquiry, was never punished, and the current state government promoted him as an additional director general rank officer (Bihar Times 2011). Most recently, he was made additional director general (wireless and technical services) by the state government. Instead of facing investigation and prosecution, several officers named in the Bhagalpur Commission of Inquiry or Sharma’s report, have been promoted. Even more reprehensible and condemnable is that Dwivedi has been awarded the president’s medal on the eve of Independence Day this year for distinguished services despite having been held directly responsible for the Bhagalpur riots by the Commission of Inquiry (The Times of India 2012).


As our research reveals, successive governments of different political parties have failed to comprehensively address the issues of justice accountability, reparations and rehabilitation of victims of the 1989 communal violence in Bihar. Similarly, the compensation policy has also failed to provide the much-needed acknowledgement and support to the victims/survivors. CES has tried to engage the Bihar state government, and has submitted policy-based recommendations, which we hope will also help the government in redesigning the compensation policy for the riot victims. Even if the Bhagalpur riots have faded from public memory, the horrors are still alive amongst the survivors in Bhagalpur who are still awaiting meaningful justice and reparations. But, perhaps, the most important learning is that communalism pervades our societal fabric, and there needs to be a collective response to ensure that it does not result in violence and discrimination based on religious affiliations.


[This report is part of a larger study led by Harsh Mander on various communal carnages by the Centre for Equity Studies. Foremost, thanks to Harsh Mander for his insightful comments on this draft version. I would also like to thank Pritarani Jha for her rigorous commitment and engagement with the research study. I am very grateful to Mallika Begum, Pravir, Mohammad Mahmud, Sunita Prasad, and Mohammad Tarique who are the mainstay of our engagement in Bhagalpur; to Amin Reza Khan for providing tireless research support and advice; to Navsharan Singh for her constant intellectual and substantive inputs and advice on the research study; the International Development Research Centre for supporting the research study; and mostly to the survivors of the 1989 communal violence in Bhagalpur who have courageously struggled for truth and accountability and agreed to share their stories with us.]

1 Interview, Bhagalpur, 5 April 2011.

2 Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law (“Reparations Principles”), adopted 16 December 2005, GA res 60/147, UN Doc A/RES/60/147 (2005), Principle VII.

See also Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity (“Impunity Principles”), UN Doc E/CN 4/2005/102/Add 1, 8 February 2005, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in Resolution E/CN 4/2005/81, 15 April 2005, principle I; and Reparations Principles, principle 11.

3 By Letter No 29189-293, Relief and Rehabilitation Department, Government of Bihar, dated: 29 December 1989.

4 By Letter No-88 (Administration), DM’s Office, Bhagalpur, Dated: 30 July 1996.

5 By Letter No – C/C I Com – 4201/08, Home (Special) Department, Government of Bihar, Dated: 14 August 2009. In case of dead/missing persons, their dependents were allotted Rs 3.5 lakh. This amount was in addition to the ex gratia amount of Rs 1 lakh earlier disbursed by the state government.


Bihar Times (2011): “Dwivedi, Two Others to Become ADG”, 2 September, viewed on 25 October 2012,http://www.bihartimes.in/Newsbihar/2011/Sep/newsbihar02Sep2.html

Chopra, Surabhi and Pritarani Jha, ed. (2012): Accountability for Mass Violence: Examining the State’s Record, May (forthcoming as a book by Three Essays Collective), viewed on 22 October, http://idl-bnc.idrc.ca/dspace/bitstream/10625/49277/1/IDL-49277.pdf

Institute of Applied Manpower Research (2011): India Human Development Report 2011 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), viewed on 20 October 2012, http://www.pratirodh.com/pdf/human_development_report2011.pdf

Minorities Commission (1990): Twelfth Annual Report of the Minorities Commission from 1 April 1989 to 31 March 1990 (New Delhi: National Commission for Minorities).

PUDR (1996): Recalling Bhagalpur: A Report on the Aftermath of the 1989 Riots (New Delhi: Peoples Union for Democratic Rights), viewed on 20 October 2012, http://www.cscsarchive.org:8081/MediaArchive/liberty.nsf/(docid)/6D275AE9ADEF5130E5256A1C00210FAB

Sinha, Ram Chandra Prasad and Shamsul Hasan (1995): Report of the Bhagalpur Riot Inquiry Commission (Patna: Bhagalpur Riot Commission of Inquiry).

The Telegraph (2012): “More Time for Bhagalpur Panel”, 29 August.

The Times of India (2012): “Two IPS Officers Get President’s Police Medal”, 15 August, viewed on 26 October,http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-08-15/patna/33215722_1_…

Varshney, Ashutosh (2002): Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India (New Haven: Yale University Press).

Yadav, J P (2007): “Hindu Activist Found Guilty in Bhagalpur Riots Case”, The Indian Express, 24 November, viewed on 22 October 2012, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/hindu-activist-found-guilty-in-bhagalp…