Javed Anand, Asian Age, april 20, 2013
SIT’s closure report into the Godhra riots has left far too many questions unasked, and provided answers that are highly questionable
On April 10, a Delhi court rejected, for the second time, the closure report filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2009, claiming it could not find any credible evidence to chargesheet Congress leader Jagdish Tytler for his role in the massacre of innocent Sikhs in the nation’s capital in 1984. The CBI has been ordered to reinvestigate yet again.
On April 15, Zakia Jafri, a survivor of the February 28, 2002, carnage at Gulberg Society, filed a 514-page Protest Petition (along with an annexure of 983 pages and nine CDs) before a magistrate’s court in Ahmedabad challenging the closure report filed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT). The closure report absolves Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and 58 top politicians, BJP and VHP leaders, and IAS and IPS officials of criminal offences that Mrs Jafri alleged in her complaint dated June 8, 2006, were committed by them. Read the petition (www.cjponline.org) to see why it’s more than likely that the SIT’s clean chit is headed for a similar fate.
Mrs Zakia Jafri, now around 75 years of age, was an eyewitness to the gruesome killing of her husband, former Congress parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri, and 68 others at Gulberg Society, Meghaninagar, Ahmedabad, on February 28, 2002. When Jafri finally surrendered to the mob — after six long hours of nearly a hundred desperate phone calls, including to chief minister Mr Modi, drew a blank — he was dragged, paraded around with his limbs chopped, one at a time, before being flung into the raging flame. Mrs Jafri, who has since been living with her son in Surat, says that her fight for justice will continue till her last breath.
Mrs Jafri’s protest petition (backed as it is by official investigation records and documents that SIT made available to her under Supreme Court orders) not only reinforces her earlier allegations, but also accuses the SIT of a blatant cover up job — “SIT has taken great pains to disbelieve and discredit any witnesses who have spoken against the Accused No. 1 or for that matter against any accused” — and prays that all 59 accused be chargesheeted on the basis of already available evidence and that further investigations be ordered.
SIT’s closure report, which comes four years after it began investigations as ordered by the Supreme Court into the incidents following the inferno in the Sabarmati Express near Godhra train station on the morning of February 27, 2002, (in which 59 kar sevaks and others died), has left far too many questions unasked, and provided answers that are highly questionable.
Mobile phone call records establish that on receiving the news of the Godhra tragedy, the first person Mr Modi, then Gujarat chief minister and home minister (Accused No. 1 in Mrs. Jafri’s complaint and Protest Petition), got in touch with was the state’s VHP general secretary, Jaideep Patel (Accused No. 21), even before he spoke with anyone from his home department or police officials. The petition sees this communication as a link in the conspiracy chain, but SIT ignores it.
By evening Mr Modi, health minister Ashok Bhatt (Accused No. 2, now deceased), and minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphia (Accused No. 5), reached Godhra. VHP’s Mr Patel too was there. In Godhra, post-mortems of the dead bodies were conducted in the railway yard by a team of doctors not trained for the job, even as Sangh Parivar activists screamed retaliatory murder. Gory photographs were permitted to be taken and later widely circulated (via VHP’s pamphlets, Gujarati newspapers) to inflame passions across the state. The post-mortems were conducted in the presence of ministers, Godhra’s district magistrate and police superintendent. Under whose directions and what was the motive behind such illegal, indecent haste? The SIT closure report does not ask these questions.
Despite the then Godhra district collector Mrs Jayanti Ravi’s deposition before SIT confirming Mr Jaideep Patel’s unusual presence at a mini-Cabinet meeting in Godhra, its closure report insists that Mr Modi never met the rabble-rousing VHP leader in Godhra.
Next, a top-level decision was taken to transport the dead bodies by road to Ahmedabad in the custody of VHP leaders, Jaideep Patel and Hasmukh Patel. SIT admits that this was in violation of existing regulations, particularly Rule 223 (10-b) of Gujarat Police Manual, but the blame for this is placed on a relatively junior revenue officer in Godhra district collector’s office (Mamlatdar), M.L. Nalvaya, ignoring his deposition before SIT that he did so only under instructions from his seniors.
Earlier, at different times — late afternoon and evening — of the Godhra tragedy, mobile phone records show the location of several top officers from the chief minister’s office (CMO) in Meghaninagar. What were these officers doing in Meghaninagar, far away from the CMO in Gandhinagar, in an area where the very next day Ehsan Jafri and 68 others were mercilessly killed in Gulberg Society? The question is left unasked by SIT.
SIT buys the claim of Ahmedabad police commissioner, P.C. Pande (Accused No. 29), that the funeral procession of the dead bodies to Ahmedabad was peaceful. But police control room (PCR) records show repeated frantic messages from the police posted at Sola Civil Hospital from 3 am in the morning of February 28 onwards about violent mobs endangering the lives of hospital staff, blocking traffic, and attacking a high court
judge who happens to be a Muslim.
Around the same time, murderous mobs led by VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal leaders begin their day-long massacre of Muslims in Gulberg Society and Naroda Patia, Naroda Gaon and elsewhere, claiming nearly 300 lives in Ahmedabad in a single day. Of the 40 persons killed in police firing that day, 36 were Muslims. PCR records also show that on February 28, while Muslim property was set flame across Ahmedabad, the Fire Brigade Department in the city seemed to be on mass leave. Repeated calls by policemen on the ground went answered by Fire Brigade stations.
From the afternoon of February 27 itself, there was a flurry of urgent “alerts” by ground-level state intelligence bureau (SIB) personnel, warning that mobs are assembling in different places in Ahmedabad and other cities. “So communal violence will occur in the city of Ahmedabad; so take preventive action,” reads one such SIB alert.
No such preventive action was taken till noon on February 28 when curfew was finally declared. By that time, however, the carnage was at its height in Gulberg Society, Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patia.
IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt has deposed before SIT that he was present at the meeting called by Mr Modi late evening of February 27, where the chief minister told the assembled IAS-IPS top brass that “Hindus must be allowed to vent their anger”. Amicus curiae Ramachandran has held this to be sufficient prima facie evidence for the prosecution of Mr Modi, adding that it’s for the court to determine the veracity of Mr Bhatt’s claim.
But, perhaps, India’s top investigating agencies are simply incapable of probing into incidents of heinous mass crimes. Or do their failures suggest something more sinister?
The writer is founder trustee, Citizens for Justice and Peace, whose team of lawyers assisted Mrs Zakia Jafri in filing her protest petition
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