year after the state-sponsored genocide in Gujarat, justice for the
BY TEESTA SETALVAD
If the ‘author’ and ‘architect’ of a state–sponsored genocide, Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi, continues to hold the reigns of power, is it any surprise that the primary job of law enforcement agencies — ensuring justice — is deliberately subverted?
If, moreover, the politico–ideological mentors and protectors of Modi dominate the government at the Centre, is it any wonder that efforts to get justice from the courts, too, are met with narrow and technical responses?
On December 15 last year, many of Gujarat’s state cabinet ministers and MLAs accused of direct involvement in the mass crimes that claimed over 2,000 lives, and economically and culturally decimated the Muslim community in Gujarat were re–elected with a massive mandate.
Dr. Maya Kotdani, former MLA, accused in the Naroda massacre, was re-elected by a big margin.
Ashok Bhatt, former cabinet minister, accused of manipulating the police and ensuring their inaction during the carnage (between February 28 and March 5, 2002) too, has been re-elected and re–inducted into the new cabinet as minister of law and judiciary.
Similarly, IK Jadeja, another former minister also accused of planting himself in the police control room at Gandhinagar to ensure police inaction also finds a place in the new cabinet, as minister for health and family welfare.
Prabhatsinh Chauhan, former minister, charged with leading some of the carnages in Panchmahal district has also retained a cabinet rank and is how minister for cow protection.
Perpetrators of mass crimes with a post-genocide electoral mandate exercise an insidious influence on the crime investigation machinery. Given this political writ, crucial investigations into the Godhra mass arson and the post-Godhra carnages are marked with a clear motive to subvert their course. The attempt is not merely to ensure that the guilty go unpunished, but even to obliterate their names from the crime investigation records itself.
Investigations into the Godhra mass arson are similarly motivated. The evidence of the railway police, affidavits of co–travellers on the ill-fated Sabarmati Express filed before the ongoing KG Shah commission of inquiry, the conclusion of officials from the government’s own Ahmedabad–based Forensic Science Laboratory, that a fire of such intensity could not have been started from outside, remain to be investigated further while selective arrests, including those under POTA, continue indiscriminately.
The most recent example was the arrest of Maulana Hussain Umerji, a respected cleric and social worker of Godhra. He was arrested on the basis of a confessional statement before the police made by a ‘history–sheeter’, Sabeer Bin Yameen Behra, under section 120 b and 394 of the IPC, and accused of "hatching a conspiracy, recruiting youth and executing the Godhra train burning incident." (Two weeks later, he, along with other Godhra accused, was booked under POTA).
Independent investigation and media reports show that Umerji had been involved in relief and was also the author of several memoranda to the NHRC, the President of India and independent rights groups on the plight of victims during and after the genocide. He was also involved actively in post-earthquake (2001) relief work. A 75–year–old man, Umerji is unweli, ailing with many diseases. His indiscriminate arrest resulted in over a week–long bandh protest by Godhra residents.
The ghastly massacre of former MP, Ahsan Jafri and at least 70 others at the Gulberg society, Chamanpura on February 28, 2002 shook the conscience of the nation. Two FIRs were filed by the Inspector Erda of the Meghaninagar police station in this case. Today, a year later, the trial in this case has not yet begun; the ‘charge’ is yet to be framed.
Moreover, 18 eyewitnesses to the crime have petitioned the trial court hearing the case in a special application and, accompanied by affidavits sworn on oath, detailing the blatant attempts to subvert the investigations.
Ř Investigations were undertaken without the preliminary and necessary legal practice of recording statements of eyewitnesses.
Ř The charge–sheets filed by the Gujarat police in November 2002 excluded the names of key accused named in the FIR — Ramesh Pandey, Choti, Rajesh Dayaram Jinger, Bharat, Kali, Dilip, Gabbar, Kapil Munnabhai, Bharat Kali Mansingh, Prabhudas Jain.
Witnesses petitioned the commissioner of police, Ahmedabad, Kaushik, on November 25, 2002, pointing out this discrepancy, to no avail. This amounts to the investigating agency protecting the accused.
Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya will be remembered for the planned and bloody killing of over 110 innocents in cold blood, by mobs led by elected representatives. The charges relating to these mass crimes have not yet been framed. Instead of honest and fair investigations, trumped-up charges on an FIR (No 101/2002) filed by ASI Satuji Shivaji, on August 5, 2002 falsely named and led to the arrest of one Bismillah Khan Pathan and 11 others. They had not been among the earlier named accused. These 12 are believed to be eye-witnesses to MLA Dr. Maya Kotdani and Gujarat VHP general secretary, Dr. Jaideep Patel’s direct participation in the violence. They have not been able to obtain bail so far.
In the carnage at Anjanwa village, Panchmahal district, at least 14 persons were brutally killed (FIR No. 142/2002). Though the police have named 28 persons in the charge-sheet, only 6 of them had been arrested as of mid–December 2002. While the police have shown 22 others as absconding, independent sources say they are moving around freely in the area.
While the court has issued notices to attach the properties of the Muslim accused who are absconding in the Godhra train burning case, properties of similar absconders in the Gulberg society or Naroda massacres have not been attached.
There is also a real danger of many critical cases being relegated to the status of ‘A’ summary report cases ("true but closed").
The story is no different in the case of other massacres:
Abasana: Six persons hacked to death on April 4–5, on the eve of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit. Charges yet to be framed.
Deodar: (Banaskantha) case: Over 14 persons killed; charges yet to be framed (CR No 26 of 2002, Deodar Police Station).
Anjanwa, Santrampur police station (Panchmahal): 13 persons killed, charges are yet to be framed (CR No 148 of 2002 and 43 of 2002).
Eral (Panchmahals): Seven deaths and two rapes; trial begun, 15 witnesses have been examined. (CR No 41 of 2002 with Kalol police station).
Ghodasar (Kheda) case: 14 deaths; trial yet to begin.
Ode (Anand district): 27 persons burnt alive, charges yet to be framed.
In short, nearly a year after the carnage, trial is yet to begin in the major cases, except in the Sardarpura and Kalol incidents.
The apprehensions felt by a group of prominent citizens, way back in April 2002, when they approached the Supreme Court with a plea for a distanced and more neutral agency like the CBI to be directed to investigate both Godhra and the post– Godhra carnages, appears more than justified. One year later, the Supreme Court, petitioned on the urgency of the matter, is yet to hear the plea.
A year after the worst state-sponsored genocide in post—Independence India, a genocide that revealed the erosion of the writ of the Indian Constitution, the judiciary appears wary of rising promptly to the occasion to set right this blatant wrong.
Quite apart from his irresponsible remarks during the genocide itself, ("Every action has an equal and opposite reaction"), Modi’s election campaign was dotted with hate speech and the blatant use of threat, aggression and venom — all violations of sections 153 a and b, 505(b) and section 295 of the CrPC. Yet, no court of the land has thought it necessary to issue suo motu notices to him, asking him to either explain his statements or to apologise. As was only to be expected, the Gujarat police has not even launched investigations into the hate speech.
Among the crudest of Modi’s comments was made in a speech during the ‘Gaurav Yatra’ at Becharji, Mehsana on August 12, 2002: "Relief Camps are baby–making factories; why should we support them?" His threatening and aggressive demeanour towards NDTV’s political editor, Rajdeep Sardesai on the night of December 15, 2002 are also noteworthy: "You and the whole national media apologise or else..."
Praveen Togadia, the VHP’s international general secretary regularly violates Indian Constitutional and Penal Law with impunity. For example: "Rajdeep Sardesai should be sent to the graveyard," (Zee TV, December 15, 2002) he thundered, followed by an exhortation to his followers the next day: "In two years there will be Hindu rashtra," or "Death sentence to all secularists" (The Hindu, December 17, 2002). Surprisingly, he too escapes judicial censure.
Statements such as these, or those of the VHP’s working president, Ashok Singhal — who declared on a number of occasions how proud he was of the fact that entire villages in Gujarat had been purged of Muslims (September 2002) — permeate public discourse today. While police authorities do not investigate them, state governments in Gujarat and elsewhere have been sitting on concerned citizens’ applications for sanction to prosecute the hate–mongers for such blatant poisoning of minds. There appears to be an unstated consensus in the political class to let the spreading of hatred against, and demonisation of, the minorities go unchallenged. With the judiciary’s reluctance to be pro–active and question this undemocratic consensus, justice appears to be a distant goal.
Copyrights © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.