Concerned Citizens Tribunal - Gujarat 2002
An inquiry into the carnage in Gujarat
Incidents of Post-Godhra violence
Twenty-six persons were burnt alive in Ode village in Anand district, which falls under the Khambolaj Police Station area on March 1, 2002. Violent incidents from this village, however, were reported from February 28 itself and these continued until March 2. Statements from two victim survivors placed before the Tribunal say that the authorities have admitted only six deaths since the remains of only six persons were found, while the rest were disposed of at unknown locations. Two FIRs have been lodged at the Khambolaj Police Station. The first is C.R.No.23/2002. U/s. 302, 148, 149 etc. and the name of the complainant is Rafiq Mohammed Abdulbhai Khalifa. The second complainant’s name is Rehanaben Yusufbhai Vohra (C.R.No.27/2002). She was an eyewitness to the gruesome arson and killing. Twenty-two accused were arrested.
Ode village is called an NRI village. There are many rich traders here with tobacco businesses. Around 200 homes in this village, belonging to Muslims who worked mainly in the tobacco fields as agricultural labourers, were concentrated in four pockets — Sarewali Bhagol, Malao Bhagol, Pirawali Bhagol and Ode Nawabpura.
Witnesses explained that over the past five years, frequent attempts were made to pick fights with Muslims on any pretext to escalate tension between the two communities. Two months before the carnage, the RSS/VHP had called a meeting at the house of Haribhai Valabhbhai Patel, after which posters of the VHP and RSS were visible everywhere. Throughout this period the Hindus kept claiming that Muslim boys had been teasing and troubling Hindu women. Since then, Hindus had been meeting in the fields. When asked, they would reply the meetings were work related.
On February 28, following the Godhra incident, there was a lot of tension in the village. On March 1, people did not even go to the mosque for the morning namaaz. A little later, some people — Harishbhai Valabhbhai, Vasantbhai Poonambhai Patel, Natubhai Sanabhai Patel among them — went to a Muslim mohalla and told people there not to be overly worried by a rally that the Hindus were planning. Rally there was none. Instead, around 2.00 p.m., an over 3,000 strong mob armed with petrol bottles, stones and petrol bombs came screaming, "Maro! Kapo!" They hurled abuses, calling the Muslims ‘bandiyao’ (a derogatory term used to address Muslims), urging people to kill them and burn their houses.
The frightened Muslims, many of whom had locked themselves inside their homes, were warned not to come out. Most Muslims fled their houses and ran out. But 30 persons who stayed paralysed in their houses were locked in by the mob from outside. The houses were then set on fire with petrol and kerosene. Two men managed to run away albeit with serious burns, leaving behind 28 people — 7 were young girls, two elderly women and the rest men.
Rehana Yusufbhai Vohra’s family had keys to the house of a Hindu friend. They ran and hid there for three days without food or water. Escaping from there subsequently, they walked to Sureli camp, which was quite far for shelter. From her hiding place, Rehana had witnessed these 28 people being burnt alive.
The four Muslim mohallas were simultaneously torched. The two mosques and five dargahs in the village were all burnt and destroyed using LPG cylinders and bombs. By the night of March 2, after the four Muslim mohallas with their 200 houses, shops, dargahs and mosques had been burnt to the ground, a bulldozer was used to level the land. What were once bustling Muslim mohallas now looked like open grounds.
As the attacks continued, in desperation, some people from the village contacted Farid, a Congress worker from Sureli, to come and rescue them from the village. Farid enlisted the help of the police. Along with PI Bowa, he took a tempo and transported the first batch of Muslims to the safety of Sureli. On the way, some miscreants riding on motorbikes tried to chase them and set fire to the tempo. But the tempo managed to speed away. After dropping the first batch of people at Sureli, Farid tried to return to Ode to get more people out. However, the approach road had been blocked with a tree, so he had to return to Sureli. Fortunately, the remaining people did manage to escape, except for a little boy and his old grandfather, Sayed Ghulam Husain, who could not walk properly. The boy managed to hide, while his grandfather was burnt.
Those involved in the violence in Ode village have been identified and named. According to the statements of the witnesses, leading the mob were Dilipbhai Valabhbhai Patel, Chotubhai Ranabhai Patel, Prakashbhai Jamnadas Patel and Hemand Kumar Rathod. Harish Vallabhbhai carried a petrol can, Nantubhai Sana carried a long stick (bhala) and Basant Poonambhai had a can of kerosene and a kankda (fireball), Lalabhai Bakoorbhai carried dharias (sickles). Also in the mob were Ghanshyambhai Ambala, Devendrabhai Harshadbhai Patel, Prakashbhai Jashbhai Patel, Dilipbhai Sanabhai Patel and Girishbhai Somabhai Patel.
The victim-survivors have also named those involved in obstructing the safe passage of affected people to Sureli. They state that the mobs arrived in the vehicles of Haribhai Valabhbhai Patel, Ganesh Panwala Odhi (ex-sarpanch) and Ashabhai Patel (ex-sarpanch). People who were leading the mob were Godabbhai Patel, Arvindbhai Patel, Anil Kumar, Niranjan Kumar (Bobo), Arvind Ramabhai, Raoji Satarbhai, Rajubhai Samabhai and Chotabhai Ramabhai Patel, the last two from Dakoravad and Das Bungla. Chotabhai Ramabhai Patel was the one who set Sayed Ghulam Hussain on fire.
The local police did help some of the people escape to Sureli. Their help was organised by Farid, a Congress worker from Sureli. After the incidents the police arrested 23 Hindus. Sixteen of them were eventually released and the remaining seven were sent to jail. From the statements presented before the Tribunal and local reports, it is clear that local Hindus were heavily involved in the rioting, burning, looting and killing.
A BJP ex-minister, Dilipbhai Mani, and his personal secretary Maheshbhai Raojbhai Patel had taken on the responsibility of assisting with the legal defense of the accused. Two bail applications were filed on behalf of the accused before the sessions court. The judicial magistrate, first class, Umreth, rejected the remand application even though the crime has been classified as not just grave but heinous. A revision for remand had been made by the police before the sessions court, Anand.
During the pendency of the remand revision application, 18 of the accused were released on interim-bail for eight days, to celebrate the Shivratri festival! Later, 16 of the accused who were part of the unlawful assembly that committed the heinous crime of burning alive 28 persons were released on regular bail by the sessions court, Anand. That this action of the lower judiciary had generated a sense of injustice and outrage among the victim-survivors and other Muslims was communicated to the Tribunal.
The refugees from Ode village were staying in the Sureli camp. Some time after that, they moved to other areas. There is, however, no question of their returning to the their own village.
Published by: Citizens for Justice and Peace