As the Sabarmati Express travelled back from Ayodhya on its return journey to
The train reached Godhra station at 7.30 a.m. on February 27, 2002. There were certain incidents on the platform. There were some reports to the effect that a Muslim girl was molested by the kar sevaks who attempted to pull her into the train. The attempt to take her into the train was averted due to the intervention by Muslim vendors at the Godhra railway station.
As the train left the platform, at 7.48 a.m., it was immediately stopped by someone pulling the chain. The obvious reason for this was to enable some of the kar sevaks who were still left behind on the platform to enter the train. The train proceeded for about a kilometre. At Singal Falia the train stopped. Whether this was on account of someone pulling the chain or otherwise is not clear. The engine driver, at that point of time, had only seen someone from outside pelting stones at the train though not at coach S–6. Soon thereafter, coach S–6 was on fire. The question is, how did the fire occur?
The version of the government appears to be that the Ghanchi Muslims residing near the railway station, who had gathered in large numbers, threw fireballs into the train and that resulted in the fire. The government version also has it that that there were about 2,000 Muslims who were bent on attacking the kar sevaks.
The full capacity of the train is 1,100. But, in fact, the train at that time had about 2,000 passengers, of which about 1,700 were kar sevaks. As far as coach S–6 of the Sabarmati Express is concerned, the reservation capacity is 72. However, it was jam–packed on that day. Only one coach (S–6) was burned and even in that coach one is not sure how many passengers were kar sevaks. The train had 11 coaches with vestibule connection and the kar sevaks were spread all over the train. So why did anyone target coach S–6? If 2,000 Muslims had gathered there, could they not have attacked the other coaches? Again, did anyone try to come out from the other coaches? If it is reasonably presumed that some of the passengers, including kar sevaks, rushed out, did anyone attack them? On all these questions there is no satisfactory answer.
In all, 58 bodies were found in coach S–6, out of which 26 were of women, 12 were of children and 20 were of men. It appears that 43 persons sustained injuries, of whom only 5 were admitted to the hospital. The rest were treated for minor injuries like bruises, and were allowed to go. Out of the five admitted to hospital, one died, and the rest were discharged after 3 or 4 days. The collector of Godhra told the Tribunal that only five bodies could be identified on the basis of articles or things which were on their person. Thus, no one could say with certainty that the dead bodies were all of kar sevaks.
Mystery of the Fire
A very significant fact is that coach S–6 was the only one that got burnt. It is also not clear whether the train was stopped because of the fire in the coach or the coach was set on fire after the train stopped. If it was the latter, why was the train stopped at all? It is reasonable to presume that because of the fire in the coach, someone must have pulled the chain and the train was stopped by the engine driver.
As the train left Godhra station, all the windows and doors of Coach S–6 were closed. Since there was stone throwing on the train, it is reasonable to presume that similar was the situation in all the other coaches. In other words, as the train stopped, nobody from outside was in a position to identify any particular person in any particular coach, so as to target any particular person/s. If kar sevaks were the target, they were overwhelmingly present in the entire train and the whole train could have been set on fire. The fact that the fire did not even spread to the remaining coaches, is a clear indication that the fire originated in that compartment itself. That also explains why only persons in that coach died.
In all probability, as the fire broke out, there was extreme panic and, the compartment being over–packed, many of the able-bodied persons managed to escape through the vestibules to the other coaches, leaving mostly women and children behind, who must have succumbed to the smoke and suffocation and fallen down in a pile, one over the other. The evidence also suggests that the passengers had stacked their belongings against the doors and it was just not possible for anyone to escape from or enter the coach.
On 7–5–2002, we inspected the coach and the site where it was burnt. The site where the train stopped is an elevated bund. From the ground level, the height of the bund could be about 12–15 feet and it is a slope. At the top, there is hardly enough space for 2,000 persons to assemble on either side of the track. Assuming that so many had gathered at that spot, the crowd would be spread over a much larger area than the stretch of coach S–6. This is only to indicate that if the government version is true, the other coaches would have been as easy a target as Coach S–6. Again, if one takes into account the height of the bund and the height of the train, and if fire-balls were to be thrown at the train, the outside of the coach should have shown signs of being charred. But we found that there were no such marks below the windows; the charred marks were to be seen only around the windows and above that height. This is a clear indication that the fire started inside the coach and the flames leaping out of the windows singed the outside of the compartment, above window level. Therefore, even to the naked eye, it was clear that the fire was from within and not from outside.
Our own observations were subsequently confirmed by the reports of the Forensic Science Laboratory. Among its other findings, the relevant section of the Forensic Science Laboratory, Ahmedabad (Spot Investigation Report No.2 regarding CR No. 9/2002, Godhra Railway Police Station) filed by Dr. MS Dahiya, assistant director, states: "... if the inflammable fluid is thrown from outside, then a major part of it would fall around the track outside and catch fire and cause damage to the outer part of bottom side of the coach. But after examination of the coach and the track, no effect was found of the fire on bottom side below the windows of the coach. By taking into consideration this fact, and also the burning pattern of the outer side of the coach, a conclusion can be drawn that no inflammable fluid had been thrown inside from outside the coach...
"There also appears to be no possibility that any inflammable liquid was thrown through the door of the bogie... If the period after the train had started from Godhra Railway Station, intensity of fire, the degree of burn of the objects that were inside the bogie etc. are taken into account, it can also be concluded that a large quantity (around 60 liters) of highly inflammable fluid was used to set the aforesaid fire and that the fire had spread very rapidly... By observing the condition of the frames of the windows of the coach, it appears that all the windows of the coach were closed during the time of the fire."
Thus, it is clear that the fire came from inside... The FSLR shows that for such an intensity of fire, 60 litres of inflammable liquid had to be poured into the coach, "by using a wide mouthed container". The question is, where is this container? There is no evidence of anyone carrying 60 litres of inflammable liquid. At what point of time was this taken inside the coach, or into the passage? Who was travelling in the train? If such a large number of kar sevaks, armed with trishuls and in such an aggressive mood, were inside the train, how could Ghanchi Muslims enter the train? And how could they have carried so much petrol openly, or even clandestinely, for that would have been found out in no time. So the mystery of the fire remains, the only thing certain being the fact that it came from within.
Was Godhra Pre–Planned?
The evidence as analysed above clearly indicates that the incident was not pre-planned by the Muslims, as alleged by the government. In this connection, we would like to refer to a statement made by the IGP, Railways, PP Agja recorded by the Times of India on March 29, to the effect that there is no evidence of a pre-planned conspiracy behind the Godhra incident. "The case is still being investigated and if there was some deep conspiracy, then we are yet to find it,’’ said Shri Agja. He further told The Times of India.
Immediate Reaction of the Administration and the Government
The local district magistrate/collector was the first to reach the scene of the incident. The Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee made a statement in Parliament at noon on February 27, asking people to maintain calm since the Godhra incident was a response to "slogan shouting". "An inquiry is being held and it will ascertain facts — what happened and why did it happen? But, from the preliminary reports, it appears that the train was stopped maybe because slogans were being shouted in the train and clashes took place. The Gujarat government has ordered an inquiry. " (Extracts from a compilation by the PMO on PM’s reactions to the event thereafter to media persons at Hyderabad House, New Delhi, February 27, 2002, posted on the PM’s website).
From 8.30 a.m., just after the fire on the Sabarmati Express took place, until 7.30 p.m. that evening, repeated statements by the Godhra district collector, Smt. Jayanthi Ravi relayed on Doordarshan and Akashwani (radio) stated that "the incident was not pre–planned, it was an accident."
The chief minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi, accompanied by health minister, Shri Ashok Bhatt and other cabinet colleagues, arrived in Godhra around 2 p.m. that day. After meeting the collector, he decided to take the bodies to Ahmedabad. It was the decision of Shri Modi to take the badly charred bodies to Ahmedabad against the advice of the district administration. Initially, the chief minister and his colleagues had wanted to take the bodies in the same train onwards to Ahmedabad. The district administration strongly advised against this for law and order reasons, after which a motor cavalcade drove the bodies to the Sola Civil Hospital at Ahmedabad.
At 7.30 p.m., chief minister, Shri Modi made a public broadcast in which, for the first time, he put forward the ‘ISI hand behind the Godhra incident’ version. Thereafter, the then home minister, Shri Advani also ominously pointed to the "ISI hand." Union defence minister, Shri George Fernandes, too, joined the chorus of voices, alleging that there was "a foreign hand" behind Godhra.
What could have been confined to Godhra and Godhra alone was taken and broadcast to all of Gujarat state. All that followed was directly related to Shri Modi’s decision to carry Godhra to the whole state instead of containing the issue therein.
Bandh Call and the Preparation
On the evening of February 27, after visiting Godhra, Shri Modi announced that there would be a state bandh the next day. This was after the VHP and BD had already given the bandh call. Thereafter, the chief minister called a meeting of senior police officers. At this meeting, specific instructions were given by him in the presence of cabinet colleagues, on how the police should deal with the situation on the bandh day. The next day, i.e., on the day of the bandh, there was absolutely no police bandobast. The state and city (Ahmedabad) police control rooms were taken over by two ministers, i.e., Shri Ashok Bhatt and Shri Jadeja. Repeated pleas for help from people were blatantly turned down.
Senior ministers from Shri Modi’s cabinet organised a meeting late in the evening on February 27, in Lunavada village of Sabarkantha district. Shri Ashok Bhatt, the state health minister and minister Prabhatsinh Chauhan from Lunavada attended. At this meeting, a diabolical plan was drawn and disseminated to the top 50 leaders of the BJP/RSS/BD/VHP, on the method and manner in which the 72–hour–long carnage that followed was to be carried out.
According to confidential evidence recorded by the Tribunal, these instructions were blatantly disseminated by the government, and in most cases, barring a few sterling exceptions, methodically carried out by the police and the IAS administration. There is no way that the debased levels of violence that were systematically carried out in Gujarat could have been allowed, had the police and district administration, the IPS and the IAS, stood by its constitutional obligation and followed Service Rules to prevent such crimes.
As is amply evident from the voluminous evidence recorded by the Tribunal, and substantive other evidence made available to it, investigating officials have yet to find any proof of the Godhra atrocity being pre–planned. Nonetheless, Shri Modi, union home minister, Shri Advani and others continue to reiterate the distorted version of the motive behind the incident at Godhra. The electoral and related advantages for these persons in power, set to gain from the misconceptions and prevarications around Godhra, need to be understood and exposed for what they are. Thousands of innocent citizens became victims to this cynical game of politics and the priorities for India as a country were derailed by these perpetrators of hatred and division, some of whom even hold the reins of government.
It is apparent that by the evening of February 27, a well thought out scheme to extract maximum political capital out of Godhra had been launched. As part of this scheme, at around 2.30 a.m., the bodies of the kar sevaks were brought to Ahmedabad. Around 500 people were waiting outside Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad for the charred bodies to arrive from Godhra. By 3.35 a.m. on February 28, a convoy of five trucks led by a pilot Gypsy entered the hospital compound.
Sloganeering started: ‘Kar sevak, amar raho!’ and ‘Hindu ekta zindabad!’ as small bundles carrying the victims’ remains were off–loaded onto waiting stretchers. Vows for vengeance and shouts of ‘Jai Shri Ram!’ resounded throughout the hospital compound as a martyrs’ honour was accorded to the Godhra victims.
The state government and the administration, instead of appealing for restraint and peace, became the agents of a well–planned action against innocent Muslims of the state that was in fact projected as a ‘reaction.’ The corpses of the unfortunate victims of the Godhra arson were used to launch a statewide pogrom of decimation that has not entirely stopped to date.
A point to be noted is evidence recorded by the media, of ordinary victims of the Godhra arson, who did not wish to be part of any political project of "vengeance". The Times of India (March 3, 2002) quoted Govind Makwana, who lost his son Umakant (22) in the fire that engulfed coach S–6 of the Sabarmati Express. "I am extremely disturbed by what is happening in our area. I had pleaded with folded hands to all who came to my son’s cremation to restrain themselves and maintain peace. Killing other people is not a solution. Losing a son is shattering, and I want no father or mother to suffer from this feeling".
Was ‘Godhra’ Allowed to Happen?
The crucial issue before the entire nation today is why ‘Godhra’ happened? Who failed in their duty in preventing it?
Gujarat and indeed the whole country was on red alert due to the aggressive mobilisation by the VHP for building the temple (‘shila pujan’) at Ayodhya (on March 15). In Mumbai, the police made as many as 8,000 preventive arrests in the first week of March, to keep the situation under strict control. In contrast, even after Godhra happened, the Gujarat police arrested only two persons in Ahmedabad, both of whom were Muslims.
A noticeable lapse in Godhra and in the anticipation and handling of the violence, was the blatant ignoring of the basic principles of law and order maintenance and governance in Godhra. The fact that kar sevaks were expected on this route and the fact that Godhra has a fragile communal history were, and are, themselves enough for additional precautionary deployment. All these factors are enough to make any responsible citizen wonder why adequate preventive deployment was absent during the Godhra arson.
Role of Fanatical Organisations
Godhra, and the tragic death of 58 passengers through gruesome burning, was picked up and propagated in Gujarat and all over the country by many fanatical organisations connected closely with the ruling BJP in Gujarat.These include the parent RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.
A serious and gross misrepresentation of facts was resorted to by these conglomerate organisations in a nationwide bid to create a hysteria over the Godhra tragedy and thus justify the state–sponsored carnage that was allowed to take place.
Within a fortnight of the statewide carnage, the RSS spokesperson, Shri MG Vaidya described it as the "natural reaction of Hindus" and gave a clean chit to the Modi administration in Gujarat, saying "no government could have controlled the upsurge." (The Times of India, March 16, 2002).
Worse still, the publications brought out by the RSS and its affiliates spread systematic and sinister misinformation about Godhra. For instance, in two publications brought out by the Hindu Samvad Kendra, Ahmedabad, the following ‘facts’ are listed to prove that Godhra was pre-planned:
ØPassengers of a particular religion (read Muslims) were asked to get down at Dahod, the station before Godhra;
Ø The patients of a particular community (read Muslims) were discharged from the civil hospital of Godhra one day before February 27; not a single case against anyone from a particular community (read Muslims) was registered on February 27, 2002;
Ø Not a single student or a teacher of a particular community (read Muslims) was present in the schools of Godhra on February 27;
Ø Another canard that was spread deliberately was that no one from the minorities or the secular parties ever condemned Godhra.
The Tribunal investigated each of these allegations during its investigation and visit to Godhra. The fact that the district administration at Godhra and elsewhere took no initiative to scotch these fabricated stories, being used in the cynical and never-ending cycle of violence, speaks poorly of it and also reveals the state administration’s ineptness in coping with the menace that these organisations represent.
Among other things, the Tribunal is also in possession of half–a–dozen separate statements published by different Muslim religious leaders, independent persons and opposition parties, outrightly condemning the Godhra incident. Yet, repeatedly, the propaganda was unleashed that neither Muslims nor secularists have ever condemned the Godhra tragedy.
During the recording of our evidence, senior officials of the administration and police who deposed before the Tribunal on assurance of anonymity expressed concern about the fact that in most talukas of Gujarat, CDs and hate pamphlets were circulated by the VHP during March 2002, spreading ill–will, rumours and falsehoods about the conduct of Muslims. To effectively counter this trend, the administration only had to swoop down on xerox centres that were being used to reproduce bulk copies of such incendiary material.
Though all accounts suggest that there was provocation enough by the kar sevaks, nothing can justify the crime of torching 58 persons alive. The guilty need to be brought to book and punished. The tragedy and crime simply need to be placed in the charged and venomous atmosphere that the country and the polity has been held victim to, where sane, rational impulses are being overwhelmed by the politics of rage, revenge and violence.
Copyrights © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.