In Punjab the vast majority of police officers responsible for serious human rights violations during the period of militancy in the mid-1990s continued to evade justice, despite the recommendations of several judicial inquiries and commissions. In response to 2,097 reported cases of human rights violations, the National Human Rights Commission had ordered the state of Punjab to provide compensation in 109 cases concerning people who were in police custody prior to their death. The culture of impunity developed during that period continued to prevail and reports of abuses including torture and ill-treatment persisted.
In August the Supreme Court issued a key decision in connection with communal violence in Gujarat state in 2002. The violence followed a fire on a train in which 59 Hindus died in February 2002; right-wing Hindu groups blamed the fire on local Muslims. In the ensuing violence more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. The Court directed that more than 2,000 complaints closed by the police and some 200 cases which had ended in acquittals be reviewed.
- Bilqis Yakoob Rasool was five months pregnant when she was gang-raped and saw her three-year-old daughter killed by a mob in March 2002. She reported the rape and the killing of 14 relatives to the police. In January 2003 the police closed the case on the grounds that those responsible could not be found. A subsequent investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) found evidence of a police cover-up. In April, 12 people were arrested for rape and murder. In addition, six police officers were charged with involvement in the cover-up and two doctors were accused of distorting post-mortem investigations. In August the Supreme Court directed that the case be tried outside Gujarat. The trial was ongoing at the end of 2004.
- Several relatives of Zahira Sheikh died when the Best Bakery in Vadodara was burned down in March 2002. The case against 21 people accused of starting the fire collapsed in June 2003 when Zahira Sheikh and several witnesses withdrew their statements after receiving death threats. In April 2004 the Supreme Court ordered that the case be retried in Maharashtra state. The Court identified serious failings in the criminal justice system, but also accused the Gujarat government of ignoring the violence and protecting the perpetrators. The ruling was welcomed by the human rights community as a landmark judgment. In November, Zahira Sheikh again withdrew her statement. A petition was filed requesting a CBI investigation into this development.
Applications to transfer several other cases to courts outside Gujarat were pending at the end of 2004.
The new government made a commitment to enact a model comprehensive law to deal with communal violence.
Abuses by opposition groups
There were reports of abuses – including torture, attacks and killings of civilians – by armed groups in a number of states in the north-east as well as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.
In Jammu and Kashmir, members of opposition groups were responsible for targeted killings of civilians. Victims included relatives of state officials and people suspected of working for the government. The use of explosives led to indiscriminate killings of civilians.